With a new record total for a jumping season in the bag, Ireland's perennial champion Willie Mullins lost no time yesterday in putting more distance between himself and the man whose mark he overtook the previous afternoon. During the 1995-96 campaign, Aidan O'Brien, before he transferred to rewriting history on the Flat, sent out 155 winners, with Mullins in second place on the numerical leader board with 45.
Nowadays, Mullins dominates Irish jumping just as completely; a treble at Naas yesterday from Upsie, Annie Power and Outlander took his total to 159, with his nearest pursuer Dessie Hughes on 42. "Breaking Aidan's record was not something we set out to do," said Mullins, "but as it turned out the wet summer last year suited us, as we were able to carry on with horses who would otherwise have been out at grass avoiding firm ground.
"It's a tribute to a great team effort and right now the horses are in great form. Hopefully, they can stay like that for another few weeks and into the big festivals."
Only Nicky Henderson is ahead of Mullins in the betting for the trainers' title at the first of the sport's extravaganzas. The Cheltenham Festival opens two weeks tomorrow. But of yesterday's winners from Closutton, none is bound for Prestbury Park, not even the most eyecatching among them, Annie Power, who made it six from six in the Grade Two novices' hurdle.
At home, the five-year-old mare has been regarded as a possible successor to the Co Carlow yard's peerless Quevega as queen of her sex and yesterday, against some smart geldings, she showed why. After travelling sweetly through the two-miler, she showed a sharp change of gear to range alongside the favourite Defy Logic going to the final flight, flew the obstacle with range, speed and accuracy and powered away to win by three and a quarter lengths without being subjected to any real pressure by her rider, Ruby Walsh.
Her performance – she made Defy Logic, on a hat-trick, and third-placed Don Cossack, last year's top bumper runner, look pedestrian – brought an immediate cut in her odds for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. But she is most unlikely to make the trip across the Irish Sea next month, waiting instead for one of her home festivals, that at Fairyhouse.
"I didn't really know how good she was, so we came here to find out," said Mullins, "and I still don't know. She has the size and scope to be anything and looks like she'll be a chaser in time. I hope she'll continue to improve and grow stronger and, with a summer's grass, I'm sure she will."
Annie Power, a daughter of Shirocco, won her first two bumpers for Jim Bolger and her breeder, Eamon Cleary. She was ridden by Mullins' amateur son Patrick, who clearly liked what he felt, for soon afterwards she made the private transfer to the ownership of one of her present trainer's chief patrons, the investment banker Rich Ricci.
Mullins fields the warm favourite for the Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly, on the Cheltenham opening afternoon but there was a boost yesterday for one of his rivals. Zarkandar, second market choice, started his season by giving weight and a beating to his Paul Nicholls stablemate Prospect Wells and at Fontwell the last-named came home seven lengths clear in the feature National Spirit Hurdle.
The eight-year-old holds the Coral Cup entry, but is more likely to wait for a target at Aintree the following month. The runner-up Meister Eckhart, though, is heading for the Cheltenham handicap, with his trainer, Alan King, relishing the prospect after his new recruit's first run for nearly a year.
CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP: Holy Angel (2.30 Wolverhampton)
NEXT BEST: Tidy Affair (2.20 Kempton)
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