A Cheltenham contender is just about the last thing you would expect to see emerge from a run of the mill Clonmel midweek fixture.
But Willie Mullins – who else! – plucked a real rabbit out of the hat as 10/3 market leader Allaho romped home in the Grade 3 Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle at the south Tipperary track on Thursday.
He holds Ballymore and Albert Bartlett entries, and the fact that a trainer already laden down with Festival prospects had no hesitation in saying he’ll be in the team for the Cotswolds speaks volumes.
Mullins and Henry de Bromhead have farmed the Clonmel feature between them in recent years, and the much vaunted de Bromhead hopeful Minella Indo 8/1 ran a very solid race here.
Two of his stablemates Cappumix and Cool Saint both started slightly shorter in the betting but never landed a blow.
The huge disappointment was Swordsman – 6/1 to 7/2 – who kept jumping to the left (though he had romped home without any problems at right handed Fairyhouse) before being eased and finally pulled up.
Something was clearly amiss with this brother of Battleoverdoyen, and it was a very rare setback this week for Gordon Elliott whose team are in absolutely flying form as Cheltenham looms on the horizon.
Minella Indo tried to make all but Allaho was always travelling well and even a mistake at the second last could not deny him. He snugly beat Minella Indo by four lengths and Mullins was beaming afterwards.
“He disappointed us hugely when fourth in a bumper at Leopardstown at Christmas compared to the work he had been doing at home.”
“But he ran very green – as he did today a bit too – and the form has worked out well. He ran so freely there today that the Ballymore would look the best race for him but we’ll keep our options open” said the Closutton maestro.
That could be wise as the Albert Bartlett looks wide open and despite running so freely he saw out the three miles trip on Thursday without any problem.
Punters were reeling after the opener where 33/1 shot Annie Odds pipped 7/4 jolly Gypsy Lee Rose, but the bookies were chinned in the next where Davy Russell got 9/10 hotpot Rakhine State home a short head in front of 25/1 poke Weihnachts. Swings and roundabouts.
Cork trainer Robert Tyner is on a roll and Pack Your Bags landed some tasty bets when taking the last, the Sporting Press Handicap Chase, at 13/8 under Philip Enright.
The Down Royal winner defied a 10 lbs. hike when scooting home again here and is still on the upgrade.
While UK racing was shut down for a week it was business as usual for Declan’s Irish Racing Service with his winners including – Sinoria 6/1; Polished Steel 3/1; Band Of Outlaws 3/1 (w 5/2); Chess Grand Master 11/4; Sempo 5/2 (w 11/8); Way Back Home 9/4 (w 7/4); The Game Of Life 6/4: Missy Tata 6/5 (w 9/10) and Rathkine State 6/5 (w 9/10).