By Johnny Ward at Leopardstown
You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
That was not the case with Supasundae, who relished a full bucket in his face after mastering Faugheen in the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on the first day of the new Dublin Racing Festival, but despite relatively good weather, aggressive marketing, a decent crowd of 14,105 and a star-studded cast, it rather had the feeling of a seminal afternoon when the one thing hardest to control – the results – served to deflate.
Yorkhill, one of the most popular in training, ran another abject race as stablemate Min and David Mullins combined to win the Coral Dublin Steeplechase, in the process righting the wrongs of Christmas.
It will have been of no consolation to Paul Townend, who deserted him on this occasion for Yorkhill.
Yet it was the meek response of Faugheen when Supasundae ranged alongside in the big one that left the masses most dejected.
Faugheen, right, jumps the final flight in front in the Irish Champion Hurdle but could not repel Supasundae in the closing stages (Racingfotos)
Rich Ricci, owner of Min and Faugheen, embodied that despondency.
“I really felt after he got to the second-last that he’d go on and win,” he said, evoking memories of the horse’s demolition job in the same race two years ago. Faugheenwas eight then, ten now. He looks to be nearing the end, but not, it seems, quite yet.
“I feel for the crowd,” Ricci said. “They came here to cheer him on but that’s how racing goes. It was better than the last day, not so good as the Morgiana. We’ll crack on.”
Trainer Willie Mullins added: “I was disappointed with him. He’s sort of half back on track, but he’ll have to improve a lot to be back where he was.
“I was actually very happy where he was coming round the last bend, but by the time they lined up for the last, the writing was on the wall.
“I was hoping at that stage he might pull something else out, but it wasn’t to be. I’m just hoping spring ground, spring air and spring sunshine might rejuvenate him, but there’s just no spark there, I think.”
Supasundae could only beat what was in front of him and this was no shoddy performance for a horse now favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He is a general 4-1, but as short as 5-2.
Jessica Harrington reflected with sadness that neither Alan nor Ann Potts, the late owners of Supasundae, was present to greet him.
The trainer said the son of Galileo could only run in the Stayers’ Hurdle because he had no other entry at Cheltenham.
She ruled out supplementing him for the Unibet Champion Hurdle but then admitted she could change her mind – all in one post-race interview. Winning can have the mind spinning into overdrive.
Petit Mouchoir was not as fluent as Footpad but was still not beaten far on his return from a setback (Racingfotos)
Earlier, Petit Mouchoir’s defeat at the hands of Footpad in the Frank Ward Arkle had Henry de Bromhead and Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown hoping that the grey has a fighting chance of gaining his revenge in the Racing Post Arkle next month.
Petit Mouchoir was not good early on, especially clumsy at the second, but by contrast Footpad was again foot-perfect and won by five lengths.
“He made two early mistakes and that put manners on him,” said Davy Russell of Petit Mouchoir afterwards.
Petit Mouchoir kept on willingly and this, just his second chase run and one preceded by a setback, was pleasing.
“I’m very happy with that and let’s just hope he’s all good in the morning,” said de Bromhead.
Townend was gushing over the winner’s performance. “He jumps like a stag,” he said. “You’d swear he’s jumping fences all his life. It was a great thrill riding him, he was deadly.”
Mullins ate significantly into Gordon Elliott’s lead in the Irish title race, winning four races, while Elliott had a frustrating day and drew a blank.
Mullins closed the gap on Elliott in the trainers’ title race with the help of Min(Racingfotos)
Perhaps feeling that frustration, he admitted that Samcro “has to improve a lot” to take the Deloitte Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
None of this matters much if you are one of the many in racing going to bed tonight still mourning the death of Richard Woollacott, or that of fellow trainer Willie Codd.
Mark Enright has not shied away from his own battles with depression, and there can be few tonics better than winning a big race on a day like this.
Enright and Off You Go rallied to win the Coral Hurdle after being almost joined at the last, a second win for JP McManus after the shock success of Tower Bridge, which provided a first Grade One winner for JJ Slevin.
“Mark’s been very lucky for me,” said Byrnes. “Nearly everything he rides for me seems to win.”
They are men who know the ups and downs of life. This was a good day. For the Dublin Racing Festival, better days are ahead.