Mullins and El­liott em­pha­sise dom­i­nance

El­liott now 4-6 favourite to beat Mullins (11-10) to the ti­tle this time

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - BRIAN O’CON­NOR Racing Cor­re­spon­dent

An­other po­ten­tially epic cham­pi­onship bat­tle be­tween Wil­lie Mullins and Gor­don El­liott is bub­bling up, and the big-race dom­i­nance of Ire­land’s top two train­ers is stamped all over this week­end’s ac­tion.

Maybe last sea­son’s tus­sle was so en­thralling for so long – and the mo­men­tum swung so wildly so of­ten – that this cam­paign’s head-to-head has not been the sub­ject of the same over­whelm­ing fo­cus.

Af­ter all, it was a fi­nal-week haul of al­most a mil­lion euro at the Punchestown fes­ti­val that even­tu­ally saw Mullins over­haul the young pre­tender by less than ¤200,000. So the ob­vi­ous les­son is that there’s a long way to go to the sea­son cli­max at the end of April.

Nev­er­the­less, El­liott has re­sumed his role forc­ing the pace at the top of the ta­ble, and a lead of over ¤500,000 means Paddy Power make the chal­lenger a 4-6 favourite to beat the cham­pion (11-10) this time.

El­liott is clos­ing in on ¤3 mil­lion for the sea­son al­ready, and has 23 run­ners in this week­end’s ac­tion at Punchestown and Fairy­house.

Mullins has 14, and, un­sur­pris­ingly, it is in the ma­jor pots that their in­flu­ence will be most keenly felt.

Be­tween them they have over half the field for Sun­day’s ¤100,000 Bar One Dan Moore Chase at Fairy­house – the first six-fig­ure pot of 2018.

Prior to that, though, it is Punchestown’s Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, which has both Mullins and El­liott triple-handed in a seven run­ner con­test that also sees Michael O’Leary’s Gig­gin­stown Stud rep­re­sented by three run­ners.

The only gate­crasher to the big-gun party is the Tom Mullins-trained Top Othe Ra, while in the ear­lier Grade Three Novice Chase it is three -apiece again for the lead­ing train­ers, and Mall Dini fills the role of in­ter­loper.

Jockey ar­range­ments

Rather than con­cen­trat­ing on op­po­si­tion, it is jockey ar­range­ments that may have been oc­cu­py­ing El­liott’s and Mullins’s thoughts ahead of the week­end.

Jack Kennedy sits out Satur­day through sus­pen­sion, so Davy Rus­sell gets a first spin in Mengli Khan in the Moscow Flyer. There will be plenty of at­ten­tion on the Royal Bond win­ner, who is still 10-1 for Chel­tenham’s Supreme de­spite dra­mat­i­cally crash­ing out through a wing at Leop­ard­stown over Christ­mas.

With Ruby Walsh still out in­jured, as is Danny Mullins, and Paul Tow­nend miss­ing Punchestown through sus­pen­sion, Mullins has turned to his son Pa­trick for his ap­par­ent Moscow Flyer num­ber one Getabird. The course win­ner is 16-1 for the Supreme al­ready, and on the back of Mengli Khan’s Christ­mas an­tics he could be the so­lu­tion to a race won by both Vau­tour and Douvan in re­cent years.

David Mullins is on board In­vi­ta­tion Only for his un­cle in the fea­tured novice chase, and there was plenty to like the way this one beat Any Sec­ond Now on his last start.

Rachael Black­more is on the 144-rated Ar­bre de Vie in this, while Rob­bie Power is on the un­ex­posed Koshari. Rich Ricci’s run­ner could hardly have won any eas­ier at Thurles be­fore Christ­mas, and is al­ready one of the favourites for a novice hand­i­cap chase on day one of Chel­tenham.

It looks sig­nif­i­cant that Davy Rus­sell is on board The Sto­ry­teller in the Grade Three, and the sea­son’s lead­ing jockey is on Ea­gle Lion in a later maiden hurdle.

Four chances

Rus­sell is on Doc­tor Phoenix, one of four chances El­liott has to re­peat Ball D’Arc’s 2017 suc­cess in Sun­day’s Dan Moore Chase. How­ever, it is his great ri­val who sets a poser with three run­ners and in par­tic­u­lar the pair of Acapella Bour­geois and Pol­i­dam. who drop back to the min­i­mum trip.

Acapella Bour­geois was mooted as a Gold Cup con­tender ear­lier this sea­son, and his only pre­vi­ous out­ing at two miles was on his chas­ing de­but when fall­ing at the first.

He has been run­ning free this sea­son so this sort of test could suit. but it is his rel­a­tively un­ex­posed sta­ble com­pan­ion Town­shend would may rep­re­sent value in his first hand­i­cap.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: BRIAN LAW­LESS/PA WIRE

Mengli Khan rid­den by Jack Kennedy races clear to win the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairy­house Win­ter Fes­ti­val last year.

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