Foot­pad the lat­est big gun to re­turn to ac­tion

Star novice prom­i­nent in bet­ting for range of Chel­tenham prizes

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Brian o’Con­nor Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

Wil­lie Mullins takes the wraps off his first real big gun of the new win­ter cam­paign when the hugely ex­cit­ing Foot­pad re­turns to ac­tion at Naas to­day.

With ground con­di­tions fi­nally start­ing to ease, Mullins wastes no time lin­ing up Foot­pad for the Grade Three Po­plar Square Chase, no doubt hop­ing it won’t pro­duce a re­sult like Sam­cro’s shock de­feat for Gor­don El­liott a week ago.

How­ever the ap­pear­ances of per­haps the most ex­cit­ing young horses in the two most pow­er­ful yards in the coun­try re­flect how the Na­tional Hunt game’s ma­jor ar­tillery is be­ing un­leashed.

El­liott runs 10 horses at his lo­cal Na­van track to­mor­row. Ad­mit­tedly that’s in the con­text of him run­ning 11 in the Troy­town Chase alone a cou­ple of years ago al­though the 10 in­clude an­other gen­uine star of the win­ter game in Ap­ple’s Jade.

The hugely pop­u­lar mare will try to re­peat her suc­cess of last year in the Lis­mullen Hurdle as she be­gins the route back to pos­si­bly re­claim­ing the Mares Hurdle crown at Chel­tenham in March.

On the same card there could be an El­liott-Mullins face-off in the For Auc­tion Novice Hurdle where Felix Desjy, al­ready a 20-1 shot for the Supreme at Chel­tenham, tack­les a pair of Mullins run­ners in­clud­ing Quick Grabim.

Dec­la­ra­tions

They are among a hand­ful of Mullins dec­la­ra­tions for Na­van but it is the five horses the cham­pion trainer sends to Naas that will grab most at­ten­tion with par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on Foot­pad.

He had a per­fect five-from-five novice cam­paign that in­cluded the Arkle at Chel­tenham – and that the steeplechase world is Foot­pad’s oys­ter is ob­vi­ous from the Chel­tenham ante-post bet­ting.

He is 4-1 to de­throne Al­tior for the Cham­pion Chase crown, favourite to land the in­ter­me­di­ate fes­ti­val ti­tle in the Ryanair, and as low as 12-1 for the Gold Cup.

Mullins has char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally not com­mit­ted him­self to any­thing al­though such spec­u­la­tion might seem very pre­ma­ture if he can’t win to­day.

Foot­pad has over 50 lengths in hand on Arkle form against the welcome English raider Saint Cal­va­dos. He trav­els in search of soft con­di­tions but also en­coun­ters a task per­haps be­yond any horse this sea­son in try­ing to beat Foot­pad.

“We saw this race, the con­di­tions suit him very well, and then ‘Mr Foot­pad’ turns up!” his trainer Harry Whit­tin­gon said rue­fully.

Bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment

“He schooled well and worked very well dur­ing the week,” Mullins re­ported yes­ter­day. “It’s a nice race to get him out and back on the track. A sec­ond sea­son novice like this is a lovely start­ing point.”

The other Grade Three at Naas is the Fish­ery Lane Hurdle for four year olds where Saldier – a 33-1 shot in Cham­pion Hurdle bet­ting – is Ruby Walsh’s pick from a pair of Mullins top-flight win­ners.

Bac­ardys is an­other Grade One win­ner over hur­dles but proved a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment in two novice chase starts last sea­son. Mullins gives him an­other shot at the big ob­sta­cles in a Be­gin­ners Chase that also in­cludes Any sec­ond Now and the new­comer Dis­co­rama who looks in­ter­est­ing.

Am­bi­tion

Joseph O’Brien has a dozen week­end dec­la­ra­tions on a home sched­ule with a noon start at Naas to­day.

But the range of O’Brien’s am­bi­tions ex­tend to Mel­bourne just over six hours be­fore that when the Ir­ish Derby hero La­trobe lines up at Flem­ing­ton for the $2 mil­lion Mack­in­non Stakes.

Mark Zahra rides the colt in the 10-fur­long Group One (off at 5.55am Ir­ish-time) which in­cludes last week­end’s Vic­to­ria Derby win­ner Ex­tra Brut and Godol­phin’s Blair House.

Tues­day’s Mel­bourne Cup vic­tory for Cross Counter was Godol­phin’s fourth Group One win at the Vic­to­ria Spring Car­ni­val which winds up on Satur­day.

Ai­dan O’Brien will try to end it on an up­swing by sad­dling four in the $1 mil­lion VRC Sprint (off at 5.10am) Ryan Moore again teams up with US Navy Flag and he is joined by Spirit Of Valor, In­tel­li­gence Cross and Fleet Re­view.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MOR­GAN TREACY/IN­PHO

Foot­pad with Daryl Ja­cob on­board wins the Ryanair Novice Chase at the Punchestown Fes­ti­val.

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