Racing round-up: Bittersweet weekend for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse

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It seems that we have two or three top jumps prizes up for grabs every weekend these days, and with the Hennessy meeting and some top quality action in Ireland on offer there is no shortage of talking points.

From Leighton Aspell picking up another big-race victory following his success in the main event at Newbury, to the strange weekend thrust upon Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins, there are plenty of topics to ponder.

A weekend of highs and lows for Mullins

The weekend didn’t get off to the best start when Mullins’ superstar mare Annie Power was found to be lame, with a possible stress fracture ruling her out of the Hattons Grace hurdle, and potentially Cheltenham.

Things threatened a revival when Kalkir romped the opener at Fairyhouse and was subsequently rocketed to the top of the Triumph Hurdle market at 6/1 (from 12/1).

But the County Carlow trainer was brought back down to earth with a bump after Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Allez Combieres was pulled up with an untreatable injury and had to be put down in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.

Mullins’ other runner in the race Nichols Canyon took advantage (14/1 for the Neptune) in a bittersweet victory.

Events did end on a high though with Valseur Lido seeing off some well-fancied rivals to land the Drinmore Novices’ Chase. He now provides the handler with yet another strong ante post position, with the Gigginstown-owned gelding 6/1 from 14/1 for the JLT Novices’ Chase.

Does Nicholls have a live Champion Hurdle contender after all?

Back over in the UK, Paul Nicholls was on somewhat of a recovery mission with Irving as he looked to put his final flight fall in the Elite Hurdle behind him in the Fighting Fifth.

Sent off the 6/4 favourite, the six-year-old looked to show no signs of uncertainty as he jumped with prowess and vigor, running out a very nice winner indeed.

He is now a 25/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle, but whether he has the class to see off the likes of Faugheen and The New One remains to be seen.

Back in business for Sherwood

And while Nicholls was looking to bounce back from a mishap a few weeks ago, Oliver Sherwood enjoyed a return to form after a number of years in the wilderness.

In the build up to the Hennessy, the Lambourn handler had been talking of how Many Clouds was the ideal type of horse to land the Grade 3 handicap.

And jumping the last it was obvious he would have to show true guts to fight off the frontrunning top-weight Houblon Des Obeaux.

Trever Hemmings’ horse did so with aplomb, showing a real willing attitude to land Sherwood with a first Hennessy in 24 years.

The Gold Cup looks the ultimate target, and with a price of 16/1 available, he could be a good bet for the big race.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.