British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington will not be pushing the panic button just yet should Ireland once again dominate at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

Following a nightmare Festival for the home side in 2021 which saw just five winners for British trainers, the BHA set up the Quality Jump Racing Review Group, with a stated aim “to strengthen the performance of British jump racing at the top end of the pyramid”.

A series of recommendations was then unveiled at the start of 2022, with further tweaks to the fixture list this term in an attempt to improve the upper tier of British National Hunt racing.

Harrington says it is too early to really see those initiatives come to fruition, but with Triumph Hurdle favourite Sir Gino the only British-trained ante-post Grade One market leader throughout next week, with Willie Mullins holding a tremendously strong hand on all four days, the issue remains a high-profile one.

She said: “We’re well aware of the number of Irish favourites across all the days. It is early days and there’s interventions all the way through breeding in terms of incentives for British-bred, retaining your horse here in training, but we’re not naive.

“We know the decision of many owners to place their horses with what they would consider in-form trainers. When you speak to the top British-based trainers, they do understand it is often cyclical which is why the fact it’s early days, you do need to let some of the interventions play out a bit more.

“Is it something we continue to be concerned about and continue to have a watching brief on? Of course. It’s been well debated some of the interventions or potential interventions that we’ve consulted on, but we will continue to do so.”

Talks are currently ongoing between the BHA and bookmakers on levy reform and Greg Swift, director of communications and corporate affairs, believes the issue of competitiveness is ultimately linked to the levy.

“It’s a valid point. It brings us back to the need for levy reform,” he said.

“One of the cases that we have made to DCMS throughout the entire process around the need for levy reform is around the competitive issue and making sure that we have enough money flowing into the sport to maintain Britain’s competitiveness and our position at the top table.

“That is one of the things we will continue to press.”

Blood Destiny came back in trip to some effect to claim the Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan.

Beaten by Spillane’s Tower in January when taking a keen hold in front, he moved nicely this time in second for Paul Townend, going strongly after three out before leading two from home and winging the last on the way to an impressive victory, with his Punchestown conqueror six and a half lengths in arrears on this occasion.

“New tactics, I thought that might be a help after Punchestown,” Willie Mullins said of his 8-11 favourite.

“Paul was very taken with him there. He’s brilliant to jump, that was always his feature, but we were making too much use of his jumping instead of just using it when we needed it.

“Coming back in trip might have been a help as well.”

Despite being trimmed for his Cheltenham Festival entries (Arkle and Turners Novices’ Chase), Mullins has other plans.

He added: “I don’t know whether we’ve made a mistake now leaving him at home for Cheltenham but at least he has one nice prize in the bag.

“I’d imagine he’ll probably go for the WillowWarm Gold Cup at Fairyhouse. That was the plan, here and then on to that.

“I know it’s two and a half, but that two and a half will be all right for him as well.”

Ash Tree Meadow was a 7-2 winner of the BoyleSports Webster Cup for Gordon Elliott and Sam Ewing.

Turning out just six days after finishing fourth in the Newlands Chase at Naas behind the brilliant but injury-plagued Ferny Hollow, the eight-year-old made every yard of the running on his way to a three-and-a-quarter length victory over Lucid Dreams.

The long-absent 4-6 favourite Journey With Me was a further half a length away in third place.

“It wasn’t really the plan to run him but when the race looked like it would cut up we decided we’d declare him and then make our mind up what to do. It worked out great,” Elliott said.

“He’s a good horse, Sam said he hated that ground and he’ll be better on better ground.

“There is a race in Fairyhouse and a race in Aintree for him. ”

Elliott and Ewing were completing a double on the card following the earlier victory of 4-6 favourite Instant Tendance in the BoyleSports Money Back 2nd To The Favourite Mares Maiden Hurdle.

“We had four or five seconds last weekend but no winner. I’d be anxious myself, we haven’t much between now and Cheltenham but it’s happy days (today),” Elliott added.

Ferny Hollow has met with a new injury setback and is once again on the sidelines.

Trained by Willie Mullins and winner of the Champion Bumper back in 2020, the hugely-talented nine-year-old returned from a 791-day absence to take the Newlands Chase at Naas last month, on just his fourth start since that Cheltenham Festival victory.

Speaking at Navan on Saturday, Mullins said: “He picked up another injury and he’s going to miss Aintree and Punchestown, I think.

“You might see him in the Galway Plate or something, I’ll have to find somewhere to run him.

“I think he’s going to be out for six to eight weeks. It’s a completely new injury.

“He’s just one of those individuals that gives his all and hurts himself when he does.

“It’s unfortunate but I think we’ll have him back for the summer, we could maybe head to France with him or something like that.”

Leading Champion Bumper contender Maughreen has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival after suffering a minor setback.

The daughter of Walk In The Park is bred to be smart, being out of a half-sister to the brilliant Faugheen, and could not have been more impressive when scoring by 11 lengths on her racecourse debut at Punchestown in January.

The five-year-old was disputing favouritism with some bookmakers to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a 13th Champion Bumper success at Prestbury Park – and while she will not be making the trip across the Irish Sea, connections are hopeful she will make a full recovery.

James Fenton, racing manager for her Closutton Racing Club owners, said: “The team at Willie’s just copped that she wasn’t moving correctly after a piece of work during the week, we’ve done a bit of investigating to see what was going on and we caught something very small.

“She’s by no means in any danger or anything like that, it’s an injury that I would take every day of the week. It’s very minor and the prognosis for it is described as excellent.

“She was going to Cheltenham, that was the plan. I discussed it on Monday night with Willie and a lot of the members had their plane tickets booked and everything, but they’re very understanding as that’s the game we’re in.”

On whether Maughreen could run later in the spring, Fenton added: “It’s up in the air at the moment, but there’s one thing we won’t be doing and that’s putting pressure on her.

“She’ll be well looked after, we’ll get her right and we’ll kick on again. We’ll just have to reassess her after two weeks and I would expect her to make a full recovery.”

Connections are hoping I Am Maximus’ own brand of jumping is not his Achilles heel when he goes for Randox Grand National glory at Aintree.

The reigning Irish Grand National champion put himself in the picture to follow in the footsteps of Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde by also adding the Liverpool version with a dominant display in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

That 14-length victory over last year’s Aintree runner-up Vanillier saw Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old made the general 10-1 joint-favourite for the world’s most famous steeplechase where he will attempt to give his handler a second victory in the race 19 years on from the success of Hedgehunter.

With his stamina assured, it appears the major question I Am Maximus will have to answer when tackling the famous spruce on Merseyside surrounds his jumping.

“He did well (in the Bobbyjo) and he’s got his own technique of jumping,” said owner JP McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“He seems to like Fairyhouse and he did it nicely. I believe he has come out of the race fine.

“He has his own way of getting round so it will be interesting to see how that goes at Aintree, but he’s in good form and the plan will be to go there with him.

“I don’t think stamina will be any problem to him and jumping could be his biggest problem. He will need a bit of luck but they all do round there.”

McManus has won the Grand National with both Don’t Push It (2010) and Minella Times (2021) and I Am Maximus is one of five potential National runners in the famous green and gold silks alongside Closutton stablemates Capodanno and Janidil, Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies and Gavin Cromwell’s Limerick Lace.

I Am Maximus booked his Randox Grand National ticket with an easy victory over last year’s Aintree runner-up Vanillier in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

Trained by Willie Mullins, I Am Maximus was returning to the scene of his finest hour having won the Irish Grand National last season and after this display, he is now a general 12-1 chance for Aintree on April 13.

Mullins used the Bobbjyo as an Aintree prep for Hedgehunter, who went on to win on Merseyside in 2005, but I Am Maximus looked to face a stiff task giving 12lb away to Gavin Cromwell’s Vanillier.

Jody McGarvey did the steering on the evens favourite, travelling well throughout the near three-mile-two-furlong affair before thoroughly asserting his authority in the straight, cruising home by 14 lengths.

Mullins said: “I thought it was a magnificent performance considering how badly he jumped going away from the stands.

“He just missed one or two there and Jody left him alone and let him find his own feet.

“When he got half down the back and around the fifth last once he saw the stands, I think he just clicked into a another gear.

“I don’t know how good he is but he’s certainly improving with every run. However, he does love Fairyhouse and maybe this is his track, he certainly has an engine.

“It’s very hard to quicken in this ground, he has a big engine in there.

“I’d imagine he goes for the Grand National, he would look a Gold Cup horse in time but I’d imagine Aintree is his objective.

“I’m not worried about ground for him. I don’t know how good he is yet because he just keeps improving.”

Sean Flanagan was not too disappointed with Vanillier’s effort in second, with the gelding having finished a half-length second in the race last year to Kemboy before going on to the National itself.

Vanillier will have a reduced 8lb advantage over I Am Maximus at Aintree and his rider is eager for the big day.

He said: “I’m very happy and I think he’s run better in the race this year than he did last year. There were a lot higher quality horses in the race this year.

“He’s probably got going a bit early in the race, but I wanted to get a proper race into him as I didn’t think they were going to go quick. Without forcing him I was trying to force the tempo of the race. I think he’s ran well.

“I’m looking forward to Aintree.”

Stainsby Girl upset hot favourite You Wear It Well with a fine front-running victory in the Listed Virgin Bet Every Saturday Money Back Mares’ Hurdle at Haydock.

Cheltenham Festival heroine You Wear It Well was a 1-2 shot to to make the most of having her sights lowered, having finished third in the Grade One Fighting Fifth and second in a Grade Two at Doncaster on her last two starts.

However, Gavin Sheehan was sending out distress signals in the saddle even before the home turn and she was ultimately well beaten in third.

Stainsby Girl, trained by Nick Alexander and owned and ridden by his son, Kit, finished fifth behind the Willie Mullins-trained Ashroe Diamond at Doncaster three weeks ago and led her rivals a merry dance here on her way to a 12-length verdict over Coquelicot.

“I thought she’d run well as she’s run some great races around here. I’m thrilled to bits as she deserved some black type and that’s the first time she’s managed to get any,” said Alexander of his 8-1 winner.

“She’s 10 now, so she’ll be going to stud soon enough. She handles that ground and she’s very difficult to pass as a lot of horses don’t handle it.

“We’re very lucky the BHA moved the race here after Warwick was abandoned last week, many thanks to them and to Haydock for doing so. We weren’t in the race at Warwick, so it’s a bit of good fortune.

“Kit owns her so we’ll see what he wants to do, but he gets some thrill riding her so he might want to have another go or two with her I would think. On the other hand she’s won her Listed race now and she’s booked in to see Logician, so she might just go there.”

Now Is The Hour completed a big-race double on the card for Gavin Cromwell and Sean Flanagan, dominating his rivals in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle.

While stablemate Yeah Man was a well-fancied winner of the Grand National Trial earlier in the afternoon, this recent Limerick scorer was 12-1 to scoop Grade Two honours.

He could be called the winner a long way from home, though, cruising into contention before pulling 17 lengths clear of Don’t Rightly Know.

Flanagan, riding at Haydock for the first time, said: “I’m just very privileged to come here and ride for the likes of Gavin – he’s produced this horse brilliantly on the day.

“It’s a big thing to him that he really enjoys this type of ground. We’ve gone very quick to the first bend and I’ve kind of let them at it up front and left my horse to be comfortable for as long as I could.

“I’ve got into a nice rhythm and he’s come home well because of that. He’s a nice prospect.”

Jonjo O’Neill and Nick Schofield combined to land the Virgin Bet Daily Extra Places Handicap Chase with 11-4 market leader Regal Blue.

The seven-year-old was disappointingly pulled up on his most recent appearance at Lingfield, but bounced back to form with a determined three-length success.

Schofield said: “He really enjoyed conditions today when others probably didn’t. You have to be tough on this ground. He’s no speedster, but he keeps going.

“It’s totally different conditions to day to what we got at Lingfield. He ran well here the time before, we’ve brought him back to what we know and it’s worked.”

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cuthbert Dibble (6-4 favourite) made it two from two for the season and four from seven over obstacles overall in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle under 5lb claimer Finn Lambert.

Willy Twiston-Davies, assistant to his father, said: “I thought that was impressive, he made a lot of ground up early in the straight and was left dawdling in front a bit.

“We’ve always held him in high regard and he’s getting his act together as the years go on.

“The Pertemps Final has got to be under consideration, he’s had a hard race but he’ll definitely have an entry and we’ll see what the handicapper does.

“Chasing next year will be his thing. We’ve always known he was an exciting horse and he’s proven that again today.”

Saint Sam was a poignant winner of the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park for Willie Mullins.

Maureen Mullins died at the age of 94 earlier this week and the wife of legendary trainer Paddy and mother of perennial champion Willie was a former director at the track.

Saint Sam, having his first run of the campaign, never saw another rival in the hands of Paul Townend as the 10-11 favourite beat Riviere D’etel by eight and a half lengths.

“Granny would have enjoyed that and it’s a pity that she’s not here to be in the (winning) picture,” said Patrick Mullins, who is assistant to his father.

“It was a great performance and great to have the owners Ed and Mary Ware here.

“The Red Mills Chase was one of the races we pinpointed at the start of the year.

“Small fields suit him – he likes to get on with things and wears the hood. He’s hot and we were a bit worried that he’d be a bit fresh on his first run and do too much on the heavy ground.

“Paul got a few breathers into him.

“Those Grade Twos or Grade Threes are where he’s most comfortable and he could go to Fairyhouse.

“He is a better chaser than he was a hurdler and loves jumping.”

Lantry Lady (13-8) looks a smart mare for the future as she maintained her unbeaten record in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle.

Gone are the days the race is seen as a Champion Hurdle Trial won by the likes of Hardy Eustace, Macs Joy and Danoli but for a mare the Grade Three black type will prove very valuable indeed.

Trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore, she had won her only previous race, also at Gowran, by a wide-margin in testing ground.

Doyen Ta Win tried to make all but was beaten three out which left just Gordon Elliott’s What’s Up Darling as the only rival left but he found the receipt of a stone too much and there was almost 10 lengths between them at the line.

“She’s obviously a really nice mare and I’m delighted for the Marigas (owners) who are great supporters of ours,” said De Bromhead.

“She was impressive here last year in her maiden hurdle and then we put her away as she was a bit immature.

“She’s just had a couple of niggles so it’s taken us a while to get her going again. I was concerned about fitness and it was only her second run.

“She’s confirmed what she did in her maiden hurdle and stepped forward again. She’s a lovely mare to go breeding with in years to come.”

As for future plans he said: “She’s entered in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and we’d love to go. It’s a step up in trip, but she would strike us at home as all she does is stay.

“I’d say she definitely wants a good ease in the ground so we would be cautious of that.

“The guys would love to go to Cheltenham and I think she is entitled to.”

Craig Kieswetter has paid tribute to the training prowess of Willie Mullins, as the former England cricketer begins to dream of Cheltenham Festival glory with Leopardstown scorer Il Etait Temps.

Owned by the Kieswetter family’s Barnane Stud in conjunction with the Heffer family’s Hollywood Syndicate, the six-year-old struck at the Dublin Racing Festival for the second year in a row.

Having lowered the colours of Facile Vega over hurdles 12 months ago, Il Etait Temps was back to cause another upset in the Irish capital, this time the beneficiary of Marine Nationale’s Irish Arkle no show, as he battled past Found A Fifty in the hands of Danny Mullins for his second Grade One success.

The South Africa-born Kieswetter played 71 times for England in white-ball internationals and is also a scratch golfer, having competed on both the PGA EuroPro Tour and MENA Golf Tour since his retirement from cricket.

As such, he is well qualified to judge sporting excellence and has always spoken in glowing terms of Il Etait Temps’ trainer, the master of Closutton.

“He’s probably along the lines of a Messi or Ronaldo or a Schumacher – he’s a champion,” said Kieswetter when explaining what makes Mullins so prolific.

“He’s going to go down as one of the all-time greats, but there is still plenty of life in the old dog yet. He certainly isn’t ready to hand over the reins yet and you can see how passionate and energetic and driven he is to keep winning and getting the results.”

The 36-year-old also reserved plenty of praise for Il Etait Temps and his jockey, as they both advertised their class at the back-end of a thrilling renewal of the two-mile Grade One event.

“It was very impressive and it might have just been fate or destiny with it being a year to the day since he won his first Grade One,” continued Kieswetter.

“We were delighted and it was another terrific ride from Danny (Mullins) – I was very hoarse the next day after shouting so loudly at the TV.

“It was terrific to have Ross Doyle there on course; Peter, Ross and Anna Doyle are good friends of the family and sourced the horse for us, so it is fantastic that they were there.

“He’s quite a difficult horse to follow I suppose, because his jumping – even though it is getting better than it was over hurdles – is still quite inconsistent and he is certainly a horse who puts you through the full range of emotions when you are watching a race.”

Il Etait Temps’ gutsy triumph came on a weekend where Mullins claimed all eight Grade One prizes on offer at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Mullins’ dominance at one of Ireland’s premier meetings left people questioning if his superiority is diminishing the competitive nature of the sport.

However, Kieswetter has leapt to Mullins’ defence – highlighting his winning mentality and great ability to treat every owner and horse among his vast arsenal equally.

“I have read articles questioning if it is good for the industry that Willie is dominating, but at the end of the day, Willie Mullins provides results and this is a results-based sport,” continued Kieswetter.

“With Willie and his team – not only his management team, but the whole staff – you have never once had a feeling of bias in the yard, which is probably a very difficult thing for them to do.

“Every single horse is treated equally and given the opportunity to run their race, no matter how many he may also saddle in the same race.

“You go to Closutton and you see the professionalism of Willie and his staff. What we have always been impressed with about Willie is he gives a lot of ownership to his staff in terms of the horses, which is impressive to see.

“His results speak for themselves and we have always been delighted to be associated with him.

“He’s set up a model at his yard that works and I think it is a bit unfair for the industry to be having a crack at him and saying it is the Willie Mullins Festival. The drive at the yard is very impressive and very fun to be a small part of.”

Il Etait Temps is now the general second-favourite for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival and, having twice ran with credit at the showpiece meeting, has connections excited ahead of his third bite of the Prestbury Park cherry.

Kieswetter added: “Horse racing is about selling the dream and I’ve never enjoyed going into a race with lots of media and talk about a horse, but he has certainly proven that he deserves to be not taken lightly.

“We will certainly be over there and we’re excited every year for Cheltenham – and we can’t wait to be there cheering on Il Etait Temps with the team.”

Willie Mullins’ first ever runner at Exeter was a winner as the mare Fun Fun Fun held off the late rally of favourite Favour And Fortune in the Trustatrader Fully Vetted Tradespeople Novices’ Hurdle.

The pair had come up against each other once before in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, with Alan King’s Favour And Fortune finishing one place in front of Fun Fun Fun when 14th, giving her 7lb.

This time, 6-4 chance Fun Fun Fun was even better off at the weights, carrying 10lb less, and it was just enough to enable her to claim the valuable Listed black type win.

It looked a great bit of placing by Mullins, despite the near 700-mile round trip, as she only faced two rivals – and Paul Nicholls’ Insurrection was beaten early in the straight.

Tom Cannon made his bid approaching the final flight on the 11-8 favourite but Daryl Jacob had saved just enough on Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s mare, winning by half a length.

“She’s not the biggest but she’s got a big heart and tries very hard,” Jacob told Racing TV.

“Patrick (Mullins) actually bred her himself and she’s been a great mare since she joined us, she’s got a very willing attitude.

“She rides bigger than she looks but she’s a scopey thing, she can jump well and will probably jump a fence as well. I just like the way she dug deep from the back of the last.

“Patrick said the one thing she loves to do is jump. I actually would have liked to have been a bit lower at the last but she was big at it, but got away from it well.

“Alan King’s horses are in great form at the moment so he was always going to be a tough nut to crack.”

Allegorie De Vassy’s odds for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham were trimmed following a cosy success at Naas on Saturday.

Willie Mullins’ charge was on something of a redemption mission in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase after an odds-on reverse at the hands of the reopposing Riviere D’Etel on New Year’s Day.

The latter came home 33 lengths clear on that occasion, but Allegorie De Vassy righted the record in this Listed heat.

Sent off a 5-2 chance in the hands of Paul Townend, Allegorie De Vassy survived some sticky early leaps and was travelling notably better than 7-4 favourite Riviere D’Etel approaching the final couple of obstacles.

She fairly skipped over the final fence to coast home by four lengths and Paddy Power make her a 7-2 chance from 5s for the the Festival contest in which she finished second last year.

Mullins said: “That was a better performance, especially considering how badly she jumped over the first four fences.

“She just wasn’t herself and it took her until about the fourth last before she really started to jump and then she got into a rhythm and flew.

“We might have been lucky that the two in front took each other on. It might not have been as flashy as we thought it was.

“I’m happy enough with how she’s run, and she’ll go for the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham.”

Willie Mullins reflected on a weekend of “fantasy horse racing” at the Dublin Racing Festival after securing all eight Grade Ones prizes up for grabs across the two-day fixture for the first time.

The Closutton handler has dominated the high-profile meeting since its inception in 2018, although he had hitherto not quite found the correct combination to mop up all the top-level prizes in the same year.

But having once again sent an army of equine superstars to Leopardstown, Mullins completed a Grade One clean sweep, at odds of nearly 6,505-1 – an achievement the all-conquering champion trainer insisted he does not take for granted.

He said: “It’s been a superb weekend. You see the team in action this weekend and I’m delighted for them, I’m delighted for my owners and my staff, it’s terrific.

“It’s extraordinary, we know that. Everything has come together – we have tremendous owners who invest in Irish racing and they love it.

“It’s tremendous to have people from abroad bringing money like that into Irish racing and we’re the beneficiaries – we’re very lucky.”

Galopin Des Champs starred in the trainer’s Saturday four-timer as he defended his crown in the Irish Gold Cup, ensuring he will be a short price to do the same in the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

It is further evidence of the huge strength in depth that Mullins has at his disposal that he won the other three Grade One races on the first day with apparent second, third and even fourth strings.

The champion trainer’s nephew Danny Mullins enjoyed a treble, getting off to a flying start aboard rank outsider Dancing City in the curtain-raising Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle before landing the Spring Juvenile Hurdle and the Irish Arkle on Kargese and Il Etait Temps respectively.

On Sunday the results were a little more predictable, with State Man making it back-to-back wins in the Irish Champion Hurdle, Ballyburn justifying odds-on favouritism in the Tattersalls Ireland 50th Derby Sale Novice Hurdle and El Fabiolo cementing his status as Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite with a clear-cut win in the Dublin Chase.

The only minor upset among the four Mullins winners on day two was Fact To File’s defeat of better-fancied stablemate Gaelic Warrior in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase, with the latter exiting when well held at the final fence.

Mullins added: “You can’t get much better – it’s fantasy horse racing, isn’t it?

“We bring the horses here and as you saw a lot of our second strings won yesterday, it was amazing and Danny had a tremendous day.

“They’re all coming here on their merits for different owners and may the best one win on the day. You don’t know what will happen, look at Gaelic Warrior today – he was many people’s banker for the weekend and was a complete blowout. It’s not simple.”

Much has been made of Mullins’ increasing dominance on the National Hunt scene, with the fact he saddled the only two runners to go to post in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase clearly disappointing.

“It’s unfortunate,” he admitted. “Grangeclare West wasn’t right this morning and we withdrew him, I never dreamt (Gordon Elliott’s) American Mike would come out, I don’t know what happened there.

“It is unfortunate, but we run everything we can anyway. We just aim for these festivals and hope that ours turn up and as you see, they don’t all turn up.

“Yesterday we had a couple of favourites beaten, it’s racing and that’s why you have to come to the races and find out. If I was punting, I’d be losing my tonsils I’d say!”

Galopin Des Champs is odds on for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after registering back-to-back success in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Leading from flag-fall, Paul Townend was content to set a sedate pace on Willie Mullins’ 1-3 favourite, with his old rival Fastorslow never letting him get too far in front.

The pair had met three times in the past, with the score heading into this contest in favour of Martin Brassil’s chaser by two victories to one.

Team Closutton were determined to level the scores before heading to Cheltenham and Townend – who had picked the wrong Mullins-trained representative in the first three Grade Ones of the afternoon – was always in control.

J J Slevin attempted to make his move after the second-last and aimed to get the rail, but Townend was alive to it and made sure it was not straightforward, while Conflated was not completely out of it on the far side.

Galopin Des Champs jinked to his left approaching the last which just put Fastorslow off for a stride or two, while Conflated unseated Jack Kennedy, but just like at Christmas the winner’s most impressive part was the final 100 yards and he pulled four and a half lengths clear.

The winner is now 4-6 (from evens) to repeat his Cheltenham success in March with Betfair and Coral.

Jessica Harrington is confident her fast-improving mare Jetara can give the boys a run for their money in the curtain-raising Nathaniel Lacy And Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The two-mile-six-furlong contest is the first of eight scheduled Grade Ones across the two-day Dublin Racing Festival and, as is the case with most of them, the market is dominated by Willie Mullins.

The champion trainer is responsible for four of the six runners, with hot favourite Predators Gold joined by Loughglynn, I Will Be Baie and Dancing City, but Harrington has high hopes for the well-related Jetara, who since disappointing on her Down Royal comeback has rattled off a hat-trick of wins.

“She had the summer off, she grew, she filled out and when she came back, she was great, but unfortunately she went to Down Royal, was very fresh and made a mistake at the first hurdle and after that it was a non-event,” said the Moone-based trainer.

“Since then, she’s won her next three and done nothing but improve. I think that has happened because she has got a lot stronger.

“She did everything right the last day. I was a bit worried because they took the last hurdle out because of low sun, so it was a long way home. I knew she would stay but I was worried the others might have a better turn of foot.

“She’s from a great family, her dam is a full-sister to Jezki and she’s related to Jetson. Her dam was much smaller, she won a bumper and went off to stud and Jetara is her first foal.

“She jumps well and they (geldings) are going to have to give her 7lb. She’s above average and they are going to have to be above average to give her 7lb. She wouldn’t be there unless I thought she could win, I hope she lives up to my expectations.”

Goffs Bumper winner Predators Gold impressed on his hurdling debut at Punchestown before finishing best of the rest behind Caldwell Potter in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at this track in December.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, views a significant step up in trip as a positive for the five-year-old.

He said: “This will be his acid test, we always thought he was a stayer until Willie ran him back over two miles and he ran well. We will get to see where we are.”

The second Grade One on the card is the McCann FitzGerald Spring Juvenile Hurdle, in which Gigginstown’s market leader Storm Heart leads a six-strong Mullins assault.

The French recruit won by 22 lengths on his Irish debut at Punchestown but faces a sizeable step up in class for what promises to be a hugely informative event with the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in mind.

“We will see on Saturday what we have and I hope he comes through it well. We know he won his race well and this will tell us where we are now. He has to take the next step,” O’Leary added.

Joseph O’Brien claimed back-to-back wins in this race in 2019 and 2020 with Sir Erec and A Wave Of The Sea and has another interesting contender on his hands in the form of Intellotto, who impressed on his hurdling bow over the course and distance.

Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: “Daryl (Jacob) won on him for Joseph over Christmas at Leopardstown and we’re going back to course and distance.

“We had the option of going over to Cheltenham last Saturday, but decided to stay local and see where we are in the pecking order.”

A Dream To Share is the star attraction in the concluding Donohue Marquees Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race.

The six-year-old really burst onto the scene when landing this Grade Two prize 12 months ago before going on to win the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and a second Grade One at Punchestown.

John and Thomas Kiely’s charge was due to pursue a career over obstacles this term, but with a setback delaying his return, he instead bids to complete the very rare feat of winning six bumpers.

The Blue Blood Racing Club are relishing the prospect of Ashroe Diamond taking on some of the best mares around at the Cheltenham Festival, following her decisive Grade Two triumph at Doncaster last weekend.

Trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by the handler’s son Patrick, last season’s Grade One scorer took a huge step forward from a third-placed return in the Hatton’s Grace to book her ticket to the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle in good style in the Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle.

The seven-year-old easily got the better of Nicky Henderson’s well-regarded Under Control, with high-class stablemate Gala Marceau a place further back in third in South Yorkshire.

Having been cruelly denied a run at the Festival at the 11th hour 12 months ago, connections are now hoping for a smooth run-up to Prestbury Park’s showcase meeting to enable a shot at a race that has always been high on the list of assignments for this term.

“It was a brilliant day and I suppose coming back in trip for her after the Hatton’s Grace was the key to her jumping well and Patrick was able to go forward a lot more,” said James Fenton who manages the Blue Blood Racing Club.

“Myself and Patrick discussed it about an hour before the race and he rode her textbook to the way we decided on – not a thing went wrong, which is great. You would have to be impressed with her and the way she did it so professionally.

“We have to go to the Mares’ now. She was unlucky not to get to Cheltenham last year and hopefully now, with the travelling over to Doncaster and back and stuff, she is a more settled mare in that regard and all roads now lead to Cheltenham.

“We said at the start of the season, when we decided not to go chasing with her, that she deserved another crack over hurdles and we would aim for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and work our way back.

“The run in the Hatton’s Grace brought her on to Doncaster and now we go on to Cheltenham and hopefully the plan is working – and that is all down to the great team at Closutton.”

While Ashroe Diamond was enhancing her reputation on Town Moor, Lossiemouth was laying down her own Mares’ Hurdle marker at Cheltenham with a blistering display in the Unibet hurdle.

The two Closutton inmates dominate the top of the Mares’ Hurdle market and, although highly respectful of Rich and Susannah Ricci’s Triumph Hurdle-winning starlet, Fenton is embracing the challenge competing in a Grade One event at the Festival will bring.

He added: “Lossiemouth is a great mare who we are willing to take on and we will enjoy our day out.

“To have a mare good enough to take on the likes of Lossiemouth is brilliant and may the best mare win, that’s what the game is about.

“There is no point going over and just expecting to win everything at this level; you are going to have to take on the best and Lossiemouth is one of the best mares in training at the moment, so we will look forward to taking a cut at her, we won’t be running for cover.

“The build-up to it will be exciting now and all the members of the racing club are chuffed to bits to have a mare of that quality to go to a big race like that.

“To go to Cheltenham with a mare with a bit of a squeak and to get her into the first three would be amazing.”

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