The domination of Willie Mullins over the past couple of years has been the biggest story in jump racing during that time and that cranked up a notch this weekend as the dominant Irish handler once again caught the headlines.
With the Cheltenham Festival now just a matter of weeks away, some of the superstars of the Mullins yard were having their final runs before heading to Prestbury Park and they certainly did not disappoint.
Mullins Superstars Dominate Weekend
The Willie Mullins bandwagon rolled into Ascot on Saturday with two of his superstars in action at the Berkshire track in the UK. Mullins has been making more and more forays to the UK this season and that continued here as both of his runners won and won well to enhance their stars.
Vroum Vroum Mag was up in distance to run in the Mares Hurdle on Saturday and she was super impressive as she beat a good field of Mares from both sides of the Irish Sea without breaking too much sweat. The Rich Ricci owned hurdler travelled like a dream before pulling clear of the field in testing ground and her Festival target now remains up in the air.
At this stage, we still don't know quite how good Vroum Vroum Mag is and with the same owner and trainer also having Annie Power, big decisions are ahead. Vroum Vroum Mag could go to the World Hurdle to test her metal against the boys and she was cut from 8/1 into 5/1 for that race with Bet Victor, whilst the Mares Hurdle also remains an option for Mag for which she was cut from 12/1 into 13/2 for after this race.
The star turn at Ascot on Saturday came from Un De Sceaux as he faced what on paper looked like the biggest test of his career as he started favourite for the Clarence House Chase. The Arkle hero was having just his second start of the winter having fallen last time out but he showed no sign of rustiness here as he destroyed Sire De Grugy with a phenomenal display.
Un De Sceaux ran enthusiastically from the front as he always does but this time his jumping matched that as he produced a stunning performance. Sire De Grugy tried to go with him but he paid the price and he was no match for UDS in the end and as long as he stays on his feet, UDS will be very hard to beat in March. It was a very impressive run from UN De Sceaux and all roads now lead to Cheltenham where he can be backed at 4/6 (from 11/8) for the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Bet Victor as a result of this win.
Un De Sceaux looking in great form on Saturday as he jumped on the way to a Clarence house victory;
If Saturday was impressive, Sunday was another step up again for the Willie Mullins team as they dominated the card at Leopardstown in typically stunning fashion.
Douvan and Faugheen both made their final appearances before the Festival and both were sensational as they won the Irish Arkle and the Irish Champion Hurdle with the minimum of fuss.
Douvan was sensational in the Arkle as he beat two limited horses in spectacular fashion and it is almost impossible to see him getting beat in March with his Arkle Chase price now as short as 1/2 (from 4/7) with Paddy Power after this latest dominant display. Banker.
The Irish Champion Hurdle was the highlight on paper and it proved that way as Nichols Canyon and Faugheen clashed once again but this time there was only one winner. Having beaten Faugheen in the Morgiana, Nichols Canyon was allowed to race Faugheen for the lead but he paid the price as Faugheen galloped him into the ground before pulling well clear of what was considered to be a big rival.
It was a stunning display from Faugheen who perhaps produced a career best to destroy Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon and Faugheen is now a best price 2/5 (from 8/13) with Bet365 to defend his Champion Hurdle crown in March.
Faugheen was super impressive on Sunday and social media exploded in praise for one of the stars of the sport;
They were the two wins for Willie Mullins in the big races of the day at Leopardstown on Sunday but he wasn't finished there as he picked up two more to claim a massive four timer.
The Gigginstown owned A Toi Phil was very impressive in winning the 2m4f Novice Hurdle in very taking fashion for Mullins and he now goes to the Festival with nice chances. The 6-year-old jumped superbly throughout before pulling clear of the very decent Acapella Bourgeois and his price of 20/1 (from 25s) for the Neptune at Cheltenham looks a more than decent one based on this run
We also saw Mullins mop up the Bumper as Village Mystic won very well and he is now a best price 16/1 for the Champion Bumper in March which could be big if he turns up in one piece.
Other Eye Catchers This Week
Ok, so it wasn't al about Willie Mullins this week, mostly but not all, and it is only right of us to pick out some of the other eye catchers, with half an eye on the Festival.
Mouse Morris is always a character and he will surely have been delighted with Alpa Des Obeaux last Thursday as he picked up the Galmoy Hurdle in very testing conditions at Gowran Park. The Gigginstown owned hurdler beat Martello Tower well and could be the best of the Irish ahead of the World Hurdle with his current price of 10/1 (from 12s) a decent one you would think.
Few Novice Chasers have jumped better this season than Bristol De Mai and that was the case again on Saturday as the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 5-year-old destroyed the field in the Altcar Novices Chase at Haydock. It was a stunning display from a very classy horse and you have to give him a chance at the Festival in whatever race he goes to if he can maintain his brilliant jumping.
Bristol De Mai was cut from 16/1 (from 12s) with Betfred for the JLT whilst the RSA Chase remains a possible for the horse for which he is now as best price 16/1 for as a result if this latest win.
Alan King is an excellent trainer of juvenile hurdlers and he showed that again on Saturday as Gibralfaro won the Juvenile Hurdle at Ascot in decent fashion. He looks like a game sort of horse who could have more to come in his next start and as such he was cut from 16/1, into 12/1, with Betfair for the Triumph Hurdle in the aftermath of this success.
Road to Cheltenham Summary - 25th Jan 2016
Bristol De Mai cut for the JLT and RSA Chase after impressive Haydock win
Faugheen crusies to Irish Champion Hurdle success at Leopardstown and is cut for Champion Hurdle defence
Douvan maintains unbeaten record to win Irish Arkle without breaking a sweat and his price for the Arkle at Cheltenham has been cut again
Clarence House Chase goes to Un De Sceaux and he is now a best price 5/6 for the Champion Chase