Teen star Mullins on target in Ulster Grand National
Pineau De Re could go for the Galway Plate or Midlands National after victory in a thrilling Toals Bookmakers Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick.
And in an added bonus, Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly — who regained his Champion Hurdle title at last month’s Cheltenham Festival — paraded ahead of the big race, receiving a great reception from the big sun-drenched crowd.
The feature race was a cracker with the lead changing hands several times in the closing stages.
Armagh trainer Jim Lambe's Kingsmoss looked a possible winner four from home only to fade and finish third.
Shabra Charity appeared set to give Oliver Brady a repeat success — the Monaghan trainer having won the feature last year with Duroob — when hitting the front at the third last fence, but teenage jockey Danny Mullins aboard Pineau De Re, having tracked the leading group, gradually made ground prior to taking it up at the penultimate fence and galloping up the hill so strongly that he won by 23 lengths at the finish in a contest worth €25,000.
Favourite Fever Pitch kept on one paced to fill fourth place.
Winning trainer Philip Fenton said his horse benefitted from the improved going.
“The better ground helped and he has been improving all season,” said the Tipperary handler.
“He lacks a bit of scope and I think we will bypass the Punchestown Festival — the Midlands National or the Galway Plate could be options but he needs to improve further again. I will talk to his owner (Barry Connell).”
Paul Carberry, injured on Tuesday at Fairyhouse, was replaced by his sister Nina on Another Palm in the the big race but the top lady amateur took a heavy fall when unseated at the second fence and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken collar bone.
Blackwater-based Lambe gained quick compensation for the defeat of Ulster National runner Kingsmoss when favourite Twin Plan was the facile winner of the handicap chase, leading at the top of the hill and establishing a clear lead two from home under jockey Eddie O'Connell.
Lambe said: “I've had a mixed day with four horses placed but this was the one I really fancied to win.
“I have nothing for Aintree but will aim a few at the Scottish Grand National meeting.”
Local handlers quickly registered a double when Send For Paddy, with Danny Fitzsimmons in the saddle, defied his preference for softer conditions to win the hunter chase in good style for Crossgar trainer Colin McBratney.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins completed a first and last race double when ex local point to pointer Bally Longford battled to the line to land the concluding bumper.
Mullins’ win in the opener came courtesy of Un Beau Roman — with Ruby Walsh on board — beating the Killinchy-trained Shershewill into second.
Champion jockey Davy Russell partnered in-form trainer Gordon Elliott's Shrapnel to victory in the second race, while the Meath handler revealed he has a team of six heading to the Aintree Grand National meeting, which starts today with the big race on Saturday.
Connections of both the first two winners thought the better going had aided success on a day of non-stop sunshine.
The Philip Rothwell-trained Paddy O'Dee registered back-to-back victories at the venue and his third win at the course when landing the handicap hurdle.
The Wicklow trainer said: “He loves it here and the better ground helped.”