Mullins 5-2 for title after novice hurdle one-two
Willie Mullins has been cut to 5-2 to retain the trainers' championship after a brisk start to the Punchestown festival revitalised his fading fortunes.
Mullins started the day a touch more than €400,000 behind Gordon Elliott, but a one-two in the Champion Novice Hurdle (in which Elliott's Labaik essentially refused to take part) and second for Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase cut the gap to around €265,000.
With that much difference made in one day, it shows how important the five days of Punchestown will be in deciding whether the Mullins hegemony continues or if Elliott will cap his remarkable rise in recent seasons with a first title.
Elliott had a disappointing day overall, with victory for 25-1 shot Roaring Bull bringing in less than €10,000 but acting as a reminder that there is always tomorrow.
Labaik had been Elliott's major hope, but the fancied Veinard also managed only sixth in the 2m handicap hurdle, his two Champion Chase runners (both admittedly outsiders) failed to complete and A Toi Phil was only fourth in the Champion Novice Chase.
Mullins, meanwhile, may be wondering how much odds-on favourite Un De Sceaux's defeat might cost him. He pocketed €47,000 for his second-placed finish to Fox Norton, but it looked for a long time as though he might have been a place better, and his trainer duly €100,000 better off.
Elliott remains 2-7 for the championship, however, and has a few big chances on Wednesday. Festival winner Champagne Classic in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle and Outlander in the Gold Cup would have outside chances, while in the Champion Bumper (Fayonagh and Poli Roi) and valuable handicap chase (Rightdownthemiddle and Jetstream Jack) that follow he holds strong hands.
Mullins arguably looks even better. He has four in the novice hurdle including Penhill, Djakadam in the Gold Cup and solid chances in the three races that follow.