Mullins expecting another 'very close call' between Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit
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Rachael Blackmore put on an exhibition last month as to how a rider can tactically master Cheltenham, and there were few better examples of that than her exquisite front-running heroics on Sir Gerhard in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
Half a length separated the unbeaten six-year-old and stablemate Kilcruit, who could never quite get on terms after the winner got first run.
The race unfolded very differently to the well-run Grade 2 Dublin Racing Festival bumper Kilcruit bolted up in by 12 lengths and a solid pace can be expected again this time around, creating the potential for a reversal in Cheltenham form.
That could be provided by Lake Winnipesaukee, who traded as low as 2.08 in-running before going the wrong side of the running rail on turning into the straight in another bumper at Leopardstown last month.
The free-going four-year-old, trained by Paul Fahey, was 13 lengths clear and apparently travelling strongly when his 7lb-claiming rider Aaron Fahey said that through a lack of energy and his saddle slipping, he was unable to steer his mount around the final bend on the correct course.
He is in deeper waters now but is entitled to be in the line-up with the winner of that bumper, Dark Raven, bolting up at Fairyhouse since. The second was also placed in a Listed event.
The Stuart Crawford-trained O'Toole was bought by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede after a 15-length romp on his Fairyhouse introduction in February and could be anything, while Eric Bloodaxe makes his first start since finishing lame at last year's Dublin Racing Festival.
He has always been an exciting sort, having been sent off 11-4 to beat Appreciate It on that occasion, but his lack of a recent run is obviously concerning.
Mullins: Sir Gerhard sets the standard
With the amateur riders' title battle in mind, it would have been interesting to see who would have ridden Sir Gerhard if Patrick Mullins remained loyal to Kilcruit, with Jamie Codd closely associated with the Cheveley Park-owned performer prior to their split from Gordon Elliott.
However, that scenario has been avoided with the reigning champion amateur seemingly believing the Cheltenham form will be confirmed between two of the most exciting young horses in training for Willie Mullins.
"It could be a very close call between the two again today," said the champion trainer.
"Sir Gerhard came back from Cheltenham in good form and he sets the standard.
He added of Champion Bumper eighth Ramillies: "It's hard to see him reversing the form. A share of the prize money is the best we can hope for him."
What they say
Stuart Crawford, trainer of O'Toole
He had always shown us he was a nice horse at home without doing any more than he's been asked to do. He's still very much an unknown quantity. It's a step up in grade and I don't know how he'll handle the ground. We're looking forward to sending him over obstacles next season.
Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Eric Bloodaxe
He's been difficult to train and it's his first run for over a year in what looks a very competitive race. He's a talented horse on his day and it'd be nice if he could run well.
Mick Halford, trainer of Ardla
It's not too often you get to race for money like this in a bumper and we've got a great man [Jamie Codd] on board. We're not expecting to win – it's a very strong race with some exceptional horses – but we're hoping for a big run.
Paul Fahey, trainer of Lake Winnipesaukee
He's got a new owner, who was anxious to give him a run in a race like this before we go hurdling in the autumn. We know we're in at the deep end and he won't get things his own way, but Aaron felt that he still had horse underneath him last time. He hadn't been able to go to a schooling race or anything like that before his first run and he showed his greenness.
Read more on day two at Punchestown:
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