Mullins hot streak continues as Fire strikes on return from layoff
Willie Mullins takes a while to warm up after getting out of bed these days, so he knows all about how Arctic Fire feels each morning.
The eight-year-old has joint trouble but he also has class and after more than a year on the sidelines he returned to the big time to give Mullins, rider Paul Townend and owners Wicklow Bloodstock another County Hurdle to go with Wicklow Brave's 2015 success.
Arctic Fire was good enough to finish second in the Champion Hurdle behind Faugheen on his most recent visit to the festival in 2015, splitting that stablemate and another, Nichols Canyon, the winner of Thursday’s Stayers’ Hurdle, in the Irish version last season.
He was still sent off at 20-1 but Mullins said: “He’s a class horse on his day and even though he was carrying top weight the handicapper gave us a fighting chance as his rating was probably 5-6lb below his best.
“He has joint trouble all the time. Like I am when I get out of bed in the morning – it takes me a while to get going – he’s like that every day. The guys at home know him inside out and tell me when he’s right or wrong, and they said this fellow was fine this week, so we travelled him over.”
There might have been a few worries when Wakea scooted 20 lengths clear coming down the hill, however, and Arctic Fire was still towards the rear of the 25 runners after the second last.
Townend stayed cool and delivered a telling run up the rail to see off L’Ami Serge and Ozzie The Oscar, who led over the last, by a neck and the same in a tight finish.
Mullins said: “He pulled so hard on the way to the start and Paul dropped him right in. Then they went a huge gallop, so the horses able to close fast had an advantage. Paul was lucky enough to get a clear passage on the outside and got up.”
Worth the wait
Townend, whose day got even better when scoring on Penhill in the Albert Bartlett 40 minutes later, said after a win that sealed the Betbright Prestbury Cup for Ireland: “It’s been a lucky race for us. I thought I was riding the best horse in the race and just had to hope for some luck, and it paid off. It’s an unbelievable training performance to bring him back after such a long time off.
“It was a good gallop the whole way. I got a bit tight to the second last but just had to sit and wait again. When we turned off the bend up the straight I pulled out for a clear run and hoped not to get stopped. I bagged the rail and just held on.
“I thought Vroum Vroum Mag would be my best ride of the meeting but maybe having to wait for this makes it all the sweeter.”