Reports11 April 2024

'I was hoping he would come alive and he did' - Il Etait Temps helps Willie Mullins gatecrash British trainers' title race

Il Etait Temps: winner of the Manifesto Novices' Chase
Il Etait Temps: winner of the Manifesto Novices' ChaseCredit: GROSSICK RACING

If the first race is any guide, Aintree could be looking a lot more like Cheltenham this year.

Unlike recent seasons when Willie Mullins has sent a select few to Merseyside, the Cheltenham Festival's all-time leading trainer has dispatched a vast team in his attempt to gatecrash the British trainers' championship duel between Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls.

In the Manifesto Novices' Chase, Mullins got one over that pair when Il Etait Temps ,under Paul Townend, showed too much speed for Turners Novices' Chase one-two Grey Dawning and Ginny's Destiny.

Stepping up in trip after finishing third in last month's Arkle, Il Etait Temps had Mullins concerned in the early part of the race, but those worries evaporated in the home straight as the well-backed 3-1 shot turned on the turbocharger.

"He walked fantastically around the parade ring beforehand – I've never seen him so loose – but when he jumped off I thought this isn't going well," said Mullins.

"For the first circuit Paul just sat on him and waited for the horse to get competitive, and he felt him coming alive down the back straight and just rode his race from there.

"I think going up in trip is the most important part and the more he goes up in distance, we could probably take the hood off him now. He was just a different horse there today, and it was maturity more than anything else."

Il Etait Temps: jumps the last before winning the Manifesto Novices' Chase
Il Etait Temps: jumps the last in the Manifesto Novices' ChaseCredit: Alan Crowhurst

Il Etait Temps won going away on the run-in to score by nine lengths, with Ginny's Destiny holding off Grey Dawning for third. 

Townend said: "A lot fell in his favour; he did things right and warmed up into it. He's a good horse – he's a Grade 1 winner round Leopardstown – who's not getting the credit he deserves for what he's achieved. I was hoping when I got him competitive he would come alive – and he did."

Mullins, again the top trainer at Cheltenham last month with nine winners, did not rule out going to Punchestown with Il Etait Temps, who was cut to 14-1 (from 33) for next season's Ryanair Chase by Paddy Power.

"Who knows what will happen, but we love going to Punchestown," he said. "If the horse is ready, we're ready. He's going to be doing nothing until November and we'll be doing our best to run if we can as there's good prize-money." 

Skelton felt a hard race at the festival had left a mark on Grey Dawning, who was sent off 11-10 favourite.

"I think he's as well as he can be on the day as Cheltenham has obviously taken a lot out of him. It's so hard to predict that before you've seen the run," the trainer said. "We'll give him a long holiday now and start him off first time up at two and a half next season and then go up to three miles."

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