Normal service resumed at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day as Willie Mullins once again proved the one to follow.
The champion trainer saddled a 13-1 hat-trick at the Dublin track highlighted by Saint Roi winning his first race over fences in the Grade One Racing Post App Novice Chase.
Mark Walsh rode the 3-1 winner to beat Visionarian by over two lengths with the 8-11 favourite Fil Dor only third.
On top of Lossiemouth’s odds-on success in the Knight Frank Hurdle, and victory too for Dark Ravan, Mullins’s dominance was a familiar feeling for the crowd of 15,797 enjoying festive racing for the first time in three years.
In the interim, Mullins had saddled 31 Christmas winners behind closed doors and once more shapes as dominating the rest of this week’s festival action.
Saint Roi’s previous claim to fame had been as Barry Geraghty’s final ride at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival but he graduated to the top level himself in some style.
Runner-up to Fil Dor on his first start over fences last month, a combination of Walsh’s change of tactics, and the favourite blundering at the third last, decisively swung the verdict.
“If he’d won [at Navan] we’d be coming here anyway so rather than running in another Beginners Chase, I thought let him have a crack at a good prize.
“We decided to change the tactics. JP [McManus, owner] was wondering would he be better waited with, and Mark agreed.
“He’s not the biggest horse in the world but he jumps very efficiently,” Mullins said of the winner who was cut to 14-1 in Arkle betting for Cheltenham.
Lossiemouth was cut to as low as 6-4 for Cheltenham’s Triumph Hurdle after beating her stable companion Gala Marceau in a performance that wasn’t as straightforward as it looked.
“In a truly race you’d see the true mare, I think,” said jockey Paul Townend who also won on Dark Raven. “She had to get down and dirty and grind it out and she had no bother doing that.”
Gordon Elliott was out of luck in Leopardstown’s feature but repelled Mullins in Limerick’s Grade One feature when Gerri Colombe maintained his unbeaten record in the Guinness Faugheen Chase.
The 4-5 favourite beat off three Mullins challengers to give jockey Jordan Gainford a first top-flight success in Ireland.
With Jack Kennedy on duty at Leopardstown, Gainford stepped in for the ride on Gerri Colombe who is now 5-1 for Cheltenham Festival glory in the Brown Advisory Novice Chase.
“From the first day I walked into Gordon’s, he’s looked after me and he had the confidence to put me up today,” the 21-year-old rider said.
“His jumping was brilliant and for him to do what he did today was very good. Plans will be left to Gordon but the one thing he loves is soft ground and he had that today,” Gainford added.
Elliott made his presence felt at all three meetings in the country, also winning the first at Limerick through the Gainford-ridden Ludus while Lucky Lyreen narrowly landed the last at Down Royal.
The Co Meath trainer had to wait until the finale at Leopardstown but it was worth it as Pour Les Filles rallied to get the better of the Mullins favourite Did I Ask You That by a neck.
After recent freezing conditions it was low-lying sun that proved a problem on Monday when the hurdle in the straight had to be repeatedly bypassed.
It was no problem to the one-time Derby favourite High Definition who made a winning debut over jumps in the opening maiden hurdle.
Missing out on the last mightn’t have been a negative either judged by some of High Definition’s jumping but his new trainer, Joseph O’Brien, wasn’t concerned.
“He was a high class flat horse so you would be hoping he can make it into Graded company over hurdles. Obviously, we would be looking at Cheltenham but he would have to run somewhere between now and then.
“We’ll see how he is after this and speak with the owners before making a plan. The Dublin Racing Festival is an option but whether we want to go straight into that class or take baby steps, we’ll have to see,” he said.
Jockey Georgie Benson enjoyed a memorable first success over hurdles on the 33-1 handicap winner Tullypole Annie.
Rachael Blackmore was out of luck at Kempton when Envoi Allen finished last behind Bravemansgame in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.
The 11-4 winner gave trainer Paul Nicholls a record-extending 13th King George success.
Earlier on the Kempton card, Constitution Hill extended his unbeaten record with a sauntering victory over Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson’s star is unchanged as a heavy odds-on favourite for Champion Hurdle glory at Cheltenham in March.