Frankie Dettori is riding in Los Angeles but his name was being bandied about at Leopardstown on Tuesday when it briefly looked like Willie Mullins might get his own “Magnificent Seven”.
Mullins won the first five contests on the seven-race festival programme to set statisticians scrambling for precedent and historians recalling Dettori’s famous Ascot clean sweep in 1996.
It ultimately wasn’t to be, though, and the hot-streak came to an end in the featured Paddy Power Chase as the father-son team of Eric and Conor McNamara sprang a 33-1 shock with Real Steel.
That Mullins ultimately completed a 102-1 Leopardstown six-timer with Fact To File in the bumper left a tantalising sense of “close but no cigar” which was probably not helped by the irony of having once trained Real Steel.
In fact, Mullins saddled him to finish sixth in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup only for the horse to be subsequently switched to Paul Nicholls.
Real Steel failed to win in eight starts for Britain’s champion trainer and changed hands to Co Limerick based Eric McNamara for just £27,000 earlier this year.
McNamara admitted he went over-budget too but there was a superb Paddy Power pay-off as the horse that had tumbled down the ratings just held 40-1 outsider Diol Ker in a dramatic photo-finish.
It was the biggest win in the riding career of Conor McNamara whose older brother Emmet famously beat the odds too on board Serpentine in the 2020 Epsom Derby.
“To win one of these handicaps is great. He was well handicapped if we could rekindle him. He spent two years doing nothing in England, whatever went wrong there,” McNamara Snr said.
“We changed his routine and we were always very kind to him. We brought him a few different places to work and we never took him off the bridle.
“We trained him like he was a real good horse and he always worked against horse he could beat, just to try and mentally get him back to where he was,” he added.
Afterwards Diol Ker’s jockey Kieran Buckley got a two day ban for his use of the whip.
Mullins failed to make the frame with any of his eight starters in the €200,000 highlight but said he hadn’t allowed himself dream of going through the card.
“Not really; even though we had eight in the big race it was more in hope than expectation. We were hoping something might go right but things didn’t work out. But, anyway, they all came home safe sound,” he said.
“I’m delighted for Eric and Conor. It was a tremendous achievement. Conor rode a lot for me over the last couple of years as a claimer and I’ve known Eric since we started in racing,” he added.
Although failing to pull off an unprecedented clean sweep, Mullins still rated the six-timer “right up there” among the best days of his remarkable career.
“It’s an extraordinary day and our planning department at home deserves all the credit,” he said.
Mullins saddled a 9,802-1 six-timer at the 2018 Punchestown festival and a famous 1,518-1 five-timer on the last day of Cheltenham in March.
His great rival Gordon Elliott also came up just short when producing seven of the eight winners at a Navan fixture last year.
One further dollop of irony came from the champion trainer also having the final winner at Limerick, Largy Hill, eventually bringing his Tuesday haul to seven.
At the halfway stage, Mullins’s Christmas haul is already at 10 winners and with all three Grade 1 races run at Leopardstown so far in the bag.
Blue Lord upstaged his veteran stable companion Chacun Pour Soi in the Rewards Club Chase and was cut to as low as 6-1 for Cheltenham’s Champion Chase as a result.
Once again though it was the unbeaten novice Facile Vega who especially caught the trainer’s eye despite not be as visually impressive as normal in the Future Champions Hurdle.
A first flight blunder by his stable companion It Etait Temps left the 2-9 favourite in front and racing with the “choke” out.
He still ultimately won with authority and Mullins, when invited to mark the horse out of 10, gave him “11 and a half!”
“I think he’ll learn an awful lot today. The big crowd and all the buzz before the race itself, all that will be a help for him in the future,” said the trainer who indicated Facile Vega will be kept to two miles. He is already as low as evens favourite for the Supreme at Cheltenham.
Perhaps the most impressive Mullins winner was Winter Fog who on his first start for the trainer dropped back to two miles and turned a competitive looking handicap hurdle into a rout.
For the second day running, Leopardstown’s official attendance was up on the corresponding 2019 figure. A total of 17,045 was returned on Tuesday, marginally up on 16,727.