Willie Mullins sent out a 1-2 in the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan on February 19, but most punters will have found the result hard to swallow as the odds-on Mikhael d’Haguenet (4/11) let the side down in coming home more than six-lengths adrift of his lesser fancied stable companion in a bittersweet result for the yard, writes Elliot Slater.
Mourad (3/1) was certainly not winning out of turn having twice this term given vain pursuit to the flying mare Voler La Vedette, before last time out finding Big Buck’s once again just too hot to handle when a respectable but well held third in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. After winning his last three outings though punters chose to ignore the fact that there was little between Mourad and Mikhael D’Haguenet at the weights with the fact that Ruby Walsh had sided with the latter being a strong factor in the weight of money laid about the one-time high-class prospect. People with an online 2012 Cheltenham free bet need to remember this.
Paul Townend was aboard Mourad and set out to make it a good test, leading from the ‘off’ and maintaining an advantage over his rivals throughout the two-mile-five-furlong contest. Ruby Walsh attempted to close the leader down approaching two from home but never managed to land a blow and in the end was well held in second place as the impressive winner crossed the line to land his third career Grade 2 success.
Only beaten four-and-a-half-lengths in the World Hurdle last year, Mourad is best served by testing ground but it is unlikely that underfoot conditions will be truly in his favour. Rated a 16/1 chance now (from 25/1), Mullins’ charge will appeal to some punters as a value each-way bet, but it will be a big shock if he can reverse form with Big Buck’s who is a best priced 4/7 favourite to make it four in a row.