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Absurde performance one to celebrate for Mullins and Townend

Absurde and Paul TownendAbsurde and Paul Townend
© Photo Healy Racing

Paul Townend produced Absurde to perfection as last year’s Ebor hero got the better of L’Eau Du Sud in the BetMGM County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins and Dan Skelton have dominated this event in the last decade, winning eight of the last nine runnings between them, so it was no surprise to see the week’s top two trainers involved at the business end once again.

Paul Nicholls’ Afadil had led the field into the straight where Skelton’s 7-2 favourite L’Eau Du Sud appeared to be travelling supremely in the hands of the trainer’s brother, Harry.

However, Townend was weaving a passage to the front and after the last it was Closutton’s dual-purpose star who pulled out extra to land the spoils at 12-1.

As well as winning the Ebor when given an equally-inspired ride by Frankie Dettori, Absurde finished seventh in the Melbourne Cup, and Townend said: “I got a lot of satisfaction out of that one. What a horse to travel the world and then come back and put in a performance like that on that ground.

“I thought I’d have the pace of them all on his Flat form, but the ground was a big worry.”

Mullins said: “Paul can’t have a warm bone in his body, he was so cold the whole way and delivered him at the right time. He just missed the last but everything else went right.

“I was very worried about the ground, that’s why I thought Risk Belle was the best of my squad, I’d more or less drawn a line through him.

“They went very slow and his Flat speed was a big factor at the end. When I saw where he was early on I thought it wasn’t the place to be, but they were doing 18-second furlongs so I thought he might have a chance.

“He had to find his way through and while he missed the last, it was one hell of a ride, it was the ride of the week for me.

“He’ll probably go to Punchestown and then back on the Flat I’d have thought. It might be hard to qualify for Melbourne – I’d like to go though.”

Skelton said of his runner-up: “Ten or 15 strides out from the last I thought it was on, but Townend suddenly appeared!

“We didn’t jump the last great, but it hasn’t cost us. Absurde was always cantering over us and if we’d jumped the last Townend would have looked even cleverer than he did, which is a big statement because he looked very clever coming from last!

“It’s been a magic, remarkable week. I’m very proud of the owners and horses.”

There was a JP McManus one-two in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase as Gavin Cromwell’s Limerick Lace held off the late challenge of Willie Mullins’ 15-8 favourite Dinoblue

Keith Donoghue ousted Stuart Edmunds Marsh Wren at the head of proceedings and it proved an inspired piece of riding as the lengths the 3-1 winner gained gave her enough breathing space when the advantage began to close late on.

Cromwell said: “That was fantastic and Keith was very good on her because she’s not straightforward. She’s a bit of a madam, she almost kicked the cameraman on the way out and she’s broken a lot of white rail at home. She’s a bit of a lady, but you don’t mind when they’re that good.

“We knew she’s stay well, but when you’re in front for so long you’re worried you’ll get nabbed, but she stuck at it.

“On the day, over two and a half on testing ground, it probably played more to Limerick Lace’s strengths than Dinoblue’s. They’re two very good mares. She’s in the Grand National and that’s a possibility.

“She’s a full-sister to the horse that won yesterday (Inothewayurthinkin), I’m sure it’s happened before but I shouldn’t think too often (two siblings winning at the Festival).”

Gordon Elliott cut a delighted figure after Better Days Ahead gave him his third victory of the week in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – a race named after his idol and former boss.

The 5-1 shot was given an excellent ride by Danny Gilligan, who was enjoying his first success at the big meeting, and the young Irishman had a willing partner as he hunted down both 100-30 favourite Waterford Whispers and hotly-touted Quai De Bourbon in the closing stages.

It was also a first Festival triumph for owners Noel and Valerie Moran of Bective Stud and Elliott said: “It was great, this has always been the plan and after the last day we said we would come here.

“We’re absolutely delighted now, thrilled. I enjoy winning this race.”