Willie Mullins retains full faith in Facile Vega, despite his shock defeat in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Unbeaten in six previous starts in both bumpers and hurdles, including three Grade One strikes, Facile Vega was sent off the 4-9 favourite to add another top-level triumph to his tally at the Dublin Racing Festival.
However, after setting out to make all under Paul Townend, Facile Vega faded quickly in the straight to finish last of five behind stablemate Il Etait Temps, with Mullins pointing to his strong early pace as the reason for defeat.
He said: “I had resigned when I saw what was happening going past the winning post first time round. I said ‘unless he’s an absolute aeroplane, they can’t keep that up’.
“Someone said the time going to the fourth or fifth hurdle was a furlong quicker than the Irish Champion Hurdle – it was headless what went on.
“I was disappointed what happened, not that he was beaten as every horse gets beaten at some stage.”
Mullins feels Townend will not make the same mistake again and is backing Facile Vega to make amends in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, should he recover satisfactorily in time for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
He said: “Paul knows himself and he’ll adjust things for the next day on the different horses that he rode. When you go to big races like that, you learn a lot about your horse and he’ll have all that sorted for the next day.
“It’s not a comment on Paul’s riding ability, it was just a decision he made on the day and it didn’t work out on the day. It’s just part of the job.
“It’s like a footballer going to goal and there’s a player on the right that he doesn’t see. It’s just a bad decision in a game and play moves on. Paul gets things right 99 per cent of the time.
“There’ll be plenty of pace in the Supreme Novices’ and I haven’t contemplated changing (plans) yet.
“I think at the moment we’re all set to go the way we planned, if the horse recovers from his race yesterday. He had a very, very hard race and it will take a fair bit of recovering from. We’ll need all the time we have.”
Impressive handicap winner Gaelic Warrior also holds a Supreme entry, but Mullins is leaning towards the two-mile-five-furlong Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with the five-year-old, who was beaten just a short head at the Festival last year.
Mullins said: “Gaelic Warrior was very impressive to win a handicap like that and I thought it was a great trial for maybe going for the Ballymore – that would look like the sort of race we might go for at the moment.
“He could go for the Supreme, but if I was to make a decision today, the Ballymore is where I would be going. We’ll see what happens in the meantime.
“To me, the obvious thing to do was go for a handicap, rather than taking on Facile Vega and Il Etait Temps. It was either Leopardstown or the Betfair Hurdle and I felt we had a better chance going to Cheltenham if we ran him at the Dublin Racing Festival, rather than going to Newbury.
“I think would have been a sin off his mark to run in a novice race before Cheltenham. I’m thinking Ballymore, unless he gets away with murder and gets into the County Hurdle, but I doubt it!”
Mullins has his usual embarrassment of riches in the novice divisions, with Moscow Flyer winner Impaire Et Passe also in the Festival mix.
The Closutton handler added: “He looks a bit special too. He could run over two miles, but you’d probably be looking at going further (in the Ballymore).
“I was certainly thinking that last week, but now with Gaelic Warrior stepping up again it’s nice to have the choice.
“We haven’t sat down yet and gone through what happened over this weekend, but with his temperament I’d say he could do either race.”
Mullins was expected to dominate over the two days at Leopardstown and while he won six Grade Ones, there were some disappointments including Appreciate It who was only third behind stablemate El Fabiolo in the Irish Arkle.
“Appreciate It was very disappointing and we’ve got to figure him out,” said Mullins.
“I just thought he ran very flat and maybe he just mightn’t have recovered from his big effort before (at Naas).
“But El Fabiolo did everything right and his run against Jonbon last year puts him right in the (Arkle) picture I think. It was only his second run for us and Jonbon was in his own backyard, whereas we had to travel over to England, so he goes there with a huge chance.
“Appreciate It could step up in trip. We thought that all the time and we were amazed at what he was doing over two miles in the beginning, but maybe now it’s looking like he needs to go up.
“It (Turners) is likely on yesterday’s performance, but we’ll just have to see how he comes out of the race.”
Sir Gerhard has multiple options over both hurdles and fences at Cheltenham, but Mullins is favouring the three-mile Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase after the gelding made a triumphant seasonal bow in a beginners’ chase late last month.
He said: “His hurdle form is good enough to go anywhere, but at the moment I’d be thinking longer trips, just going that bit slower.
“Over a longer trip there’s more jumps and more opportunity to make a mistake, but I just think for him, with his lack of experience, we’ll possibly take a chance in the Brown Advisory. That’s the way I’m thinking at the moment anyway, but nothing is set in stone.”
Blood Destiny and Lossiemouth are Mullins’ top Triumph Hurdle hopes, although the latter was another to suffer a surprise reverse when second in Saturday’s Spring Juvenile Hurdle – a race her stablemate sidestepped.
Mullins said: “Blood Destiny is very good and I just felt it was only three weeks since his last run, he’s only four and it was going to be a hard race if he ran in it.
“He’ll go there a bit fresher and he’s a fair sort.
“Lossiemouth was just very unlucky and it’s going to be a very hot division this year I think.”