Major win for Petit
A Grade One double at Leopardstown yesterday was the latest milestone in an incredible season for trainer Henry de Bromhead as Some Plan came home alone in the Irish Arkle and Petit Mouchoir franked his Christmas form in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Fresh from winning Thursday's Thyestes Chase, the personal bests keep coming for de Bromhead who has now trained more Grade One winners in Ireland this season than any other to go along with his record prize money and winners haul.
The day didn't start that well for de Bromhead as Identity Thief made a mistake and unseated David Mullins at the first fence but Bleu Et Rouge and Royal Caviar followed him with an early exit and despite looking held coming to the last fence by Royal Caviar, de Bromhead's Some Plan was left to come home alone under Davy Russell.
The close proximity of Footpad to Petit Mouchoir could take some gloss off the bare form of the Irish Champion Hurdle but that doesn't tell the story of the race and there's no doubt that the Gigginstown-owned six-year-old is a genuine contender in Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle that now has no Annie Power and a vulnerable favourite in Faugheen.
Ruby Walsh and Nichols Canyon tried to put pressure on Petit Mouchoir before the turn into the straight but the winner was able to fend him off with minimum fuss and he was out of contention when falling at the last.
None of the recent Irish Champion Hurdle winners did so on ground as quick as yesterday so comparisons are hard to make but Petit Mouchoir won in a time of 3 minutes 41 seconds which, according to irishracing.com stats, is over 15 seconds faster than average and was over six seconds faster than Melon who won the opener yesterday.
Connections of Melon will now have to decide if they run him in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on just his second start or get another quick run in before Cheltenham and bypassing the festival is another option but he's now the 9/2 favourite for the Cheltenham curtain raiser with BoyleSports.
Meanwhile, Mullins admitted that it would be today before Faugheen's latest setback is put under a more stringent investigation but the general feeling is that he should be fine to go straight to the Champion Hurdle without a run.
Min, who missed yesterday's Irish Arkle, "should be fine" according to owner Rich Ricci, who was among the winners yesterday with impressive mare Let's Dance.
National Hunt racing was set for a major weekend and it certainly delivered although with much more drama than anyone could have envisaged on Friday as declarations came through.
Cheltenham's Saturday fixture was billed as Festival Trial's Day although it wasn't just in the Cotswolds this weekend that we were picking up clues for the Cheltenham Festival which is now just six weeks and a day away from getting underway.
The racing and wider sporting world was numbed by the sad death of Grand National hero Many Clouds just minutes after he became the horse that proved Thistlecrack was beatable and there's every chance Oliver Sherwood's stable star would have been one of the market leaders for the Timico Gold Cup today had he been still with us.
None of us will feel the pain of his empty box like those who walked into Many Clouds' every day to look after him and it is a real downside to the sport but the manner in which Oliver Sherwood handled himself and the situation with ITV Racing's Ed Chamberlin and the press corps was just as admirable as the heroic Many Clouds himself.
Sherwood was adamant that he wanted to remember the career highlights of Many Clouds rather than dwell on his lost and while it's a tough blow to take, all the action this weekend must be put into context when you see jockeys all around Ireland wearing black armbands yesterday.
At Leopardstown and the Irish point-to-points, the racing fraternity paid their respects to John O'Connor, a popular amateur jockey in the south who was killed in a road traffic accident on Saturday. May he rest in peace.