Benie bolts up – Mullins claims super-mare could be better than Annie Power after Galmoy Hurdle romp

Benie Des Dieux and Paul Townend win the Grade 1 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle during day five of the Punchestown Festival at Punchestown Racecourse, County Kildare, Ireland.

Willie Mullins claimed Benie Des Dieux could be better than Annie Power and Quevega, after watching his Cheltenham Festival favourite hack up in the Galmoy Hurdle.

Eyebrows were raised slightly when Benie Des Dieux featured in the final field for Thursday’s Galmoy Hurdle. After runs in the Hatton’s Grace and the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown were cancelled, many thought Mullins would take his former Mares’ Hurdle winner to Cheltenham fresh, like he had done the previous season.

Yet, Willie Mullins decided to give his nine-year-old at prep-run for Cheltenham at Gowran Park, where Benie Des Dieux faced off against Apple’s Jade, who had produced a rejuvenated performance at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. With support flooding in for Gordon Elliott’s star, Benie Des Dieux drifted back to even-money before the off – a market move which would have left her supporters feeling elated by the end of the race.

Paul Townend positioned his mount behind Apple’s Jade and Killultagh Vic for much of the race, bustling between the pacesetters to take over the running down the back straight. As Apple’s Jade bombed out, Benie Des Dieux pulled clear in imperious fashion, and a couple of spring-heeled leaps at the final two flights saw Mullins’ mare complete a sensational 20-length triumph, without ever being asked for a serious effort.

It was another stunning display from a mare who’s lost just once in the colours of Rich Ricci, that defeating coming at the Cheltenham Festival last year, where Ruby Walsh’s mount took a crashing fall at the final flight when cruising to Mares’ Hurdle glory. In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s race, Willie Mullins’ ran out of superlatives for his stable star, claiming she could be the best mare he’s ever trained.

“She was in such good form at home, and the race was a home game for us, so we said we’d take a chance and enter.” Mullins said to the Racing Post. “We did a bit of work with her during the week and we said we’d let her run. We thought she was in tip-top order. Everything worked out well.”

“Paul (Townend) couldn’t believe how well she was going coming down to the second-last. He said the race was over in a couple of strides. She went to France last summer and beat their brilliant mare De Bon Coeur in the French Champion Hurdle. But this mare is a real good mare.”

“Benie Des Dieux could be as good or better than any of the mares we’ve had. She is special. She is more of a three-mile mare than a two-mile mare.”

Willie Mullins (right) and Paul Townend (left) celebrate with Benie Des Dieux after her second victory at Punchestown in April.

Bookmakers were quick to slash Benie Des Dieux’s Cheltenham odds following her performance in the Galmoy Hurdle. A return to the Mares’ Hurdle looks her most likely Festival objective. William Hill now offer the best price in that Grade One, having cut the market leader in from 7/4 into even-money favouritism.

After securing her second-straight victory over three miles, there were clamours for Benie Des Dieux to take on Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle. To the delight of fans and reporters alike, Willie Mullins revealed that Championship race would now be taken into serious consideration.

“You’d have to look at it after that performance,” Mullins admitted.

“The Stayers’ Hurdle is on the Thursday, when the ground can be drier. The Mares’ Hurdle is earlier in the week. I think she’d like a good bit of cut in the ground, and that’s one thing I’d worry about. I’ll have a chat with Rich and Paul and we’ll see.”

Benie Des Dieux’s odds for the Stayers’ Hurdle were then slashed across the boards, with William Hill again offering a top price of 6/1, having previously quoted Mullins’ mare at 10/1 before the Galmoy. Whether she takes on Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle, or Paisley Park in the Stayers, one thing we know for sure after Thursday’s race is that Benie Des Dieux would be a worthy winner of either of those Grade Ones, when she makes her triumphant return to the Cheltenham Festival.

*Current Cheltenham Festival odds with William Hill*
10/3/20 Mares’ Hurdle
Evens Benie Des Dieux, 9/4 Honeysuckle, 8/1 Laurina, 10/1 Roksana, Stormy Ireland, 12/1 Apple’s Jade, 16/1 Bar

12/3/20 Stayers’ Hurdle
11/10 Paisley Park, 6/1 Benie Des Dieux, 7/1 If The Cap Fits, 14/1 City Island, Laurina, 16/1 Bar