The Irish jump racing scene is pretty quiet at the moment, but that doesn’t stop star trainer Willie Mullins from bagging the big winners. If the jumps are taking a break, he fired some darts on the flat and bagged a winner at Royal Ascot to keep his name in the spotlight. Lagostovegas led home a 1-3-4-5 finish for Mullins in the Ascot Stakes, showing his dominance across both codes.
This is a race Mullins clearly likes to target his horses at, and this was the fourth time he had won the race. Staying flat races are often targeted by national hunt trainers, but few are as good as Mullins at getting them fit and ready to go on the day. It takes a different style of training to get a winner on the flat, which is a nod to the flexibility and brilliance of the Mullins camp. Whether it is a four-mile chase like the Grand National or a two-mile flat race, Willie Mullins has shown time and time again that he knows what it takes to get the job done. If you are looking to have someone on your side to train horses for you, few are up there with Mullins, who is on the top of his game right now.
Stratum, Chelkar and Whisky Sour filled the 3-4-5 places for Mullins in the race, while his other representative, Meri Devie was disappointing. Although only six years old, Lagostovegas has run a total of 32 times over flat and jumps, so there is little improvement likely to come from him. Having said that he does have time on his side, and can continue to run in good competitive handicaps when he returns to hurdles in the Autumn.
A fifth at the Cheltenham Festival back in March was as good as we saw him during the most recent jumps season, and that form should be enough for him to win races when he goes back hurdling. On top of that, getting his head in front on the flat will have helped his confidence and could be another positive for him.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him targeted at a big field handicap during the early part of the 2018/19 national hunt season. He likes any type of ground, he won on good to firm at Royal Ascot, but his last win over hurdles came on heavy ground. This versatility makes him very easy to place, and makes him a threat any time of the year, he doesn’t need his ground to be seen to best effect.
It may have been a win on the flat, but Lagostovegas is one to keep an eye on when he returns hurdling later this year. He has proven to be in good form, and with the boost in confidence after getting his head in front, he could find a little improvement and come back to be competitive in a significant handicap.