Willie Mullins is looking to make some serious ground on Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham record this year
The leading Irish trainer at The Festival, with 41 successes, is only second to the Lambourn based trainer in terms of Cheltenham wins who currently resides on 53 winners.
However, Mullins has emerged as the Cheltenham supremo in recent years, winning The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at four of the last five Festivals (2011, 2013, 2014 & 2015) and is the long odds-on favourite to top the table again this year.
He sent out a record-breaking eight winners at The Festival in 2015, beating Nicky Henderson’s seven achieved in 2012.
The eight included a record equalling four-timer on the opening Champion Day – Henderson also had four on the second day in 2012. Mullins has built up a formidable team of horses at his Co Carlow base and has been Ireland’s champion Jump trainer for the last eight seasons and 10 times in all.
He is set to take the title again this season.
At a stables visit ahead of the Festival, he rated his entries as follows:
“Vroum Vroum Mag looks possible for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and, if so, I’d think Annie will run in the Champion. “Going back two years, Annie Power was quite a short price for the Champion Hurdle. “We thought she was a Champion Hurdle horse that year but we obviously had Hurricane Fly and a few others in the race. “I don’t think the trip will be a problem for her. “We have six horses here who, if they were with other yards, would be aimed at the Champion Hurdle and she is as quick as any of them.”
“His performance the other days suggests he is going to go for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. “In the autumn I thought he could easily have the speed for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, especially the way he jumps, but his run in the Deloitte has put doubts in my mind.”
“He is the one that I am thinking most about. He is favourite for the National Hunt Chase, but he raced very keen with Ruby the last day and I wonder, if he did that again, would he get home? “It has been on my mind to bring him back for the RSA Chase or even the JLT Novices’ Chase. I think he might be better suited by coming back in intended trip.”
“There is only three weeks between Cheltenham and Aintree, so we might just save him for the Grand National. Nothing has been finalised though.”
“I must compliment the vet in Cheltenham for the work on Djakadam’s stitches. “We did not take him to Leopardstown just in case what’s left of his stitches opened, but they look very good. “ I am not too worried about whether or not he jumps again between now and Cheltenham because is he is basically a good jumper. “He is doing plenty of work. There is still more to do but I am very happy with where he is.”
“He is in good order. He is doing nice work and jumped well at Leopardstown. “He loves Cheltenham and the hill. He is obviously not the fastest horse in the world, but in the RSA Chase last year he appeared in front at the top of the hill. Bryan (Cooper) never dreamt he would have enough speed but when he got daylight he shot to the front. “The extra two and a half furlongs in the Gold Cup is exactly what he wants and I think he has enough speed.”
“Has good prospects in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase. “This time last year I could not believe what I was seeing from him on the gallops. “I am happy he has enough experience. He has had three starts over fences and, although it would have been great to have another, we had a very dry autumn.”
“He is a definite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He was working very well and then had a small setback. “He has done plenty of work to go there and is a horse with a lot of ability. Hopefully, we can get him back because he works fantastically when he’s right.”
“She will go for the Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle. Her form is very good, she has a fantastic pedigree – her dam is half-sister to Vintage Tipple who won the Oaks for my father. “Her Flat form in France has worked out very well. Nicolas Clement wanted to give her one run more run in a Listed race, which I think he thought she would win, but he didn’t. The horses she beat have gone on to win Group races. “Even though she jumped the way she did, she was still able to beat a fantastic field in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown very easily. Her jumping has been way better this season and if she can handle the hurdles in Cheltenham, she has a fair engine.”
“He definitely runs in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. I don’t think he is as good as Douvan and it is hard to think he might be as good as Vautour, even though I hope he is. “He looks very decent but we won’t know where he stands until after Cheltenham.
“His temperament is fine at home, but when he gets down to the start he takes a grip. I would imagine there will be a lot more pace on in Cheltenham and that will help him. “Maybe horses like Ball d’Arc are improving but Min made him look very ordinary. If those form lines are to be believed, he is entitled to be favourite.”
“We will have another think about the Ryanair World Hurdle for him, but I think connections are keener to go for the Stan James Champion Hurdle. “He did disappoint us the last day. He is usually very, very good and you have to forgive a horse one bad run every now and then.”
Sir Des Champs
“He has been disappointing but I’d love to have a go at the Gold Cup if I can get him into any sort of form.”
Un De Sceaux
“He is in terrific order and I would love it if the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was tomorrow. I am counting down the days. “What I loved about his win at Ascot was his style of racing. He switched off and sized up his fences instead of charging down and flying out over them. It was the most mature performance I have ever seen him put in. He did everything right and had plenty in the tank to pull away at the end.”
“Gigginstown might prefer to go for the Ryanair but I want him in the Gold Cup. He looks to be crying out for more distance. “Ruby had not asked him a question going to the last in the Irish Gold Cup and the extra two furlongs will be right up his street.”
“We threw the kitchen sink at him last year and we are doing the same again, which is why he went to Leopardstown and you’ll probably see him somewhere else in the meantime as well. “Contrary to belief, I think he has enough stamina and at the moment he is going for the Gold Cup. Watching him at home, he is a stayer.”
Vroum Vroum Mag
“I have been taken with her performances from a visual perspective rather than what she has beaten. She just goes along nicely before Ruby changes hands and she picks up two gears. She is going for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. To step into open Grade One company at The Festival would be a big jump for her, even with the fillies allowance.”
“I think Yorkhill is plenty fast enough for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. “I am happy with him at two miles even though his pedigree suggests he can go out to three miles. He’s had two runs over hurdles and two wins, including a Grade One. And the horse who finished third came out and won the Betfair Hurdle. He is good value!”
We also spoke to Gorgon Elliott, the main challenger to Mullins: www.theirishworld.com/elliott