NEVER before has a trainer gone to Cheltenham with an army of talent as powerful as the one Willie Mullins will send over from his County Carlow base next month. Betway offer just 6/5 about him training six or more winners.
But the army is not just powerful, it’s also huge. Where Mullins would normally send over roughly 40 horses, it will be nearer 50 this year.
The opening day of the Festival has already been declared a potential Armageddon of Frankie Dettori Magnificent Seven proportions by the bookmakers, and they have every reason to be afraid, very afraid.
Reflecting on the embarrassment of riches at his disposal, Mullins said: “This is the strongest team we’ve ever assembled and we’ll be going there with more horses than ever before. We’ll have a team of 30 plus people heading over and it’s an absolute logistical nightmare.
“In previous years we’ve literally sent the wrong horse on the ferry and left the right one at home,” he added.
Mullins has won the top trainer award in three of the last four years, but admits he still suffers from nerves: “I’m nervous, but it’s a good nervousness. We’re looking forward to it as much as we’re dreading it!”
Here is a selection of Mullins’ leading contenders at the Festival.
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2/1 with Betway)
“He’s a definite for the Supreme. He has lots of natural ability and every question we’ve asked of him, he’s come up with the answer. He does everything right and he’s as nice a horse as we’ve ever had going to Cheltenham.”
Un De Sceaux
Racing Post Arkle Chase (4/6 with Betway)
“He’s beaten everything he’s taken on and it’s real ‘heart in the mouth’ stuff to watch. He’s going to put up a good show, but it’s going to be tough for him up that hill. It’s a huge test with his style of racing, but he’s a really exciting two-miler who might make into a champion chaser.”
Stan James Champion Hurdle (11/10 with Betway)
“Faugheen is doing everything right at the moment. People keep asking me if Ruby will ride him. The decision won’t be made yet, but probably what the bookmakers say is as near an indication as to what will happen. There is a fair gap between his Christmas Hurdle win and the race, but plenty of horses have gone from Kempton to Cheltenham without a run.”
Stan James Champion Hurdle (8/1 with Betway)
“My dream result for the whole of Cheltenham would be if Hurricane Fly can win the Champion Hurdle. People say he doesn’t run so well at Cheltenham, but I’m not so sure. He’s run there four times, won twice, and I have two good excuses for the other times. Although he had a hard race in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he’s back as good as ever now.”
Stan James Champion Hurdle (14/1 with Betway)
“He’s improving all the time and you can’t discount him. He’s a horse who has always shown me plenty at home. When he was three I thought he was the best of them. We haven’t got the best out of him yet, but the strong pace and track will help him at Cheltenham.”
OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (EVS with Betway)
“She is doing everything right and has hit every target we have set her since we brought her back. We will look at the World Hurdle, but at the moment we are training her for the Mares’ Hurdle. It wasn’t a lack of stamina that cost her the World Hurdle last year, it was more the fact that she didn’t settle.”
Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle (13/2 with Betway)
“I reckon he’ll end up in the Neptune and he’ll have no problem with the trip. He stayed 1m6f plus on the flat and people are already telling me he’s the next Inglis Drever.”
RSA Chase or National Hunt Chase (4/1 and 7/2 with Betway)
“I nominated the National Hunt Chase for him back in November. Bryan Cooper and Gigginstown want to go down the RSA route, but I’d prefer to go for the four-miler. He’s so lazy at home and that race will suit his running style, but Gigginstown have others for that race.”
Betway Champion Chase (5/1 with Betway)
“I imagine the way the cards are falling he’ll go for the Champion Chase. He jumped fantastically at Gowran and really enjoyed himself. He’s in a good frame of mind for Cheltenham.”
JLT Novices’ Chase (5/2 with Betway)
“I want to get him back to where he was this time last year. I've got to be hard on him now, but my gut feel is that we'll get there. I'm leaning towards the JLT, but would go to the Arkle if anything happened to Un De Sceaux.”
JCB Triumph Hurdle (9/1 with Betway)
“We've got three very much still in the mix. I wasn't at all surprised with Petite Parisienne when she won the last day. In fact, I was pleased with Kalkir (who she beat) too. He'll improve for that run as well. Don't rule out Dicosimo, who could run this weekend.”
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (12/1 with Betway)
“It looks like we’ll be three-handed in the Gold Cup with Djakadam, On His Own and Boston Bob. Djakadam fell at the Festival last year when he made a novicey mistake, but jumping won’t be an issue. His performance in the Thyestes was very impressive, I’d say a Gold Cup performance.”