WILLIE Mullins has been leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in nine of the last 11 years, and as he showed at the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month, his dominance shows no signs of slowing down.
An army of 70 plus horses from his County Carlow base will descend on the Cotswolds in four weeks’ time, and with 12 of them currently favourites, you can be certain he won’t return empty-handed.
It is mindboggling to think he is now just six wins away from 100 victories at jump racing’s Olympics.
“It’s not something I thought anyone in racing ever thought of, but often getting to the mark can be very hard,” said Mullins.
“No-one is gifted winners in Cheltenham and it’s only when you go back every year, you sort of forget how hard it is to win there.
“Everyone is so hyped up when they get to Cheltenham, it’s so tough. We don’t go there expecting to win – we hope to win.”
After plundering all eight Grade Ones at Leopardstown, many have argued his domination is bad for the sport in the long run.
However, Mullins is keen to highlight that racing is cyclical and they won’t be at the top forever.
“We’re very lucky to have the team we have, but we buy horses from a selection of areas,” said the 67-year-old.
“We buy them from France, English point-to-pointers, Irish point-to-pointers, the odd bumper horse, we buy some stores.
“Those horses are available for everyone, maybe we get a bit luckier, but it’s not as if we go and plunder all the good horses out of France, or out of England, or out of the point-to-points.
“We just do what we do, the thing goes around. We just happen to be the team on top at the moment, but I’m sure that will change.”
Asked if the fear of failure drives him on ahead of Cheltenham, Mullins responded:
“Of course it does, that’s the pressure, that’s the incentive. It’s like a team going into the knockout stages or a final, you’ve got to perform.”
And perform I’m sure they will. Here are just a few of his key contenders for the four biggest days in racing…
SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE EVENS*
OR BARING BINGHAM NOVICES’ HURDLE 3/1
He has been very impressive. He’s in the Supreme and the Baring Bingham. Pedigree wise, and looking at him, I’d be thinking Baring Bingham, but looking at his race record I’d be thinking Supreme. His owners haven’t shown a preference, they’d be happy to go wherever we go. I’m going to leave that one open for the time being.
SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE 9/2
OR BARING BINGHAM NOVICES’ HURDLE 11/2
I’ve been very pleased with what he’s shown us over two miles. With his pedigree I thought he could be a two and a half miler or even further. He’s shaped more like a two miler to look at but that wasn’t very obvious in his homework. This fellow is just improving all the time, you’d have to think the Supreme Novice.
IL ETAIT TEMPS
MY PENSION EXPERT ARKLE NOVICES’ CHASE 5/1
I imagine he’s Arkle bound. Danny [Mullins] got on great with him at the Dublin Racing Festival. I think that’s an easy enough decision to make.
UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE 5/2
I think he’s in great order. I thought his performance at Christmas was huge against Impaire Et Passe, who was much more competitive then than he was the other day. We hope it’s going to be a hell of a race. We’re stronger this year, I don’t know if we’re better, but we’re stronger. Hopefully we can turn the tables [on Constitution Hill] this year.
CLOSE BROTHERS MARES’ HURDLE 8/13
She did everything right the other day. I know a lot of people would like her to go down the Champion Hurdle route but she’ll have her chance for the next few years to have a go at the Champion Hurdle. We’ll let State Man soften up Constitution Hill first and then leave the door open for her!
NATIONAL HUNT CHASE 11/4
OR BROWN ADVISORY NOVICES’ CHASE 13/2
At the moment, I’d probably have to favour the National Hunt Chase. He’s in the Brown Advisory, but again, that’s up for discussion. He’s in good shape, he’s come out of Naas in good order and I’m looking forward to him.
BARING BINGHAM NOVICES’ HURDLE 6/1
My preference all along has been the Baring Bingham. I’m very happy with him, I thought he put up a tremendous performance in Naas when he was beaten by Readin Tommy Wrong. He’s a very good horse.
FACT TO FILE
BROWN ADVISORY NOVICES’ CHASE 5/2
OR TURNERS NOVICES’ CHASE 6/4
His speed figures apparently were fantastic in Leopardstown. They went some lick down the back and he just kept jumping and galloping to the line. He has done everything right. I’ve always been leaning towards the Brown Advisory.
BETWAY QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE 2/5
He was very good in the Dublin Racing Festival, he didn’t miss a beat. A lot might have thought he would be that good anyway, but I didn’t when I saw Dinoblue work beforehand. I thought he was going to have to be in some order to beat her and then to beat her the way he did!
JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE 6/1
She was very good the last day. She settled well and she’ll go to the Triumph.
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS
BOODLES CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP 4/5
Galopin has come out of his race very well, I’m very happy. It’s going to be a tip top Gold Cup and we’re in great form.
BOODLES CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP 25/1
I’ve also got Monkfish in the Gold Cup. If enough rain comes and the ground is nice, we’ll seriously have to consider him. We’ve two runners hopefully in the Gold Cup this year.
MRS PADDY POWER MARES’ CHASE EVENS
She ran very well in Dublin. I thought the best bit of work Dinoblue ever did was the week before the Dublin Racing Festival and I thought if El Fabiolo misses a beat somewhere that this mare will be on top of him. I’m hoping she’ll improve again as we get nearer Cheltenham.
*All prices courtesy of Grosvenor Sport