Ireland’s champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins hosted a media visit organised by Cheltenham Racecourse and gave updates on many of his leading contenders ahead of The Festival next month.
Mullins is the leading Irish trainer at The Festival, with 54 successes, and currently sits second on the all-time trainers’ list behind Nicky Henderson (58).
He has won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at five of the last seven Festivals (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016) and sent out a record-breaking eight winners in 2015.
Mullins spoke about many of his Chetlenham contenders…
Augusta Kate: “She was second to Presenting Percy last time and I thought that run was good enough to let her take her chance in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle.
“We will look at that, with the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle as backup.”
Bacardys: “He will go for the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle. We want to keep his novice status over fences for another season.”
Bachasson: “Connections of Bachasson are keen to go to Cheltenham for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is fantastic jumper but whether he can carry that weight over that trip – it will be a tough ask.”
Benie Des Dieux: “I would imagine she will go for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
“Everything we ask her to do, she does, although I thought she would win easier than she did at Naas last time. I think David [Mullins] was easy enough on her.
“She has plenty of hurdling experience in France and schools over hurdles at home.”
Bonbon Au Miel: “I think Bonbon Au Miel is an RSA type, whereas Al Boum Photo could go for the JLT Novices’ Chase.
“I am not sure if I will divide them or they can both go for the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, but Bonbon definitely goes for the RSA.”
Brahma Bull: “He is pencilled in for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
“He has only had one run over hurdles but won well and he jumps well. He had a little setback but I think he is in real good form since.”
Carter McKay: “He could go for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, depending on which way the races are going to cut up.
“He ran all right in Leopardstown and deserves to take his chance. I think he can do better.”
Douvan: “He has been pleasing me and doing everything right. He has a few good bits of work to do this week. He has to go for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, all being well.
“Not so long ago we were being told we could not train him for a year. It was a huge disappointment when it looked like he would miss the whole season but within a week or 10 days he was sound when we thought he should not have been sound. We started reinvestigating and revaluating some of the findings we got, then we said ‘right, he is sound, let’s do a bit more.’ We kept upping his work and he was good and sound, and stayed sound.
“We went back and did more tests on him. I think vets are like doctors in that they are over cautious. You would end running a hospital rather than a training yard – you just have to kick on. There was obviously something there, maybe something he can live with. Maybe when he runs, it will come up again.
“I remember the morning that he got the injury. He did a bit of work and I remember saying ‘this is awesome,’ but of course he was lame the next morning. I can’t remember what he worked against but he flew. It was the fastest bit of work I had ever seen him do. I said to my team I do not want to see him do a piece of work like that again – save it for the racecourse! I thought it was frightening and I said to myself if he reproduces that on the track, he will be very hard to beat. Whether he will ever get back to that, I don’t know, but his work at the moment is certainly good enough.
“He has been away a couple of times already but it is day to day with him. I just hope I can get him back to the level he was at in November. Unless we are happy with him, he won’t go.
“Altior was very good in Newbury and he looked great as well. It could be a race to savour but we have got to get there first.”
Djakadam: “He has been disappointing this season, but this year’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup could be the most open he has competed in.
“There is a lot of feeling that he should go back for the Ryanair Chase, and that might happen, but I feel he should go for the Gold Cup.
“He doesn’t look the same horse this season on the track. His form is not good enough, although it wasn’t a bad run in the Irish Gold Cup to be third. He certainly has not fired like he has in previous seasons.”
Duc Des Genievres: “He is entered in everything from novices’ hurdles to handicaps. Noel [Fehily] rode him the last day and is happy that he wants to go a trip. I would say it could be the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
“Fabulous Saga in the same colours will go for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, I’d imagine.”
Faugheen: “He is on course for the Unibet Champion Hurdle along with Melon and Wicklow Brave.
“I don’t think Melon faced the hood on his last start, so we will take all the gear off at Cheltenham – he has run well there before.
“Faugheen worked well enough to run the last day and ran a grand race. But he will have to up his game to try and win in Cheltenham. He might not need to be as good as he once was. I still think he is competitive.
“We had plenty of time to get better from Leopardstown to the middle of March and we haven’t gone downhill at home. He is improving all the time.
“I would be delighted if he could come back to what he was but age is not on his side. He loves Cheltenham and hopefully that will reignite him a little bit.”
Footpad: “All is well with Footpad ahead of the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase.
“He has a beautiful method of jumping fences and was good enough to run in a Champion Hurdle. He always had ability and his method of jumping has catapulted him right to the top.
“He could be a Gold Cup horse one day. We don’t have any problem with him staying, although with his method of jumping, could he be a Champion Chase horse? It is so much easier to keep them sound and right running over two miles than running over three and a quarter. Gold Cup racing is very tough.”
Getabird: “He is 100 per cent and was out there this morning. He goes for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
“His win at Punchestown shows he is improving all the time. He is not flashy at home, whereas a horse like Douvan is always flashy at home. Even working him the other day, I was not impressed but Sonny who rides him says he is in great order and he knows him better than anyone.”
Hollowgraphic: “The bumper horses are looking very good. I always thought Hollowgraphic was a fair sort and Blackbow has galloped himself into the picture.
“Squadron Commander and Tornado Flyer won well first time and then we put them away. Carefully Selected put himself in the mix yesterday at Naas, although Cheltenham may come too soon.
“To me, what Hollowgraphic did at Punchestown was a huge performance. We have been minding him to go to Cheltenham.
“Blackbow’s performances have been very good. He improved a good bit from his first to his second run, which has been the feature of a lot of our bumper horses this season. Their second runs have been better, which is encouraging.
“Blackbow is owned by Archie O’Leary’s family, so it is nice to have nearly Florida Pearl’s colours – different cap – going back to Cheltenham.”
Invitation Only: “He is another one who could go for the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase or the JLT Novices’ Chase.”
Killultagh Vic: “He goes for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“He looked in a very good position in the Irish Gold Cup and I would not have been betting against him jumping the last. He had the momentum and looked like he was pulling away.
“I always think your first thought is your best thought. When you look at it after you see the other horses coming from behind, but they weren’t in the picture when you’re watching it live. I thought he had a really good chance going to the last.
“We were worried when he fell but he has schooled well since. It looked like he was too careful at Leopardstown. Hopefully, he will have learned and will be all right on the day.
“I would have no stamina concerns, not with his pedigree. He beat Thistlecrack in a three-mile novice hurdle.”
Laurina: “She goes for the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
“She is top-class and if they ever have a mares’ chase in Cheltenham, she is one you would be aiming for it. She is a big, scopey filly.”
Let’s Dance: “I would imagine it will either be the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle or the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle for Let’s Dance. She hasn’t fired at all this season, but at home she is getting there.”
Meri Devie: “She won the other day and has entries in a good few handicaps. We will see what the English handicapper makes of her and then make a decision.”
Min: “Everything has gone well and I could not see him going anywhere other than the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
“He is unbeaten this season, even though he was disqualified, and he is doing all the right things.
“Altior beat him in the Supreme – it will be hard to turn him over I think.”
Mr Ajudicator: “He will go for the JCB Triumph Hurdle along with Saldier and Stormy Ireland.
“Mr Ajudicator had a little bit of a cold last week but seems fine. He is as fit as a flea, so the fact he missed a couple of bits of work should not be a problem.
“Saldier did everything right the other day in Gowran Park. Perhaps he didn’t beat an awful lot but he did it well.
“Stormy Ireland missed a few engagements with a dirty nose. With her style of running, I did not want to chance it.
“Mr Ajudicator has gone out and done it, and is an ex-Flat horse as well, which I like, whereas Stormy Ireland and Saldier would not have the same experience – even race experience, never mind jump experience.
“Stormy Ireland produced a huge run at Fairyhouse. I don’t know what she beat but she just kept galloping. People thought she would pull up three out but she pulled out more again. It was awesome.”
Next Destination: “I have been aiming him at the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. That is probably where he should go along with Real Steel.
“A lot of people thought Next Destination wasn’t impressive as Naas but I thought the race itself did not work out like a championship race, given the early pace and middle pace of the race. It will be a different ball game in Cheltenham and that will suit him.”
Penhill: “All his work has been good and he will go for the Sun Bets’ Stayers’ Hurdle. The aim all season was to try and get him to Cheltenham and Punchestown.
“We sort of knew there would not be enough time for a prep race. It is a tough ask to try and win the Stayers’ Hurdle, perhaps more than any other, without a run.”
Rathvinden: “He could go any trip. I’m wondering whether to go for the National Hunt Chase or the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. I think the four-miler might be the way we decide to go with him.”
Sharjah: “He will go for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. I think the ground was the reason he ran badly last time.
“Certainly at home when the ground is soft, he is not able to put one leg in front of the other but when it dries out, he is a different horse.”
Total Recall: “Our aim has been the Grand National but he probably needs to go for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. We were going to go for the Bobbyjo but it came too soon after Leopardstown.
“I think the Gold Cup gives us a good chance. He is a relaxed horse who jumps economically and that would suit him around Cheltenham in a Gold Cup. He will be switched off and won’t be using too much energy.
“It looks a fairly open Gold Cup and he deserves to have a crack at it.”
Un De Sceaux: “He has done tremendously well all season, although he has only had two runs. I think he is the ultimate iron horse.
“He is in great condition and we have plenty to work on still for Cheltenham, which is surprising because you see him there this morning – he could not wait to get going. He is always very strong in his work in the mornings.
“We are aiming for the Ryanair Chase. That is the target as far as we are concerned and I have not got any other plans unless something stupid happens to one of the other horses.”
Vroum Vroum Mag: “She will go for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. I did not think we would have her back, but from what I can see she is in great shape.
“We may cover her later on – we will have plenty of time after Cheltenham.”
Yorkhill: “I suppose the Unibet Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase are the options for Yorkhill.
“We will have to see because he is not a great workhorse at home. He is very lazy and, as you have seen at the racetrack when he idles in front, he is a bit like that at home.
“I have always thought that he should maybe have a crack at the Champion Hurdle. But he would be a nice one to have along with Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair. I am not going to make that decision yet.
“He never fired in the Dublin Chase. You could see going down to the second or third fence that he wasn’t jumping like a two-mile chaser, on that day anyway. Yet you look at him at Christmas time, you would think he needs to come back to two miles because his jumping was so electric.
“He won the JLT Novices’ Chase last year which makes you think he should go for the Ryanair Chase, but he did not jump well the other day. That is the reason I’m wondering if he should go back over hurdles. We know in a Champion Hurdle that there will be plenty of pace to bring his stamina into play.
“I think he would be a lot easier to ride in a Champion Hurdle than a Ryanair Chase. We will leave the decision until much later but I would say it is 60-40 in favour of the Champion Hurdle at the moment.”