Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins and gave updates on many of his leading contenders ahead of The Festival during a media visit organised by Cheltenham Racecourse.
Mullins has been the leading trainer at The Festival in three of the last four years and has registered 33 winners, the highest total ever by an Irish-based trainer.
“This is definitely our strongest team going to Cheltenham, both in terms of numbers and quality,” said the trainer. “The last couple of years we have had about 40 horses going over, but this year I think we could have another 10 on top of that.
“It is what we are in the game for – to go to Cheltenham with as many horses as possible who have a decent chance.”
“I am not discounting Arctic Fire in the Stan James Champion Hurdle. He is improving all the time.
“He was beaten a head in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle last year and horses have come on from that to win the Champion Hurdle.
“He has always shown me plenty at home and when he was a three-year-old I thought this fella was better than any of them. I still don’t think we have seen the best of him.
“He will love the strong pace at Cheltenham and we know he likes the track. If he doesn’t win at Cheltenham, he will win a good race over hurdles at some point.”
“He is still in the Sky Bet Supreme and Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdles. We have taken him out of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdles, although I would have left him in it. I would imagine connections are favouring the Supreme.”
“She is in great form and has hit every target we have set her.
“My aim at the moment is the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. We will see what happens with the World Hurdle, but it will be a tough ask going three miles first time out in Cheltenham.
“She will probably be a bit fresher as well and that is another point to consider. You can say she didn’t have the stamina last year because of the fact she didn’t settle.”
“He is in the Ryanair Chase and a couple of handicaps. He will probably travel because there are not a lot of options for him. I think he is better than he showed at Ascot.”
“He is in good form and is more than likely to go for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.”
“I was disappointed with him the last day. He will go for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup instead of the Ryanair Chase because if he won that, everyone would be asking why he didn’t go for the Gold Cup.”
Champagne Fever (pictured right)
“I would imagine, with the way the cards are falling, Champagne Fever will go for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
“You would think after his performance at Gowran that he should go for the Ryanair Chase but I think connections are favouring the Champion.
“He jumped fantastically and really enjoyed it at the weekend. It was great to see him back in that sort of form and he has been on fire since.
“He has won twice and been beaten a short-head in three runs over two miles at Cheltenham. You probably need a two and a half miler to win the Champion Chase anyway, so I’d rather have a crack at that and fail than go for the Ryanair.”
“He is on course for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup and I think the extra couple of furlongs will help him.
“If you look at our three horses in the Gold Cup, his latest performance was the best of the three even though it was only a handicap.
“Gowran is a fair test of any horse, especially in that ground. He had seasoned handicappers slogging away in behind him while Ruby was swinging from four out. He had top-weight as well and I think it was a Gold Cup performance.
“I am putting a line through his run at Newbury. We could not get a run into him beforehand because of the dry weather and he wasn’t fit enough.”
“I nominated the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase for Don Poli back in November but I think the Gigginstown team and Bryan Cooper are favouring the RSA Chase. A lot will depend on what they want to do as they have a lot of horses in both races.
“I look at his style of running and think the four-miler will really suit him. I love his style of racing and since they changed the conditions, I think the four-miler is becoming a classier race.
“I thought Valseur Lido was an RSA horse but I think connections want to go for the JLT Novices’ Chase. They also have Very Wood for the four-miler and one or two others, so it will depend on where they go.”
“He is very good and there have been no problems. He is marked in for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, end of story.
“He has got lots of ability and each time we ask him to do something, he comes up with the answer.
“He just does everything right and is as nice a horse as we have ever had going to Cheltenham. He is a fair machine.”
“He will hopefully go for the JCB Triumph Hurdle. He is on Sunday and I will decide if he runs after he works later in the week. The form of his win at Gowran suggests he might be the best of our three in the Triumph.”
“He is doing everything right. Nigel Twiston-Davies has questioned what Faugheen has beaten and I am going to side with him on that for the time being!
“I thought Faugheen might go chasing this season but, when we analysed everything and looked at the fact that he hadn’t been beaten, everyone was keener for him to go back hurdling and Vautour to go chasing.
“To have a potential champion hurdler in the yard is huge, rather than a horse going for the Racing Post Arkle Chase.
“We thought Vautour could possibly win an Arkle and possibly be a Gold Cup horse one day and we weren’t as sure about Faugheen doing that.
“I did not want to travel to England again for a prep run and I didn’t want to take on Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion. We prepared Faugheen for the Red Mills Trial but, after a good discussion with Ruby, we felt he didn’t need any more experience.
“We looked up the stats and have seen plenty of horses that have gone straight from Kempton to Cheltenham without a run. I think people look too much into stats, especially ones only going back 10 years or so. I prefer to look back 25 or 30 years.”
“She is very good and has done everything right this year. She showed last year that she is well up to winning a mares’ hurdle and the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle is her aim again.”
“He has done everything right this season. If he was two or three years younger, he would definitely be favourite as he has done everything a clear favourite should have.
“People say he can’t win because of his age but he is class. Some people say he doesn’t run his best in Cheltenham but I am not so sure. He has won two Stan James Champion Hurdles from four starts and I think I had two good excuses for the times he got beaten.
“When he was really right going into Cheltenham, he has won. Horses have to be really right on the day or they will struggle. I felt going into his last two runs last season that he wasn’t sparking as he can – he was just going through the motions.
“So far this year, he has not shown any of those signs. Paul Townend rides him and is a great indicator. He can tell me down to the ants how the horse is training and is giving me positive feedback all the time.
“It would be my dream result for the whole of Cheltenham if Hurricane Fly could win a third Champion Hurdle. He is our king but if Faugheen rises and wins it, then there is obviously great potential there to win another.”
“He is set for the JCB Triumph Hurdle now. He put in a very good performance behind our mare at Leopardstown last time and I think he will improve from that.”
“He may run this weekend and that will tell us more, but I think he is more of a Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle horse.”
“I don’t know what we are going to do with Mckinley, but my initial thought would be the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.”
“I reckon he will end up in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. He will have no problem staying the extra distance and some people have said he could be another Inglis Drever for his owner. He stays two miles on the Flat and can go out to any trip.”
On His Own
“He has so much stamina and the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup is all about stamina.
“He jumps well enough, although he gives up a bit of ground going out to the right, and the test really suits him. He loves an end to end gallop and I am hoping he will be there again at the finish.”
“It will more than likely be the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle for Outlander. I think he has Neptune written all over him. He disappointed me in Limerick and because of that probably surprised me a bit when he won in Leopardstown.”
“It was not a surprise when she won last time out as she was very unlucky not to win first time up at Punchestown.
“She is a very classy mare and will have a good chance in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.”
“It will be a struggle for him to make Cheltenham but I have given him a couple of entries. He is just all right and it will probably be Fairyhouse or Punchestown for him. He would have to surprise me over the next couple of weeks.”
“I will have to see how he works in the build-up because he missed a bit of time.
“He is coming back and, because the owners (Graham and Andrea Wylie) have Black Hercules for the Albert Bartlett and Nichols Canyon for the Neptune, he may end up in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. That is the plan at the moment but Shaneshill has a good bit of work to do first.”
Tell Us More
“Tell Us More will go for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but it will depend how he gallops between now and then. I would prefer to keep him to the Neptune, but he has to come back right and please me at home before he goes to Cheltenham at all.
Un De Sceaux
“He has made a brilliant transition to fences. We didn’t take on the best over hurdles last season, although he went to France and beat the best over there. If he takes to jumping fences in Cheltenham he is going to put up a big show in Racing Past Arkle Chase.
“It is going to be a huge test for him given his style of racing – he goes flat out. He is the type of chaser you love to train. He is a proper two-miler and is really exciting to watch. His style of racing is heart stopping almost but that’s the way he is.
“Punters and bookmakers have decided that if he stays up, he wins and I am happy to go along with that!”
“I think the gap between the Drinmore and his last run was the reason he got beat. He will improve for that.
“What wins the Moriarty usually goes on to the RSA Chase and that’s the way I would like to go with him, but it might not suit Gigginstown and their other horses, so I can see him going for the JLT Novices’ Chase.
“He will be a contender in both races and I feel the further he goes, the easier he is going to do it.”
“If something happens to Un De Sceaux, then he could go for the Racing Post Arkle but at the moment Vautour is going for the JLT Novices’ Chase.
“He won the other day but I still have a good bit of work to do to get him back where he was last December. He will do that this week and next week and I think it will come.
“I think he can go any trip. He is bred to stay but has the stride and speed for two miles. The JLT is where I want to go with him.”
Vroum Vroum Mag
“She is in three or four races at Cheltenham but I doubt she will go. There is a mares’ race in Limerick and she will probably go there, but we will see.”
ABOUT WILLIE MULLINS
Willie Mullins is the all-time leading Irish trainer at The Festival with 33 successes and has won The Irish Independent Dessie Hughes Leading Trainer Award at three of the last four Festivals. He has built up a formidable team of horses at his Co Carlow base and has been Ireland’s champion trainer for the last seven seasons and nine times in all.
Born – 15th September 1956
Background – Six-time amateur champion rider in Ireland, Mullins both rode and trained Wither Or Which to win the 1996 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.
He hails from one of Ireland’s most famous racing families, one of five children of the late Paddy Mullins, the outstanding all-round trainer whose most famous star was Dawn Run, winner of the 1984 Champion Hurdle and 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup (the only horse to win both races).
Willie started training in 1988, having been assistant to his father and Jim Bolger.
First Winner as a Trainer – Silver Batchelor, M & J Gleeson INH Flat Race, Thurles, 18th February 1988. He also rode the horse.
Cheltenham Festival wins (33)
1995: 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Tourist Attraction)
1996: 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Wither Or Which)
1997: 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Florida Pearl)
1998: 2 RSA Chase (Florida Pearl), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Alexander Banquet)
2000: 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Joe Cullen)
2002: 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Scolardy)
2004: 1 RSA Chase (Rule Supreme)
2005: 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Missed That)
2007: 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Ebaziyan)
2008: 2 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Fiveforthree), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Cousin Vinny)
2009: 3 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Mikael D’Haguenet), RSA Chase (Cooldine)
2010: 2 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Thousand Stars)
2011: 4 Stan James Champion Hurdle (Hurricane Fly), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Final Approach), Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Sir Des Champs)
2012: 3 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Champagne Fever), JLT Novices’ Chase (Sir Des Champs)
2013: 5 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Champagne Fever), Stan James Champion Hurdle (Hurricane Fly), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Toby Balding National Hunt Chase (Back In Focus), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Briar Hill)
2014: 4 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Vautour), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Faugheen), Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Don Poli)
Winner of The Irish Independent Dessie Hughes Leading Trainer Award at The Festival: 2011, 2013, 2014
GUIDE TO THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2015 – CLICK HERE