Cheltenham Festival 2023: Willie Mullins’ Horses and Hopes

Cheltenham Festival 2023: Willie Mullins’ Horses and Hopes

By Nick Seddon

No trainer in the history of The Cheltenham Festival has trained more winners at it than Willie Mullins.

Tourist Attraction in the 1995 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was the first of what now stands at a record 88 winners for the master of Closutton. In 2022 he set yet another record when saddling an unprecedented 10 winner over the four days of The Festival.

In the build-up to this year’s event, he opened up the doors of his County Carlow stables in a media visit organised by The Jockey Club and outlined his hopes for The Festival in 2023, which kicks off on Tuesday 14th March.

Reflecting on 2022 and looking ahead to 2023, Mullins said: “I haven’t even thought about beating the 10 winners we had last year.

“Getting winners at Cheltenham is a relief. We are just aiming to get on the board if we can and hopefully some of the right ones will win.  

“They say we have 14 favourites for Cheltenham and around half the favourites win every year so I think so that’s not a bad number to have!

“Every inch of ground is fought for at Cheltenham from start to finish and everyone thinks they have a chance. They jump off and get a position on the rails or just off it and jockeys are fighting for the first couple of furlongs – it is just some immense compared to normal day to day racing. Nothing is given but that is what is what makes it special and what makes it hard to win there.

“People expect us to have winners at Cheltenham but we never go there expecting and it’s a relief when we get a winner and then hopefully one or two more.

“The main thing is that horses and jockeys come back safe, our owners have fun and we have fun. When you see jockeys getting falls it beings you back down to Earth and I admire them for what they do. I am surprised at how much I have got out of training – it’s a different aspect to riding but I have fantastic clients who enjoy racing and I and all of us here enjoy what we do. I think I’m enjoying it more than ever really.”

Willie Mullins’ entries at The Festival so far and comments on his leading contenders

Tuesday 14th March

1.30pm Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Current entries: Aime Desjy, Bialystok, Champ Kiely, Dark Raven, Diverge, Facile Vega, Gaelic Warrior, Horantzau D’airy, Houlanbatordechais, Hunters Yarn. Il Etait Temps, Impaire Et Passe, In Excess, Parmenion, Tactical Move, Viva Devito

Facile Vega: “I had resigned when I saw what was happening going past the winning post first time round. I said ‘unless he’s an absolute aeroplane, they can’t keep that up’.

“Someone said the time going to the fourth or fifth hurdle was a furlong quicker than the Irish Champion Hurdle – it was headless what went on.

“I was disappointed what happened, not that he was beaten as every horse gets beaten at some stage.

“Paul (Townend) knows himself and he’ll adjust things for the next day on the different horses that he rode. When you go to big races like that you learn a lot about your horse and he’ll have all that sorted for the next day.

“It’s not a comment on Paul’s riding ability, it was just a decision he made on the day and it didn’t work out on the day. It’s just part of the job.

“It’s like a footballer going to goal and there’s a player on the right that he doesn’t see. It’s just a bad decision in a game and play moves on. Paul gets things right 99 per cent of the time.

“There’ll be plenty of pace in the Supreme Novice and I haven’t contemplated changing (plans) yet.

“I think at the moment we’re all set to go the way we planned, if the horse recovers from his race yesterday. He had a very, very hard race and it will take a fair bit of recovering from. We’ll need all the time we have.”

Il Etait Temps: “I’ve always thought he was fair horse, which is why we ran him in the races we did last year and he ended up being a novice for this year.

“What’s disappointed me about him this year was his jumping – he just wasn’t putting it together. Even at the Dublin Racing Festival he made a mistake at the first, but Danny said to me when he turned down the back he pinged his hurdles and put it all together.

“I know the two in front made things easier for him, but he’s going to keep learning and once he gets it all together who knows how good he could be?

“He’s very keen, but once he learns to settle I think his jumping will come together and he’ll improve again. I think he’s going to be a proper Grade One horse.”


2.10pm Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

Current entries: Appreciate It, Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, Flame Bearer, Ha D’or, James Du Berlais, Saint Roi, Sir Gerhard

Appreciate It was very disappointing, and we’ve got to figure him out.

“I just thought he ran very flat and maybe he just mightn’t have recovered from his big effort before (at Naas).

“But El Fabiolo did everything right and his run against Jonbon last year puts him right in the picture, I think. It was only his second run for us and Jonbon was in his own backyard whereas we had to travel over to England, so he goes there with a huge chance.

“Appreciate It could step up in trip. We thought that all the time and we were amazed at what he was doing over two miles in the beginning, but maybe now it’s looking like he needs to go up.

“It (Turners) is likely on yesterday’s performance, but we’ll just have to see how he comes out of the race.”

3.30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

Current entries: Echoes In Rain, Sharjah, State Man, Vauban

“Horses for courses is the old saying and State Man has won around the track, which is huge in our preparation.

“We’re looking forward to it and I’m sure they’re looking forward to it. There are other horses in the race as well, but at the moment State Man looks to be the leading Irish contender and Constitution Hill looks to be the English one.

“Constitution Hill could be a bit of a freak and maybe we’re going to be unlucky to come against a horse like that, but it’s all there to play for at the moment.

“Fingers crossed we all get there and we get to compete.

“From everything he’s shown us all the time and the way he’s improving we think he’s good enough.

“We’re living the dream at the moment anyway. If you beat Honeysuckle around Leopardstown you’d normally be thinking there’s only one more step to go, but Constitution Hill is there and a few more too.

“Constitution Hill looks the full package. He’s got speed, he can jump and he stays and he’s going to be very tough to beat.”

4.10pm Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Current entries: Braganza, Echoes In Rain, Gauloise, Brandy Love, Shewearsitwell

5.30pm National Hunt Chase (Grade 2)

Current entries: Aione, Bronn, Captain Kangaroo, Chavez, Gaillard Du Mesnil, Glengouly, I Am Maximus, Kilcruit, , Mr Adjudicator, Rambranlt’jac, Ramillies, Tenzing

“We’ll see what horses we have to divide up before deciding who goes where.”

Wednesday 15th March

1.30pm Ballymore Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

Current entries: Aime Desjy, Champ Kiely, Dark Raven, Diverge, Embassy Gardens, Facile Vega, Gaelic Warrior, Grangeclare West, Ho My Lord, Houlanbatordechais, Hunters Yarn, Il Etait Temps, Impaire Et Passe, In Excess, Parmenion, Quais De Paris, Seabank Bistro, Shanbally Kid, Sir Argus, Spanish Harlem, Tactical Move

Gaelic Warrior was very impressive to win a handicap like that and I thought it was a great trial for maybe going for the Ballymore – that would look like the sort of race we might go for at the moment.

“He could go for the Supreme, but if I was to make a decision today the Ballymore is where I would be going. We’ll see what happens in the meantime.

“To me the obvious thing to do was go for a handicap, rather than taking on Facile Vega and Il Etait Temps. It was either Leopardstown or the Betfair Hurdle and I felt we had a better chance going to Cheltenham if we ran him at the Dublin Racing Festival, rather than going to Newbury.

“I think would have been a sin off his mark to run in a novice race before Cheltenham. I’m thinking Ballymore, unless he gets away with murder and gets into the County Hurdle, but I doubt it!”

Impaire Et Passe: “He looks a bit special too. He could run over two miles, but you’d probably be looking at going further (in the Ballymore).

“I was certainly thinking that last week, but now with Gaelic Warrior stepping up again it’s nice to have the choice.

“We haven’t sat down yet and gone through what happened over this weekend, but with his temperament I’d say he could do either race.”

2.10pm Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

Current entries: Bronn, Gaillard Du Mesnil, Glengouly, I Am Maximus, James Du Berlais, Kilcruit, Ramillies, Sir Gerhard

Sir Gerhard: “His hurdle form is good enough to go anywhere, but at the moment I’d be thinking longer trips, just going that bit slower.

“Over a longer trip there’s more jumps and more opportunity to make a mistake, but I just think for him, with his lack of experience, we’ll possibly take a chance in the Brown Advisory. That’s the way I’m thinking at the moment anyway, but nothing is set in stone.”

3.30pm Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1)

Current entries: Blue Lord, Chacun Pour Soi, Energumene, Gentleman De Mee

Energumene: “It was great to finally get a Champion Chase last year and I think in the Clarence House he just needed the run over those different style of fences.

“Even though he’d schooled over them at home, sometimes a horse just need to get out on the track and see the thing and I’m sure that experience will stand to him when it comes to jumping off in the Champion Chase.

“There’s no such thing as a slowly-run Champion Chase and I think that’s going to suit us.

“The Clarence House was a very tactical race and I think a few jockeys might change tactics the next day.

“We learnt a lot I think and I’m happy and Paul is happy he’ll improve a lot from that day.”

Thursday 16th March


1.30pm Turner Novices’ Chase

Current entries: Adamantly Chosen, Appreciate It, Bronn, Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, Flame Bearer, Gaillard Du Mesnil, Glengouly, Ha D’or, I Am Maximus, James Du Berlais, Kilcruit, Ramillies, Sir Gerhard

2.50pm Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)

Current entries: Allaho, Blue Lord, Chacun Pour Soi, Galopin Des Champs, Janidil, Royal Rendezvous, Stattler

“I’m very happy with Allaho. He’s doing some fast work.

Monkfish is just a little bit behind him, but at the moment they’re both going well, and Klassical Dream is another one that comes back into the picture.

“It’s going to be touch and go whether they make it, but certainly I’m much happier with Allaho than any of the others.

“I think he’s a specialist Ryanair chaser. A lot of people want to see him in a Gold Cup, but I’d be more worried about him going three and a quarter miles than I would about Galopin Des Champs.

“Allaho is so spectacular over the Ryanair trip. I think he could go back to two miles if you wanted to, but with his style of racing it might break his heart if he got beaten and we don’t want to do that.”

3.30pm Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Current entries: Asterion Forlonge, Chacun Pour Soi, Haut En Couleurs, Klassical Dream, Monkfish, Saint Sam, Sharjah, Sir Gerhard

Friday 17th March

1.30pm JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)

Current entries: Blood Destiny, Cinsa, Gala Marceau, Gaucher, Gust Of Wind, Je Garde, Jourdefete, Lossiemouth, Risk Belle, Sinbad Le Marin, Tekao, Zenta

Blood Destiny is very good and I just felt it was only three weeks since his last run, he’s only four and it was going to be a hard race if he ran in it.

“He’ll go there a bit fresher and he’s a fair sort.

Lossiemouth was just very unlucky and it’s going to be a very hot division this year I think. Gala Marceau is her own worst enemy as she pulled so hard but she’s going to improve as well.”


2.50pm Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Current entries: Eabha Grace, Embassy Gardens, Grangeclare West, Ho My Lord, Quais De Paris, Seabank Bistro, Shanbally Kid, Sir Argus, Spanish Harlem, Walk In The Brise

3.30pm Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1)

Current entries: Capodanno, Franco De Port, Galopin Des Champs, Monkfish. Stattler

Galopin Des Champs: “He did everything right. I was very happy with what he did and Paul was very happy that he jumped and came through when he wanted him to.

“He felt he had plenty of horse under him passing through the line and that’s important because there’s another two furlongs in Cheltenham.

“When he won over three miles as a novice over hurdles, I was never worried about his stamina after that. It’s just all about temperament that the horse learns to settle during a race and he’s done that in his last two runs.

“Paul is much happier with him and has got confidence now that he can use him in a race when he wants to use him.

“The horse is becoming the complete package.”

Willie Mullins’ record 88 Festival winners

1995 Tourist Attraction – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

1996 Wither Or Which – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

1997 Florida Pearl – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

1998 Florida Pearl – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

1998 Alexander Banquet – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2000 Joe Cullen – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2002 Scolardy – JCB Triumph Hurdle

2004 Rule Supreme – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2005 Missed That – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2007 Ebaziyan – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2008 Fiveforthree – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle; Cousin Vinny – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2009 Quevega – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Mikael D’Haguenet – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle; Cooldine – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2010 Quevega – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Thousand Stars – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

2011 Hurricane Fly – Unibet Champion Hurdle; Quevega Close – Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Final Approach – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle; Sir Des Champs – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

2012 Quevega – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Champagne Fever – Weatherbys Champion Bumper; Sir Des Champs – Turners Novices’ Chase

2013 Champagne Fever – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Hurricane Fly – Unibet Champion Hurdle; Quevega – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Back In Focus – National Hunt Chase; Briar Hill – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2014 Vautour – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Quevega – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Faugheen – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle; Don Poli – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

2015 Douvan – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Un De Sceaux – Sporting Life Arkle Chase; Faugheen – Unibet Champion Hurdle; Glens Melody – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Don Poli – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase; Vautour – Turners Novices’ Chase; Wicklow Brave – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle; Killultagh Vic – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

2016 Douvan – Sporting Life Arkle Chase; Annie Power – Unibet Champion Hurdle; Vroum Vroum Mag – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Yorkhill – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle; Black Hercules – Turners Novices’ Chase; Vautour – Ryanair Chase; Limini – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

2017 Yorkhill – Turners Novices’ Chase; Un De Sceaux – Ryanair Chase; Nichols Canyon – Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle; Let’s Dance – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle; Arctic Fire – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle; Penhill – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

2018 Footpad – Sporting Life Arkle; Benie Des Dieux – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle; Rathvinden – National Hunt Chase; Bleu Berry – Coral Cup; Relegate – Weatherbys Champion Bumper; Penhill – Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle; Laurina – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

2019 Klassical Dream – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Duc De Genievres – Sporting Life Arkle; Eglantine Du Seuil – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle; Al Boum Photo – Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup

2020 Ferny Hollow – Weatherbys Champion Bumper; Min – Ryanair Chase; Concertista – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle; Burning Victory – JCB Triumph Hurdle; Saint Roi – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle; Monkfish – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle; Al Boum Photo – Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup

2021 Appreciate It – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; Monkfish – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase; Sir Gerhard – Weatherbys Champion Bumper; Allaho – Ryanair Chase; Colreevy – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase; Galopin Des Champs – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

2022 Stattler – National Hunt Chase; Sir Gerhard – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle; Energumene – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase; Facile Vega – Weatherbys Champion Bumper; Allaho – Ryanair Chase; Vauban – JCB Triumph Hurdle; State Man – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle; The Nice Guy – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle; Billaway – St James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase; Elimay – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase

Leading trainer at The Festival awards (9): 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

Main photo: Willie Mullins with Galopin Des Champs, the current ante-post for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, courtesy of RVN Management/The Jockey Club.

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