12 February 2024

Ballyburn team still deliberating Festival target

12 February 2024

Willie Mullins is still to decide how he will shuffle some of his novices’ hurdle pack, with Ballyburn looking his ace card to play amongst a team brimming with talent.

The master of Closutton has won the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a record seven times, while the following day’s Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle has gone his way on six occasions, including last year when scoring with Impaire Et Passe.

The handler is blessed with an array of riches in both races this time around, with many of his Closutton inmates double entered – including high-class pair Ballyburn and Mystical Power, who are dominant in the ante-post lists for both races.

Owned by Ronnie Bartlett in conjunction with football agent David Manasseh, Ballyburn laid down his claim to be Mullins’ Supreme number one with a faultless display at the Dublin Racing Festival.

However, the Irish champion trainer is willing to bide his time before firming up final running plans.

Mullins said: “Ballyburn has been very impressive. He’s in the Supreme and Baring Bingham, pedigree-wise you’d say Baring Bingham but looking at his races you’d say Supreme. His owners haven’t shown a preference and they’d be very happy to go wherever we go. I’ll leave that one open for the time being.

“Mystical Power is another one, owned by JP who is good pals with Ronnie Bartlett and will they want to take each other on?”

“I’ve been very pleased with what he’s shown over two miles as on pedigree I thought he’d want further but he’s shaped more like a two-miler.”

Mystical Power comes with a champion’s pedigree being a son of Galileo out of Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power and having done his early winning last summer, served a reminder of his potential when landing the Grade Two Moscow Flyer last month – a race that has served Mullins well in the past.

He added: “I think he’s a bit like his mother, a later developer. You get some pedigrees, like Quevega and all her progeny who are late developers, so this fellow is improving all the time.

“I was amazed with how much he’d improved in his last bit of work before the Lawlor’s of Naas, but then that was put back a week so I said ‘let’s go for the Moscow Flyer’ and he was very good in that.

“You’d have to think Supreme but we’ve had Moscow Flyer winners go both ways. It’s been a very good race for us as a trial to Cheltenham.

“Asian Master has had his two runs and I imagine he will also probably take his chance in the Supreme Novices’, he’s every right to.”

Mullins saddled a one-two in the Grade One Lawlor’s of Naas last month with Readin Tommy Wrong picking the pocket of Ile Atlantique late on.

And while the Tony Bloom-owned runner-up is pretty much certain to continue campaigning over an intermediate trip, there is the possibility Readin Tommy Wrong will step up to three miles at Prestbury Park.

“Ile Atlantique, my preference all along has been the Baring Bingham, unless something awkward happens he’ll go there,” continued Mullins.

“I thought he put up a tremendous performance in Naas when he was beaten by Readin Tommy Wrong. Ile Atlantique did all the donkey work and Daryl (Jacob) was very cute on Readin Tommy Wrong and just pounced on him.

“Cheltenham will be a different test and we’ll see. I think it’s harsh if people say he’s soft, we can change tactics and ride more of a race. I think it’s very harsh given he did all the work and then he was pounced on by a very good horse.

“Readin Tommy Wrong is in the Baring Bingham but is also in the Albert Bartlett and could go for either race. He has stamina and class so it’s a nice position for Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Souede, owners) to be in.”

Meanwhile, High Class Hero will attempt to prove he is well named when he leads Mullins’ Albert Bartlett squad, which could also include Dublin Racing Festival scorer Dancing City.

He said “When High Class Hero won his race in the autumn, I said to David Casey I’ll pick one race in the spring as a prep for Cheltenham, I don’t want him having a hard race at the Dublin Racing Festival and he found the race at Thurles and he came through it lovely.

“Dancing City had actually been disappointing me and then everything came right, it was obviously a step up in trip and maybe nicer ground were a big help to him. I think he’ll go to the Albert Bartlett with a chance.”

Nicky Henderson’s Sir Gino sets a high bar in the juvenile division, but Mullins looks set to saddle a strong team in opposition in the Triumph Hurdle.

Kargese led home a Closutton one-two-three-four in the Spring Juvenile at Leopardstown, but it is third-placed Majborough who has Mullins enthused.

“Majborough ran a cracker the other day. Every time I see him I think Gold Cup, not Triumph Hurdle, he’s just a magnificent beast,” he said.

“I was surprised when he arrived from France to see what an individual he was. He’s not a typical juvenile hurdler, you’re looking at him and thinking three years down the road.

“Maybe he could be like Douvan and just fully develop as a four and five-year-old. I’ve got some nice juveniles, but he’d be in the top couple of picks.”

A Cheltenham hero of old, Sir Gerhard, is set to bid for his third Festival success in the Stayers’ Hurdle, while Sa Majeste – who claimed the scalp of Noble Yeats at Limerick – could be one of Mullins’ leading players in the handicaps.

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