19 March 2024

Rockett-powered Mullins contender has Irish handicapper ‘shaking in his boots’

19 March 2024

Having dominated the Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins has set his sights on the Boylesports Irish Grand National on April 1 – with unexposed novice Nick Rockett likely to be all the rage.

The champion trainer is seeking a third win overall in the richest jumps’ race run in Ireland and back-to-back victories after the unlikely success of I Am Maximus 12 months ago.

Nick Rockett has been allotted 10st 13lb in the weights by handicapper Sandy Shaw, with Gordon Elliott’s Galway Plate winner Ash Tree Meadow top of the pile.

Three Cheltenham Festival victors are towards the top in Corbetts Cross (11st 10lb), Inothewayurthinkin (11st 9lb) and Limerick Lace (11st 7lb), but having kept his powder dry, Mullins might just have the ideal candidate.

“Nick Rockett has performed well around Fairyhouse and I love horses for courses,” said Mullins.

“Paul (Townend) was very happy the last day he won around the course and we thought instead of going to Cheltenham that we should maybe aim for Fairyhouse. That’s what we have been doing and we are very happy with how he is.

“He jumps, has won over the track, is a novice coming up the ranks, has a nice weight and Paul is very happy to ride him. That is more than enough and he ticks all the right boxes, I think.

“We have to get him there in the right order and at the moment I am very happy with him.”

Regarding his other entries, Mullins said: “This race comes into play for Stattler now, if he’d run at Cheltenham (Cross Country Chase was abandoned) he would maybe have gone to Aintree, but he’s now in the running to run here.

“Monkfish was disappointing at Cheltenham so wouldn’t come here, Mr Incredible only ran the other day so it’s too close, the same with Adamantly Chosen. Embassy Gardens and James Du Berlais the same.

“Bronn was disappointing in Naas, but if I could get him back right he could go there. Minella Cocooner has run well there, has the credentials, stays all day and has a nice weight as well.

“Ontheropes is 36 (on the ballot) but I think he is more or less in and is our other likely runner.

“It took us a long time to win it. My father had won it four times so it was an itch that needed scratching and then winning it with Burrows Saint for Rich Ricci and with Ruby Walsh, that capped it.

“It gave me as much pleasure as winning any race.”

The three Cheltenham winners are in but we can re-assess them, the difference is that Willie's Nick Rockett didn't go - he has me shaking in my boots the way he's talking!

For Shaw, Mullins’ comments have him “shaking in his boots”.

“An awful lot handicap themselves and it is obviously the novices that we look to as they are the ones that have more improvement in them,” he said.

“The three Cheltenham winners are in but we can reassess them, the difference is that Willie’s Nick Rockett didn’t go – he has me shaking in my boots the way he’s talking!

“He’s been held back and it was certainly the right thing to do, I think. Novices are always hard to rate because you have to rate them on what they have done, not on what we think they might do so there is a chance Nick Rockett could be well handicapped.

“The only thing is he has only run seven times in his life. He’s unexposed as a result, but it will be a question of if he can handle the hurly burly of the race. Other than that he does look the one. He could have a few pounds up his sleeve, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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