07 March 2024

Six that can bring up the Cheltenham century for Mullins

07 March 2024

Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival and on the brink of registering a landmark 100th winner at the showpiece meeting.

He currently sits on 94 winners and if recent history is anything to go by, he is likely to bring up his century this year having been the leading trainer for nine of the last 12 Festivals

Here, we take a look at those most likely to take Mullins into a realm many would have thought impossible when his career began.

State Man (Champion Hurdle)

Constitution Hill’s defection has left the door open for Mullins to land the opening-day feature for the first time since Annie Power in 2016. State Man has won 10 of his last 11 starts, with the only defeat coming against Nicky Henderson’s ailing superstar in this race 12 months ago. February’s Irish Champion Hurdle success at the Dublin Racing Festival was his third Grade One triumph of the current campaign and this consummate professional has a happy knack of getting the job done with the minimum of fuss.

Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup)

While Mullins treasures every Cheltenham winner as if it is his last, there is no doubt that having your biggest weapon in the blue-riband event among an arsenal of ammunition must be something of a comfort blanket. Things may be going smoothly now and he is coming in off the back of two utterly dominant performances, but Mullins deserves credit for getting him back to top form as he was beaten on his two subsequent outings after winning the Gold Cup last year. He is going to take some stopping.

El Fabiolo (Queen Mother Champion Chase)

Perhaps the best example of Mullins’ strength in depth is that his Energumene has been denied the chance to bid for a third Champion Chase through injury and yet the stable will still field the odds-on favourite for the race. Winner of the Arkle last year, he did have the tendency to make the odd mistake as a novice but in two runs this season, while he has not been forced to come out of second gear, his jumping has looked assured. With his major rival Jonbon blotting his copybook last time out, El Fabiolo will be a banker for many.

Ballyburn (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle/Gallagher)

While many love playing a game of ‘Mullins Bingo’ before the Festival, trying to guess which race his horses will run in, the form book says it is undisputable that Ballyburn is his best novice hurdler. His pedigree suggest he will stay three miles no problem, and he did win over two and a half miles by 25 lengths. However, dropped back to two miles at the Dublin Racing Festival he won a Grade One by seven lengths and that could easily have been doubled. Mullins has other novices that in different yards would be their best chance of the Festival, such as Tullyhill, Ile Atlantique and Mystical Power, but Ballyburn is surely Closutton’s best chance in those events wherever he goes.

Fact To File (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase)

When Mullins announced in the autumn that Fact To File was to eschew a hurdling campaign and be sent straight over fences, it was easy to be reminded of the ‘Florida Pearl’ route. Of course, the difference being that Florida Pearl, perhaps Mullins’ first really great horse, won the Champion Bumper while Fact To File finished second to A Dream To Share (as he had done at the Dublin Racing Festival). He was beaten on his chasing debut but November is always early for a Mullins horse and he has shown the last twice what he is made of, most recently when completely demoralising Gaelic Warrior, a stablemate who previously had looked imperious over fences. There is no doubt Fact To File is seen as a major Gold Cup contender next season.

Lossiemouth (Mares’ Hurdle)

The standout juvenile last season, the decision was taken to miss the first half of the term after Vauban, who represents the same connections, struggled against the very best in his second season over hurdles. Commentators of the sport did not seem to disagree with the decision, that was until a sparkling reappearance at Cheltenham on Trials day when she blitzed the field, albeit lacking any Champion Hurdle contenders. Mullins has not got to nearly 100 Cheltenham winners by over-facing his horses, though, and will be quite content to have a go at the big one next year with her, all being well.

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