Cheltenham Festival ante post tips: Emmet Mullins ponders options for Winter Fog

Cheltenham Festival winning trainer Emmet Mullins has another live contender in Winter Fog.Cheltenham Festival winning trainer Emmet Mullins has another live contender in Winter Fog.

Emmet Mullins’ Winter Flog Rates a Live Festival Player

Winter Fog went into many Cheltenham notebooks after his eye-catching run behind Panda Boy at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. He was having his first start for trainer Emmet Mullins and was heavily supported for the Pertemps Network Qualifier, leading at the last but being outpaced on the run-in. The Pertemps Final at Cheltenham would seem the obvious race for him but Mullins is likely to give the horse multiple Cheltenham entries. The Shunter famously carried the same colours to victory at last year’s festival and we take a closer look at Winter Fog’s Cheltenham prospects.

Can Winter Fog emulate The Shunter at Cheltenham

After the exploits of The Shunter last season, it is no wonder people are sitting up and taking notice of Winter Fog. Emmet Mullins skilfully masterminded a hugely successful campaign, switching between fences and hurdles. He began by exploiting a light weight to win the valuable Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November.

The Shunter then finished third in a Leopardstown handicap chase before winning back over hurdles at Kelso. That victory set up an enticing £100,000 bonus if he could win at the Cheltenham Festival. This was duly landed when taking the Paddy Power Plate. The horse then finished second in a Grade 1 chase at Aintree and third back over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival.

Winter Fog races in The Shunter colours of Paul Byrne and was switched to the Mullins’ stable in October last year. There was little in the formbook to suggest he was overpriced at 28-1 for the competitive Pertemps Network Qualifier at Leopardstown, particularly after a 244-day absence. However, that price tumbled into 8-1 before the off and the gamble was nearly landed.

He did not jump the first fluently but held a position back in the field before making progress on the outer with two to jump. He led approaching the last but could not repel Panda Boy. That run qualifies him for the Pertemps Hurdle Final for which he is a top-priced 16-1 in the ante-post betting. Before rushing in, it is worth remembering that Emmet Mullins is quoted as saying it is easy to get the horses fit but the important part is placing them in the right races.

Handicapper assesses Winter Fog 10lbs higher in Great Britain

Winter Fog was entered for the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January and made ante-post favourite, only to be withdrawn. He was given a rating 10lbs higher than in his last racing mark in Ireland. That will have been duly noted by Mullins, although it did not stop Irish raiders from dominating the Cheltenham Festival handicaps last season.

Interestingly, bookmakers also quote Winter Fog at 20-1 for the Coral Cup (the same distance as the Lanzarote) and the same price for the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle. He is even quoted by two firms for the National Hunt Chase over three and three-quarter miles! I cannot see any logic in the latter but it seems certain that Mullins will keep his options open until much closer to the Festival.

Make a note too of Winter Fog’s stable companion, the appropriately-named Rightplacerightime. He was also a late scratching from the Lanzarote for which he had been as short as 8-1. He was a slightly disappointing sixth at Haydock Park in November when sent off the 11-4 favourite. That followed a switch back to hurdles after winning a Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse. He is currently a 25-1 chance for the Pertemps Final.

Skybet offer only 7-1 Winter Fog to win any race at the Cheltenham Festival. Punters are probably best advised to keep their powder dry for the time being but keep the name in the notebook for when the weights for the Cheltenham handicaps are announced.