Trainer of the Month with William Hill – Willie Mullins
Where the Mullins Battalions May Head Next
It was an extraordinary Christmas period for Willie Mullins. By his high standards, it had been a relatively slow start to the autumn, but with his big guns coming out in full force from December, it has been far more than just a season of goodwill at Closutton. Here, we look into where some of his biggest names and winners from Boxing Day onwards may head next.
Not one of the most heralded names in Mullins’ yard, but without a doubt a prominent member of his team now, TORNADO FLYER caused an upset at 28/1 in the King George at Kempton.
That was only his second attempt at three miles, so he is unexposed at the trip. He has shot into the reckoning for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and is currently 14/1 with William Hill for the big race in March.
While he may have benefitted from the way the King George was run, only stablemate Asterion Forlonge would have got close to him, and the grey’s fall ensured Tornado Flyer was a comfortable winner come the line. Although he had previously fallen short at the top level, he may now have found the distance he excels at.
Prior to Cheltenham, the Irish Gold Cup would be the obvious choice of race if Mullins wanted to give him a prep run. It should also be added that he is also entered in the Ryanair, in which he was third last year. William Hill go 14/1 for that race too.
FERNY HOLLOW finally got the opportunity to deliver on his burgeoning potential when storming to victory in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.
That was only his third start over obstacles, which goes to show how talented he is. He beat the previously invincible Rivere d’Etel that day, conceding 13lb. As the season prgoresses, that might look like a remarkable achievement.
Given his lack of racecourse experience, the Dublin Racing Festival will appeal as the next viable option in the Irish Arkle. Thereafter, the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival will be the aim and he could join an elite rank in the two-mile division.
The new star of the staying hurdle division, KLASSICAL DREAM won under an enterprising ride from Paul Townend in the Christmas Hurdle on the 28th December.
He has now won two Grade s in his last two starts, both after sizeable layoffs. Given that timeframe, it is more than likely that he will go straight to Cheltenham, where he will run for the first time since winning the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
His return to form is spectacular given he was initially received as a disappointment in his second season over hurdles. The new trip has clearly sparked him into life and Mullins has done a sensational job at keeping him fit and well.
After flopping at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals, CONCERTISTA had to prove her wellbeing at the start of this season. She has done so with aplomb.
Willie Mullins has entered her in two Grade 2 Mares Novices’ Chases, unafraid to test her against a decent level of opposition from the word go. She has duly won both races, with the runner-up from the first winning impressively on her next start.
Her latest win at Cork on December 28th surely cemented that she will remain chasing and the Mares’ Chase is the likely target for Cheltenham. However, armed with her 7lb mares’ allowance, do not rule her out if she ends up elsewhere.
A fourth Matheson Hurdle was a record-equalling haul for SHARJAH when he won yet again at Leopardstown on the 29th December.
Only Istabraq and Hurricane Fly can match that achievement, a testament to his wellbeing and the way he is trained.
Yet despite it being run over the same course and distance, he has been disappointing in both runs in the Irish Champion Hurdle the month before Cheltenham. It is very possible that he will be saved for the Festival contest this time around, as he attempts to finally beat old foe Honeysuckle. He is currently an 8/1 chance to do just that.
Given her lack of verve when trained briefly by Paul Nicholls, you’d be forgiven for thinking that STORMY IRELAND may have caught the shivers on the boat over from Ireland.
However, that did not reflect in her performance, as she bounded on from the front in customary fashion to win the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day.
She was runner-up in the Mares’ Hurdle in 2019 and that race may not have one of its strongest renewals come March, but there are alternatives. A tilt at the Irish or Cheltenham Champion Hurdles could yet appeal given the possible lack of front-running alternatives.
Al Boum Photo
We have become accustomed to this by now. The New Year’s celebrations are over, our hangovers are beginning to wane and then AL BOUM PHOTO wins at Tramore to set up a tilt at the Gold Cup.
It was the fourth time in a row that he was winning the New Year’s Day Chase at that venue and his rivals’ mixed performances may well have those at Closutton dreaming of Al Boum Photo emulating Best Mate to win a third Gold Cup.
Although Mullins said he may do things differently this year, there is every chance once again that his ten-year-old will go straight to Cheltenham, for which he has been trimmed into a 10/1 chance by William Hill.