Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival runners – Closutton trainer set to unleash big guns at the Festival
Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival contenders
He is the winning-most trainer in Cheltenham Festival history with 72 big race successes at the ‘greatest show on turf’ and few would back against Willie Mullins adding to his tally during the 2021 Cheltenham Festival where the County Carlow handler will field another powerful squad against the home team. We’ve highlighted a few of the Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival contenders who hold solid claims of success.
It has been a happy hunting ground for leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival and the man who has already saddled 72 winners at the ‘greatest show on turf’ looks sure to add to his tally during the 2021 Cheltenham Festival where the County Carlow maestro will boast another enviable team of top-class performers eager to add to the trainer’s formidable record at the home of jumps racing in the UK.
After another successful Dublin Racing Festival where Mullins saddled nine winners the Closutton trainer already accounts for around a dozen favourites from the 28 Cheltenham Festival races although that number could well increase once bookmakers price up their books for the handicap contests.
Mullins is sure to deploy another formidable entry of Cheltenham Festival runners from his powerful yard and we’ve looked through some of his big names that will strut their stuff over the course of the four days of the Festival and highlight just a few of his big hopes that could draw the interest of Festival punters and be the focal point of Cheltenham Festival free bets and ante-post accumulators.
Cheltenham Festival day one runners
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Of the 97 entries for the curtain-raising Festival opener Mullins accounts for 32 entries although it is certain some will pitch up elsewhere or not even make the journey across the Irish Sea. Nevertheless of those 32 names it is almost certain Mullins’ APPRECIATE IT will be one who does make the journey and the Jeremy gelding dominates the ante-post betting for the race.
And it is perhaps little wonder given he is 3-3 over hurdles which include a brace of Grade One victories, most recently when taking the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival where he beat Ballyadam from the Gordon Elliott camp by three lengths.
He has Cheltenham Festival experience having contested last season’s Champion Bumper where he eventually finished runner-up and he’ll likely prove a hard nut to crack pitching up in the Festival’s opening race which is a more likely target than the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for which he also holds an entry.
Arkle Challenge Trophy
All the attention ahead of the novices’ chase championship has centred on Shishkin who is unbeaten over obstacles for Nicky Henderson save for a hurdling debut fall last campaign but the Sholokhov gelding won last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle so show that mishap to be very much an aberration.
Could Mullins have the one to stop Shishkin’s dominance however with his ENERGUMENE who has looked top-drawer in his starts and like Shishkin is 3-3 over fences.
Those wins include a Grade One success latest at the Dublin Racing Festival when sluicing to victory in the Irish Arkle where he posted a facile ten lengths’ success over Franco De Port and Blackbow – both also possible runners for Mullins here – jumping soundly in front and he could prove a tough sort to reel back if allowed his own way at the head of affairs.
One of the few races at the Festival which Willie Mullins’ entries don’t dominate the betting and the Closutton maestro’s biggest hopes could lie with SHARJAH who was unluckily brought down in the race two years ago but chased home Epatante in last year’s renewal and the Doctor Dino gelding could again be a lively each-way play.
A top-class sort when everything drops right for him he’s no stranger to big-race success having won last season’s Matheson Hurdle and after a couple of summer runs on the flat he returned to hurdling in December to win a second Matheson crown, beating Aspire Tower.
He did run a shade below his best in the Irish Champion Hurdle recently but the heavy ground possibly wasn’t to his liking and he’s better than he was able to show. Less testing ground at Cheltenham will surely prove more suitable and he could deliver another performance in the Cheltenham Festival day one feature.
David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle
CONCERTISTA, runner-up two seasons ago in the novices’ equivalent of this race the Nathaniel mare was able to contest that race again twelve months ago where she was a wide-margin winner of that contest, beating Dolcita and she has continued her winning form this campaign with two wins from two starts.
The latest of those wins saw her running out a comfortable winner of a Grade Three prize at Leopardstown over Christmas, beating Minella Melody and she could take some beating lining up at Cheltenham in the Grade One Mares’ Hurdle where she’s expected to prove tough to beat.
National Hunt Chase
The day one closer also doesn’t feature a Mullins-trained runner at the top of the pile but it is interesting the Closutton trainer has given an entry in the race to ASTERION FORLONGES and what would be a marked step up in distance could prove a good move for the Coastal Path gelding.
Fourth in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle having previously been unbeaten his chase career this term got off to the perfect start with a relatively straightforward success at Punchestown although he fell in successive starts at Limerick and back at Punchestown.
A tongue-tie helped him to complete behind Monkfish at Leopardstown recently where he shaped as if he might relish more of a test of stamina which he’d certainly get if pitching up in this race although jumping frailties were again evident in that latest run and the stiff Cheltenham fences might find him out.
Cheltenham Festival day two tips
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Mullins is likely to kick off the second day of the Cheltenham Festival by saddling favourite GAILLARD DU MESNIL in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Saint Des Saints gelding has done nothing wrong in three starts over hurdles for his yard since moving from France where he was placed in Graded bumpers.
Although beaten on his hurdles debut for Mullins he’s since collected a pair of wins at Leopardstown, the latter coming in a Grade One where he was strong at the finish to beat the highly-regarded Gentlemansgame by five lengths and there’s likely better still to come from him.
Given how he finished off that contest he’ll surely relish the stiff uphill finish at Cheltenham and he looks sure to be involved again at the business end where he could give Mullins a first win in the race since Yorkhill scored for him in 2016.
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
Formerly the RSA Chase and now the Festival Novice Chase there could well be another Mullins winner of this race with MONKFISH who has been simply imperious in his starts to date over the larger obstacles and last season’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner will be many people’s Cheltenham Festival day two banker.
The Stowaway gelding is 3-3 this term over fences, twice being Latest Exhibition in successive Grade One contests at Leopardstown and it will take a good one to stop him making it four wins on the spin given he’s been faultless at his fences and with no shortage of stamina should take some stopping.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
An eleventh-hour scratching from the race twelve months ago CHACUN POUR SOI could prove many peoples’ Cheltenham Festival banker of the meeting on the back of three bloodless wins over fences this term.
The Policy Maker gelding has suffered just one defeat in his career since joining Willie Mullins which came when denied by the high-class A Plus Tard in a Grade One at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival last term; but he’s since won all his starts and was last seen routing a good field by eight lengths in the recent Dublin Chase.
The likes of defending champion Politologue and past-champion Altior are likely to offer up stiff opposition to the Mullins challenger but can the veterans hold off their younger rival who heads the ante-post betting by several points and could prove a tough nut to crack.
Willie Mullins invariably has a very strong hand in this contest and KILCRUIT leapt into the spotlight for the day two closer with an emphatic victory at the Dublin Racing Festival where the Stowaway gelding annhilated opposition by twelve lengths to take the Grade Two bumper on the first day.
Also an impressive winner at Navan the time before there was plenty to like about his latest Leopardstown victory and he’s sure to be thereabouts for his yard which has an excellent record in this contest although he’s likely to be just one of a number of live Champion Bumper chances for the Closutton maestro.
SIR GERHARD also looks to hold very solid claims in the race where he features prominently towards the head of the ante-post betting and he’s another horse to have left Gordon Elliott.
A wide-margin winner of his bumper debut at Down Royal back in October he followed in a Listed contest at Navan where he was visually impressive in dispatching Letsbeclearaboutit who had won both his previous starts.
He showed a really decisive turn of foot that day and while a line through the runner-up strictly leaves him with a few lengths to find on Kilcruit he looks a top prospect who could easily find more and he rates a live player.
Cheltenham Festival Day Three tips
Marsh Novices’ Chase
The Cheltenham Festival day three opening race could be something of a conundrum for Mullins given he has entered both Asterion Forlonge and Energumene amongst his possible candidates for the race.
Both of those might go to other targets however, the former and the National Hunt Chase while the latter may tackle Shishkin in the Arkle Chase – both on day one – which may leave BLACKBOW as Mullins’ big hope in this race.
The Stowaway gelding finished fifth in the 2018 Champion Bumper and was expected to take high order over hurdles last term although things didn’t go to plan and he failed to score in a handful of outings. Sent chasing this term he won his debut over fences at Navan but was an early faller next time at Leopardstown and he’s been well-beaten on both subsequent starts behind Energumene.
Perhaps a step up in trip might unlock some improvement and he would be a player if lining up for all he probably needs to find a bit on form.
A glance at the ante-post market for the Ryanair Chase shows Willie Mullins to be responsible for four of the first six in the betting including 2020 winner Min who could return in a bid to defend his crown although he’ll have to bounce back from being pulled up at Leopardstown when last seen.
With Melon and Kemboy both likely to head to the Gold Cup it would leave ALLAHO as Mullins’ main hope alongside Min and the No Risk At All gelding resumed winning ways over the shorter trip when scoring at Thurles most recently.
Third in each of the past two Festivals when contesting the Albert Bartlett and RSA Chase respectively he also holds a Gold Cup entry although this race could prove his main target rather than take on Al Boum Photo and he looks sure to go well if tackling this contest.
Mullins has entries for both Benie Des Dieux and Kemboy in this contest but neither is likely to tackle this prize. The staying hurdle division is one where Mullins has no real stand-out candidate and it may be left to BACHASSON to fly the flag for the Closutton trainer in this race.
The ten-year old has won his last four starts over hurdles, all over shorter trips than that of the Stayers’ Hurdle and he was an impressive winner when last seen scoring at Naas. Whether he wants as far as this is debatable however and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he features in the entries for a couple of the handicaps once they are announced.
If Mullins does throw his hat into the ring in this race however he’d have to be respected although it is hard to see him upsetting the likes of Paisley Park or Thyme Hill.
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Unbeaten Shewearsitwell is the dominant Willie Mullins-trained runner in the ante-post betting for this race although in GAULOISE the County Carlow trainer could hold a stronger candidate despite that one meeting with defeat in the recent Solerina Mares’ Hurdle.
The Samum mare had previously been unbeaten, producing an impressive performance to score at Thurles in a Listed contest and she was possibly unsuited by heavy ground at Fairyhouse latest where she also wasn’t helped by a late mistake which halted her momentum just as she was moving into contention.
Likely to have better ground at Cheltenham she’s no forlorn hope of bouncing back with a better effort and she’s a big player.
Cheltenham Festival Day Four runners
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
STATTLER is likely to carry the hopes of the Mullins camp in the Albert Bartlett and the Stowaway gelding could thrive faced with this longer trip having run well in defeat behind Gaillard Du Mesnil at Leopardstown recently where he shaped as if he’d appreciate a stiffer test.
A Leopardstown winner in December he also holds a Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle entry although this looks a more suitable assignment and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him deliver a big run if turning out.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
For Mullins this will be all about AL BOUM PHOTO who will be chasing a hat-trick of victories in the race having won the Blue Riband in each of the last two years and the Cheltenham Festival day four highlight will be the main focus of many punters’ attentions.
The nine-year old could be joined in the line-up by stablemates Kemboy and Melon but the Buck’s Boum gelding is very much the one to beat and follows the same path he took twelve months ago having won at Tramore prior to taking in the Gold Cup.
Can he become the first triple-winner since Best Mate? He certainly has big claims of doing so and he’ll be a popular Cheltenham Festival tip to land the big race of the week.
St James Place Challenge Cup
Mullins also has the favourite for the Foxhunters’ Chase in the shape of BILLAWAY who looks a strong candidate for success having won his last two starts and the Well Chosen gelding finished runner-up in the race twelve months ago behind It Came To Pass.
He’ll be well fancied to go one better in the race having posted recent wins at Down Royal and Naas and give the trainer a first win in the race which is one of the few races at the Festival Mullins is yet to collect first prize.
That could all change on Festival Friday however and the nine-year old has solid claims of landing the win.
Paddy Power Mares’ Chase
A new race on the Cheltenham Festival calendar and Willie Mullins already boasts the first three in the betting with Elimay, Benie Des Dieux and Colreevy all vying for favoritism at the head of the ante-post market.
Ellimay has finished runner-up in her two starts this term, latterly behind Allaho at Thurles while Benie Des Dieux would be making her seasonal debut although she’s shown she can run well fresh in the past and has plenty of chasing experience to call upon.
COLREEVY though could prove the pick of the Mullins contingent though and the Flememsfirth mare is going from strength to strength over the larger obstacles with a trio of chase wins this term including a Grade One at Limerick and Grade Two at Thurles latest where she was a twelve lengths’ winner.
She has Festival experience having run in the 2018 Champion Bumper and the 2020 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and she could go close if lining up.