“I’m very happy with the team that’s going to Cheltenham, we’re strong again this year, and it looks to be a great festival of racing once again.”
So said an upbeat and confident Willie Mullins as the Goresbridge native eyes up another Cheltenham and more success.
And apart from the horses in top form, Willie’s team of jockeys has been considerably strengthened with the return of champion rider, Ruby Walsh last week - back from injury with a a win.
“And that was an important win for Ruby and for us, it was a very good run from the mare Lareena so that was nice on both counts, she’s a popular mare.”
Just like everywhere else, it hasn’t been plain sailing for the Mullins Yard in Closutton in recent weeks. Drifting snow which brought the country to a standstill did not deter anyone at the Mullins yard - by all accounts they took it in their stride.
“Preparation was disrupted this year with the snow but our staff were fantastic. It was difficult, we have a covered down gallop but you have to be up, take the covers off, and then put them back on and that made it harder for everyone but we didn’t close, everyone came in to work with the horses, it was a super effort from all the staff,” said Willie. And that commitment to get the horses going to Cheltenham in the best possible state is sure to stand to Willie and his charges.
“We’ve 45 horses going and every year Cheltenham keeps on getting bigger and better, there’s more owners involved, more people involved in horse racing, it’s great for horse racing,” he added.
Willie took a run down through the card and some of the runners, in particular for the local scene that are running during the week.
Racing starts on Tuesday, March 13 with the Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle.
“We start on Tuesday with some good prospects, and I fancy Getabird in this opening race of the festival of continuing to show good form
“And in the second race, the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, Footpad has a very good chance in this one also. So hopefully we’ll get off to a good start.,” said Willie. All eyes of course will be on Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle. “He hasn’t been at his best this season, but when he gets to Cheltenham he’ll be a different prospect and has a good chance,” said Willie who added that Yorkhill is a live option for this race also. The unbeaten Melon is also from the Closutton yard and this Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the festival is sure to be a cracker.
On Wednesday, the Ballymore Novices Hurdle opens the card and Willie likes the prospects of Next Destination, who will take on the favourite Samcro in an eagerly awaited contest. Next Destination had a good win in Naas - completing a hat trick of victories.
In the Queen Mother Chase, Willie is delighted to have Douvan in good shape heading over and stablemate Min will ensure that Willie will have a big say in the winning of this race.
In the Coral Cup, LagostoVegas and Max Dynamite are among Willie’s tips to do well in this one.
In the closing race of the day, the Bumper, Willie has four strong runners and noted Carefully Selected and Relegate as being in particularly good form coming in to the week.
On Thursday, the Ryanair Chase is the main event and Un de Sceux is a local favourite that has a great following and Willie hopes will do well.
In the Stayers Hurdle, Bacardys goes to Cheltenham with a strong seal of approval from Willie, who feels he has a good each way chance.
Gold Cup Day, the concluding day of the festival begins with it the Triumph Hurdle. Mr Adjudicator is a strong fancy in this one - “But I’d also look out for Stormy Ireland, won by half the track recently and it just may be a topical winner,” said Willie. Saldier had a good, 10 length win in Gowran a month ago and is also fancied in this one.
The Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle sees Scarpeta as a strong fancy “Won last race by 15 lengths and in good form” and also Ballyward.
For the Gold Cup, Willie is hoping for a good run for local owner Lar Byrne of the Slaneyside Syndicate who has a good chance on Total Recall.
In the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle, Carter McKay makes the team as Willie sees that the horse has good potential and was pleased with a recent run in Leopardstown.