March 12, 2018 News
Few stables have dominated the Cheltenham Festival over the years like that of Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins.
The seemingly endless stream of superstars emerging from his base at Closutton, Co. Carlow have captured nearly all the biggest prizes over the four days in the Cotswolds, and once again he is set to send across a powerful team this season.
A big part of Mullins’ operation is his son Patrick, who we spoke to to get the lowdown on some of the stable’s leading contenders for the week ahead.
The opening day of the Cheltenham Festival is one your stable traditionally targets strongly. How important is it to you all to get a winner on the board on day one?
The first day is usually so important. If you can get one winner on the first day it takes the pressure off you for the rest of the week. It also gives you a guide to the sort of form the horses are in. Last year it didn’t go to plan but even after we’d drawn a blank on Wednesday, when we sat down and looked at it the horses all ran well without winning so it wasn’t so bad. It then turned around on Thursday and Friday and it was good. But trust me, you’d much prefer to have a winner on the first day, and in the first race, if you could.
Getabird leads the team off in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Would he be comparable to the likes of Vautour and Douvan, who have won the race and been strong favourites?
We think he’s a horse with an awful lot of ability. He’s been quite hard to keep sound as he hasn’t got fantastic confirmation and as a result we don’t work him that hard at home. We’ve never really looked under the bonnet at home, as such. We don’t exactly know how good he is as we always have to mind him a bit, and it’s also why the turn of foot he showed from the back of the last at Punchestown in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle took us all by surprise. It looks a very open race this year but he has a different profile to a Vautour or a Douvan.
Ruby Walsh will be riding Getabird. How much of a boost is it to have him back after his injury?
Ruby is Ruby so it’s a huge thing to have him back. He’s the winningmost jockey at the Festival and I think if you put all of Barry Geraghty and Richard Johnson’s Cheltenham winners together they still have fewer than Ruby. It’s basically like having Cristiano Ronaldo back in your squad. He had a very similar preparation as this year when Hurricane Fly won his first Champion Hurdle in 2011. He rode fantastically at Cheltenham that week and we’d have no concerns about him having so much time off before the meeting. He’s the ultimate professional and he’s ready to do the job.
Footpad has been a leading hope for the Arkle for a long time, but was subject to rumours last week. How do you go about dealing with hearsay like that?
That’s just part of the game we’re in. We don’t take much heed of that sort of thing as there are always whispers around horses. It’s not worth getting upset about.
And looking at the Arkle, how do you rate Footpad’s prospects?
It looks like a race that’s going to have a lot of pace in it with Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir potentially making it a real test. Our fella has been so professional in his jumping it’s been an utter joy to watch and personally I think he’s our banker of the meeting.
What should we expect from Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle?
We’re as much in the dark as everyone else about what to expect. All season his work has been as good as it ever has been. So we’ve been scratching our heads as regards to what has happened at Leopardstown the last two runs. He showed at Punchestown that the old Faugheen is still there and while he’s getting older he hasn’t suddenly got ‘old’ since November and lost his ability. We’re hoping he can put those two performance behind him and show us the real Faugheen. He’s fit, had no problems and is working as well as ever but we go with hope over expectation.
Next Destination takes on the hotpot Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Do you think he can turn him over?
He’s been fantastic all season. Going over hurdles and stepping up in trip have brought about a lot of improvement in him. He ran a great race to be fourth in the Champion Bumper last year so we know he handles the track and the atmosphere, so that’s a big advantage. His form ties in a bit with Samcro through Jetz and one or two other horses. Samcro clearly sets the standard, however there’s nothing to say our horse isn’t every bit as good as him. We’re relishing the challenge of trying to beat him.
Altior stands in the way of Min and Douvan in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Do you think either can beat him?
It’s going to be a fascinating contest. Altior looks hugely special and is, like Douvan, a dual Cheltenham Festival winner. Min was beaten by Altior in the Supreme and I think it’ll be hard for him to reverse that form, although Min is a better chaser than he was a hurdler. Douvan is a different story. We’re not quite sure what we’re going to get from him as he hasn’t run for a year, but his work is very good and we’ve been really happy with him. It’s an unenviable task against a formidable opponent, but if any horse can beat Altior in the Champion Chase without a prep run that horse is Douvan. We’re as excited about the prospect as much as everyone else.
Blackbow is favourite for the Champion Bumper. Is he as good as you made him look when you rode him at Leopardstown last time?
He’s a very good horse. He settled much better on his second run and when I gave him an inch of rein he took four lengths out of Rhinestone. He was idling at the finish at that was the best bumper run in Ireland this year; they went a good gallop and there was a lot of strength in depth. I think he sets the standard at Cheltenham but I like our other horse too. Tornado Flyer wasn’t that impressive on his debut but he was too keen all the way and the horse he beat, Getaway John, won impressively on his next start. I think he’ll improve a lot for his next run and he could go better than his price implies.
Laurina has been talked up as a big hope in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Do you expect her to win without much bother?
We think she’s very good. She’s a fabulous specimen – she’s tall, strong and could jump a fence. Her work has been exceptional and that makes her very exciting. However, Maria’s Benefit looks out of the ordinary also so it’s good to be a cracking race. We like our mare a lot and I don’t think the trip, the ground or the track hold any fears either.
Your have a host of runners in the Triumph Hurdle. Which should we focus on?
Mr Adjudicator has the best form while the others are mostly potential. Stormy Ireland wasn’t 100 per cent when the Dublin Racing Festival came around so we decided to take it easy with her. She’s the opposite to Laurina and is one the height of the kitchen table. We’d work her less than a lot of the other horses as she’s only slight, but she’s a fabulous jumper – an absolute natural. She also has tremendous cruising speed. She’s fresh and well and over whatever was bugging her last month. I wouldn’t worry she’s only had one run for us as she’d been running around Auteuil before we bought her.
And, finally, among your host of others potential runners this week, which ones should we be focusing on?
Penhill is in great order for the Stayers’ Hurdle. It’s not ideal he’s going straight there but he had a lot of experience last year and won the Albert Bartlett very well. We expect a big run from him. Bacardys will join him and has been good schooling over hurdles having been over fences. I think he’s overpriced. Killultagh Vic is 100 per cent after his fall at Leopardstown and he definitely has the engine and the ability to win at Gold Cup. What he does have is a lot of experience.