How are Mullins’ Runners Looking Before Cheltenham?
It has been a funny couple of seasons for Irish trainer Willie Mullins. After dominating Cheltenham and the big jumps festivals from 2013-2016, he suffered the loss of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown stud after a row over payments. Gordon Elliott, among others, benefitted from that loss, gaining the likes of Apple’s Jade and Don Cossack to his ranks.
Last year at Cheltenham Mullins’ had no winners in the first two days and it seemed that his grip on the Festival was finally coming to an inglorious end. Still, he bounced back on a superb Day 3, taking four wins, which included the Stayers’ Hurdle with Nichols Canyon. More setbacks occurred in December of last year though, with the death of Nichols Canyon and the ongoing injury problems with star horses Douvan and Faugheen.
But Mullins is nothing if not resilient. He proved everyone wrong in the final two days of Cheltenham 2017 and could well put these setbacks behind him this year. In that light, here is a look at some of Mullins’ big hopes for Cheltenham 2018.
Un De Sceaux:
Un De Sceaux probably doesn’t get the credit it so richly deserves despite being a winner of two Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. Another tilt at the Ryanair Chase could be on the cards for last year’s winner.
Current odds for Ryanair Chase: 4/1 (Sporting Bet).
Fourth place in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last year, but three wins from three since switching to hurdles in November 2017. Mullins has stated that the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle may be his best option.
Current odds for Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle: 7/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power).
A decent, if slightly inconsistent, record in hurdling prompted Mullins to switch Footpad to chasing. Two wins have followed, and the 5-year-old is now the favourite for the Arkle Chase.
Current Odds for Arkle Chase: 7/4 (Paddy Power).
Arguably one of the greatest hurdlers in the modern era, there are several question marks over Faugheen’s fitness. He is priced as second-favourite behind Buveur D’Air for the Champion Hurdle. As nobody really knows what is going on with Faugheen, it may be wise to use some 2018 Cheltenham free bets for a no risk shot on this race. If Faugheen is fully fit though, the current price will look massive.
Current Odds for Champion Hurdle: 6/1 (Ladbrokes)
Last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner put smiles on the faces of punters who had backed him at odds of 16/1. Might be an interesting candidate for what is looking like a very open Stayers’ Hurdle in 2018.
Current Odds for Stayers’ Hurdle: 10/1 (Ladbrokes).
Something of a puzzle surrounds the JLT Novices’ Chase winner at Cheltenham last year. Lost twice to Road to Respect since that win, including a weak 8th place in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase. Still unclear as to which race he will be entered in, with everything from the Stayers’ Hurdle to Gold Cup a possibility. Queen Mother Champion Chase may be the most likely.
Current Odds for Queen Mother Champion Chase: 8/1 (Stan James).
Another ultra-consistent horse from the Mullins’ Yard, Min has a 71% win-rate. Second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, and perhaps an outside chance for the Champion Hurdle in 2018. Min is due to run at Leopardstown in the Dublin Chase in February; a race that should be keenly observed by punters.
Current Odds for Champion Hurdle: 25/1 (Sky Bet).