Cheltenham is fast approaching. Two weeks tomorrow. Wow. The media tours are in full swing and will be swiftly followed by the burgeoning preview night circuit.
Today Willie Mullins opened his doors to the press to discuss his mighty squad. Details can be helpfully found here from the Attheraces website. Some observations from me:
Firstly perhaps Mullins is slightly down on the overall towering quality he has brought in recent years. Having dominated so much over the past few years – top trainer in 5 of the last 7 years – we are now used to members of the Closutton battalions starting just about favourite for every race. Yet this year, across the major championship races other than Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair and Footpad in the Arkle there won’t be a W Mullins horse at the top of the market. Note I’ve not included the Supreme Novices (Getabird), Mares Novice Hurdle (Laurina) and the Bumper (Blackbow and Hollographic) are not included in my definition of major championship races.
However, there will still be some strong competition being brought over to represent Mullins’ band of powerful owners. Douvan has it all to do after last year winning the prize for being the shortest prize loser in forever in the Champion Chase. He hasn’t run since, was meant to be out for this season and now has to take on Altior at the height of his powers. Min could go for the same race but there’s no reason to think he will be able to beat Altior (jumping mistakes aside) when he was well put in his place by Henderson’s star in the Supreme a couple of years ago).
Faugheen came back from his injury lay off looking just like the great horse he had been in his comeback race but since then has looked a poor imitation of that horse. After getting beaten fair and square by Supasundae in Ireland last time can he really get close to Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle? I don’t think so.
One annoying horse is Yorkhill. Slightly strange reading Mullins’ comments here, where he says “I’ve always thought he might be worth a crack at the Champion Hurdle”. That being so, makes you wonder why they were so sure he was a Queen Mother horse, after they thought he was a Gold Cup horse. I doubt he is any of them, I think he’s gone at the game myself.
So who else to look out for? Al Boum Photo definitely looks an RSA horse to me based on his Leopardstown run just behind Monalee, staying on strongly and is one I’d keep onside. Next Destination, though slightly in the shade of Samcro has been impressive this year and horses like Stormy Ireland and Saldier could be anything in the Triumph, where they also have Mr Adjudicator, a G1 winner last time at Leopardstown.
Killutagh Vic would have won the Irish Gold Cup but for falling at the last, but talented as he is, I couldn’t have him against Might Bite, Native Ruler, Sizing John and the others. One horse I do like is Due De Genievries – especially if he goes for the Albert Bartlett.
I could go on – and I’ve almost certainly missed 2-3 winners that Mullins will have, maybe Let’s Dance, Benie Des Dieux or Invitation Only. And then there is Total Recall, favourite for the Grand National and a massive improver this year running in the Gold Cup. He couldn’t be good enough…could he?
In two weeks time we’ll know.