The battle for the current Irish trainers championship between Willie Mullins and his arch rival Gordon Elliott is likely to go down to the wire but with bookmaker Paddy Power quoting the master of Closutton a 7-4 chance against their offer of 2-5 about Elliott the man who has dominated Irish National Hunt racing in recent seasons will need to produce the goods over the coming months, so let’s take a look at some of his chief hopes for the major prizes as the season progresses:
DOUVAN – Unbeaten in thirteen starts since joining Mullins nothing less than that impressive run continuing for the foreseeable future will suffice.
YORKHILL – Winner of last season’s Neptunes who has been sent straight over fences this campaign instead of taking the Champion Hurdle route. Plenty of entries at the festival but the JLT ( 2-1 Betstars ) looks the plan.
FAUGHEEN – The 2015 Champion Hurdler has been plagued with injury since taking the hurdling crown but hopes are high that he will be ready in time for Punchestown in April.
VROUM VROUM MAG – Versatile mare who will have multiple entries at the festival although a follow-up in the OLBG Mares Hurdle ( 9-4 Betfair Sportsbook ) is the most likely.
LIMINI – Winner of the new Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s festival the six year old has not been seen since last April but another likely runner in the OLBG ( 9-2 Betway ) for Mullins and will have plenty of opportunities during the coming months.
BELLSHILL – A decent staying novice hurdler and following a couple of impressive victories as a novice chaser has looked a potential future Gold Cup contender before disappointing recently. Too early to write off just yet. 12-1 For RSA with Skybet ( NRNB ).
UN DE SCEAUX – A standout 7-2 with Betfair Sportsbook for the Ryanair and more victories to add to his seven over fences looks assured during 2017.
DJAKADAM – Runner up in the last two Gold Cup’s the eight-year-old will attempt to go one better next month while Aintree and Punchestown are obvious later possibilities.
NICHOLS CANYON – Stayers Hurdle second favourite with several bookmakers ( 8-1 Coral and Paddy Power ) behind Unowhatimeanharry.
SHANEHILL – Likely to join Nichols Canyon in Stayers Hurdle. 11-1 With Stan James.
MELON – Big hope for the future and favourite for Supreme Novice Hurdle ( 7-2 Betfred and Stan James ) a race the stable has won recently with Faugheen and Douvan.
BUNK OFF EARLY – Great effort to finish second to stablemate Bacardys on second run over hurdles in Leopardstown Grade 1. Top hurdling prospect who can only get better.
BACARDYS – Top bumper horse who has already won at Grade 1 level as a novice hurdler and has an entry in all the novice hurdles at the festival. Looks versatile trip-wise so will have plenty of options in the months ahead.
LET’S DANCE – Fourth in 2016 Triumph Hurdle and 3 from 3 this season. Several entries at festival and both Aintree and Punchestown beckon.
AIRLIE BEACH – Unbeaten in seven races and a top price 5-2 with Boylesports for Mares’ Novices Hurdle at festival. Top prospect.
AUGUSTA KATE – Had every chance of beating the high-class Death Duty when falling at the final flight at Naas last time. Sure to win plenty of races.
ALELCHI INOIS – PLEASANT COMPANY – SAMBREMONT – THE CRAFTY BUTCHER – Four staying handicap chasers who could make their mark in any of the Grand Nationals at Aintree, Fairyhouse and Ayr.