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The Road To Cheltenham: Willie Mullins (Part 2)


Leading trainer at eight of the last 11 Cheltenham Festivals, Irish handler Willie Mullins once again looks certain to field a formidable team at Prestbury Park come March. Last week we looked at his possible leading contenders on the first two days, while on this occasion we will concentrate on the main Closutton runners for the final two days, Thursday and Friday.

Willie Mullins’ Leading Festival Fancies (Part 2) 

(THURSDAY)

Turners Novices’ Chase

With Galopin Des Champs and Ferny Hollow almost certainly heading elsewhere at the festival, Mullins’ main contenders for this race, where the betting is dominated by even money favourite Bob Olinger, are likely to be JUNGLE BOOGIE (12/1 with Betvictor) and HAUT EN COULEURS (14/1 with William Hill), both easy winners of their only starts over fences to date. 

HAUT EN COULEURS

While both horses possess plenty of potential to make a name for themselves over fences, the Henry De Bromhead-trained Bob Olinger will be hard to beat.

Pertemps Network Final

Early days for this staying handicap hurdle for which several qualifiers are still to come. Likely to go to Ireland once again but Gordon Elliott expected to have the upper hand with a number of potential runners towards the head of the betting.

Ryanair Chase

If the ALLAHO (5/4 with bet365) turns up who turned this race into a procession 12 months ago, this looks like another winner for the Mullins stable. ASTERION FORLONGE and TORNADO FLYER (both 14/1 with Paddy Power) could also run, making this something of a banker race for Closutton on the third day.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Another expected favourite for Mullins in the shape of KLASSICAL DREAM (11/4 with Betfair Sportsbook) who is likely to face a strong challenge from last year’s winner Flooring Porter, Champ and Thyme Hill.

Paddy Power Plate

Mullins could target this handicap with one or two of his novice chasers, in particular GAILLARD DU MESNIL (16/1 with SportNation), CIEL DE NEIGE (16/1 with bet365) and SAINT SAM (16/1 with bet365).

Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

With bookmakers going 6/1 the field, a wide-open contest at this stage, although Mullins is responsible for most of those towards the head of the betting including ALLEGORIE de VASSY (9/2 with Paddy Power), DINOBLUE (8/1 with bet365), BRANDY LOVE (8/1 with bet365) and STATUAIRE (10/1 with William Hill).

Kim Muir Chase

A race unlikely to go the way of Closutton at this stage with Mullins having no obvious contender for this amateur rider’s handicap.

Day Three Summary

Mullins will be disappointed if failing to win at least one of the two championship contests, courtesy of main hopes Allaho and Klassical Dream. Despite the mares’ novices’ hurdle being wide-open, the stable has most of those towards the head of the market and should end the day with at least two winners.

(FRIDAY)

Triumph Hurdle

The Gordon Elliott-trained Fil Dor dominates the betting for this Grade 1 juvenile contest at a best price 3/1 with Betvictor. Mullins is expected to be represented by the promising pair of VAUBAN (10/1 with bet365) and ICARE ALLEN (12/1 with Betvictor). 

The latter is unbeaten in two starts, one in France and one in Ireland. While the latter was possibly a little unlucky to be narrowly beaten by fellow rival Pied Piper on his debut at Punchestown last month.

County Hurdle

A race Mullins has won on four occasions, the most recent being that of Arctic Fire in 2017. ECHOES IN RAIN (12/1 with bet365) and FAROUT (20/1 with bet365) are a couple of possible leading contenders at this early stage.

Albert Bartlett

Successful with Penhill in 2017 and Monkfish in 2020, Mullins has plenty of entries for this 3m Grade 1, several of which are entered in other races at the festival. A couple of lively outsiders for the Closutton stable are CLASSIC GETAWAY (33/1 with bet365) and HI HO PHOENIX (25/1 with bet365).

Gold Cup

With seven entries at the moment, Mullins is sure to be well represented in the championship contest, headed by previous dual winner AL BOUM PHOTO (10/1 with Betfred) who will attempt to become just the second horse following Kauto Star to regain steeplechasing’s crown.

King George winner TORNADO FLYER (14/1 with William Hill), ASTERION FORLONGE (18/1 with Unibet) and MELON (100/1 with Unibet) are also capable of running well.

Hunters’ Chase

BILLAWAY (6/1 with bet365) will attempt to go one better than last year’s narrow defeat at the hands of Porlock Bay. Should go well but hardly banker material after disappointing when second to Winged Leader at Thurles on Sunday.

Mares’ Chase

CONCERTISTA (10/3 with William Hill) probably represents Mullins’ best chance of a winner on the final day. Wide margin winner of the mares’ novices hurdle in 2020, before just losing out by a head to Black Tears in the mares’ hurdle 12 months ago, the eight-year-old will be fancied by many to keep her unbeaten record over fences. The stable also field an excellent second-string in last year’s runner-up ELIMAY (7/1 with bet365).

Martin Pipe Hurdle

Early days yet for the meeting’s finale but KILCRUIT (20/1 with Unibet) and FAROUT (16/1 with bet365) are just two possible representatives for the champion trainer.

Day Four Summary

Without doubt the weakest of the four days for the Closutton handler. Concertista is probably his best chance of a winner on day 4. But with runners expected in all seven races, two or three successes are not beyond the realms of possibility. 

Mullins’ Final Total

Six or seven winners is probably the most likely end result for the champion trainer at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. But with yet another powerful team, and should the Closutton handler manage to bag two or three of the handicaps, a double-figure haul could be on the cards.