There have always been top trainers but nothing has ever approached the dominance that Willie Mullins seems to have in National Hunt racing.
On the eve of the Festival, the Irish trainer, like only Paul Nicholls once did, dominates the ante-post markets.
But nothing is guaranteed in racing!
It was getting to the stage where everyone thought that if Willie Mullins (below) didn’t train it – your fancy had no chance of winning at Cheltenham next month.
King for a day
Champion Hurdle fav Faugheen pulled a hamstring, market leader Djakadam crashed out at Cheltenham, Shaneshill flopped at Doncaster, Bellshill was beaten at odds-on at Leopardstown and Killultagh Vic’s miracle win ended up ruling him out of the Festival.
All of a sudden, Mullins’ one-time ‘hot pots’ weren’t looking so hot.
Don’t get me wrong. If I wanted a horse trained in Ireland, I’d be on the phone to Willie Mullins straight away. Although, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t want me as an owner – the bills wouldn’t be paid on time for a start.
Mullins will probably clean up on the opening day, Tuesday, March 15. The talent he’ll have on show there is staggering with Min , Douvan , Annie Power & Vroum Vroum Mag all likely to head the market for their respective races.
Only Annie Power’s last hurdle fall in the mares race last year denied the Co. Carlow trainer a four-timer. It is astonishing to think he’s in the mix to push a first-day four-timer close again this year – even with Faugheen missing.
But the last time I checked the Cheltenham Festival was run over four days – not just Tuesday March 15, where Mullins looks to have the nap hand.
Mullins is long odds-on fav to be the Champion Trainer at the Festival ahead of Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Alan King and Philip Hobbs – which is a fitting tribute to the Irish trainer’s skills.
But am I the only one thinking that Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai was always a bet in the JLT Chase on the Thursday and that Cue Card and Smad Place are worth a crack at the Mullins’ battalions in the race he craves but has yet to win – the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day?
Alan King looks to have one of the English ‘bankers’ in Yanworth in the Neptune Novices Hurdle on Wednesday, Colin Tizzard’s Thistlecrack doesn’t look too shabby in Thursday’s World Hurdle, not to mention all the handicap hurdles and chases over the four days.
So let’s not get too downbeat before battle has even started. Nicky Henderson’s Altior has won his last four races and will appeal as an each-way bet to give Min a run for his money at least, in the Festival opener, the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
That result will set the mood for Tuesday and the Mullins’ bandwagon will start to roll big-time if the fav delivers. But there’s still 27 races left after that and Willie Mullins can’t win them all.