Willie Mullins has had much better years when it comes to preparing for the Cheltenham Festival.
The untimely death of Vautour was a blow to all connections. The festival will not feel the same without him. More recently he had to withdraw Min and the mighty Faugheen from Cheltenham due to injuries.
But Mullins still sends plenty of big guns to Prestbury Park between March 14-17th.
He recently told a gathered press pack about the prospects for all of his runners. I am concentrating here on his quotes about a few of them.
Mullins on CARTER McKAY
“He looks the pick of our bumper horses based on what he did in his last start and he will run in the Champion Bumper. Any horse that can win as he did at Naas is a fair machine. I can’t imagine the ground will be any great concern for him regardless of how it turns up. We haven’t talked about riding plans for the bumpers yet, but it might be hard to dislodge Patrick off him!”
Mullins on DOUVAN
“He’s in great form and everything has gone smoothly with him. He’s a huge horse and it’s rare for one of his size to stay as sound as he has. At this stage we are just hoping he gets to the Champion Chase in one piece and after that, we’ll hope things go right on the day. He’s easy to watch in the mornings, as he’s a lovely relaxed horse that is ridden by Holly every day and they go round there at their own pace. Even with horses like that, there is always the possibility that something stupid will happen, so we just focus on keeping them right and getting them there. When you go to Cheltenham with a strong favourite, it’s always a case of relief rather than joy when they win. We aren’t thinking beyond this year’s Cheltenham Festival with him. That is our focus.”
Mullins on DJAKADAM
“He’s in great form. Going into the Gold Cup last season he had to come back from that bad cut he got at Cheltenham and we only just had him ready in time, but we’ve had a much clearer run with him this season and fingers crossed it will stay like that. We decided to not run him in the Irish Gold Cup as the fact that it was a week closer to the Cheltenham Gold Cup wasn’t ideal. I think he is a more mature horse this season and is the age that many chasers are in their prime. I was happy with his run in the Lexus, but afterwards we felt we could have used different tactics that might have worked better. The most important thing is that everything has gone right for him lately. I don’t know if he’ll need to improve on what he has done in the last two years to win the race this year.”
Mullins on LIMINI
“I went to Punchestown questioning whether I was mad to run her there, as it was hard to see her not having a hard race with Apple’s Jade in there. With just three weeks to Cheltenham that would be far from ideal, so I debated whether I should take her out of the race or not. I just hoped it wouldn’t turn into a slog and everything fell into place for her. I was very happy with how well she settled and jumped. While I thought she had improved based on homework, I wasn’t sure she had improved that much and that leads you to question whether Apple’s Jade ran up to her form. However, more important is that Limini didn’t have a hard race and has come out of it well. We haven’t made a decision on her Cheltenham target yet, but I’d say it’s 50/50 between the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle. I had a quick chat with Rich and we both said we wouldn’t chat much more about it until the morning when she would have to be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle. A lot depends on how Vroum Vroum Mag is between now and then too, but the more I think about, if Vroum Vroum is fine and sparkling, we might take a punt with Limini and run in the Champion Hurdle.”
Mullins on MELON
“He’s a fine, strong, tall horse with plenty of ability, but is one that lacks experience. We are likely to have plenty of runners in the race including Bunk Off Early who has Grade 1 form, but based on homework, I’d say it will be an easy enough decision for Ruby to ride Melon. He has only had one run over hurdles, though we did train Fiveforthree to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle on just his second start over hurdles, so we’ve done it before albeit not in the Supreme. He has plenty of jumping experience at home and he seems a natural jumper too. I wouldn’t be worried about his lack of experience from a mental perspective either.”
Mullins on MERIE DEVIE
“She’ll run in the Triumph Hurdle and I think she’s a lot better than she showed in the Spring Juvenile. I probably gave her too much time off after her maiden hurdle win and maybe she needs to be trained more like a gelding. I will train her a good bit harder between now and Cheltenham and I’d be hopeful that would bring about improvement. I know Ruby had a lot of time for her and wanted to ride her in the Spring Juvenile, but I pretty much made him ride Bapaume as he had the form in the book. I’m sure he’ll have a good think about which one to ride at Cheltenham.”
Mullins on VROUM VROUM MAG
“She ran terrible at Doncaster last time! We think she might have been brewing some sort of a cold, so we gave her antibiotics when she came home and she seems to be coming back to herself in recent days. We would find it difficult to run her in a Champion Hurdle off the back of that performance, so the Mares’ Hurdle seems the obvious target for her. She is likely to go back over fences at some stage, but the hurdle programme is suiting her well at the moment.”
Mullins on YORKHILL
“The JLT is the plan and all is good with him. We aren’t considering the Arkle for him, but if Altior wants to take us on in the JLT, he’s quite welcome to! The Champion Hurdle was very much in my mind for him earlier this season and it was nearly Christmas by the time we decided to send him chasing, at which stage we still had Faugheen and Annie Power in the mix for the Champion Hurdle. I did briefly think about switching him back to hurdles after those two met with their setbacks, but I had a quick chat with Graham Wylie and we decided to stick with our original decision.”
If you want to know which Mullins horses I fancy, and all my personal up to date NRNB ante-post bets, then come and join VG Tips before the festival begins on Tuesday March 14th.
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