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National Hunt horses to follow - Three Willie Mullins horses who will win Grade Ones this season

Willie Mullins pictured at Leopardstown.

Our expert takes a look through the horses who impressed for Willie Mullins last season and picks out three who he feels will win top honours during the new jumps season.


After the race to be Ireland’s Champion Jumps Trainer went right down to the wire in 2016/17, Willie Mullins will have been mightily relieved to have retained his trophy well before the season-ending finale at Punchestown last year. Gordon Elliott may have ruled the roost at Cheltenham, but Mullins enjoyed another dominant campaign, capped off in style by Bellshill winning the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Ireland’s master jumps trainer looks set for another stellar season, both at home and when he decides to plunder Britain’s most prestigious prizes. Our expert has taken a look through his County Carlow ranks and highlighted three runners who could dominate their divisions during 2018/19.

Next Destination


A useful bumper performer, Next Destination was always going to improve as a hurdler and Mullins’ charge enjoyed a faultless first half of his novice campaign. A 13 length victory on his debut over jumps was followed by Grade Two and Grade One triumphs over Gordon Elliott’s Cracking Smart – who would have likely led the betting for the Albert Bartlett, had injury not ruled him out of Cheltenham.

Mullins decided the Ballymore would be a more appropriate option for Next Destination at Cheltenham, rather than the three mile Albert Bartlett. That meant a showdown with Samcro and Next Destination failed to trouble his highly-rated rival, recovering from a few jumping mistakes to claim a share of the places. A step up to three miles enabled Next Destination to show his true colours at Punchestown, outbattling two Cheltenham Festival victors in Kilbricken Strom and Delta Work to win the Grade One Irish Daily Mirror Novices’ Hurdle.

Chasing will be on the agenda for Next Destination this season and I would be surprised if he didn’t take to the larger obstacles like a duck to water. The RSA Novices' Chase will surely be his long-term target when he returns to Cheltenham in March, with the Neville’s’ Hotel Novices’ Chase a likely Leopardstown objective just after Christmas.

Daryl Jacob riding Footpad clear the last to win The Ryanair Novice Steeplechase at Punchestown.

Footpad


After enduring a winless campaign over hurdles, Willie Mullins decided to give Footpad a look at fences last season. What followed was a novice chasing campaign to match the likes of Douvan and Sprinter Sacre, as Footpad won all five of his outings by a combined winning distance of over 50 lengths.

Footpad’s final four victories all came in Grade One company - a run which included a dominant victory in the Arkle at Cheltenham. The Munir & Souede-owned novice rounded off the season at Punchestown, where he trounced a modest field to earn an impressive rating of 166.

All of Footpad’s appearances last season came over two miles, making the Champion Chase his most likely Cheltenham Festival objective. That would see Mullins’ charge go into battle with the all-conquering Altior – a mouth-water prospect for any jumps fan. However, if Mullins was to decide that Douvan would be the one to take on Altior again at Prestbury Park, then I’m sure Footpad would have no trouble seeing out the trip in the Ryanair Chase the following afternoon.

Laurina waltzing to victory in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Laurina


Heading into last year’s Cheltenham Festival, whispers coming from Irish shores were that Willie Mullins had another majestic mare within his ranks. Laurina carried a 15 length Grade Three triumph into the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, for which she was backed into odds-on favouritism. As rival after rival got stuck in the mud at Prestbury Park, Laurina was unruffled and unfazed by the tricky conditions, cruising clear to win by almost 20 lengths.

A step up to two-and-a-half miles followed at Fairyhouse just two weeks later and Laurina was backed off the boards to claim her second Grade One of the season. Paul Townend’s mount made serene progress through the race, jumping her way into the lead down the home straight before cantering over the winning line totally unopposed.

Breathtaking was the word I used to describe Laurina’s performances at the end of last season and I see no reason why she won’t be just as imperious up against her older rivals. Willie Mullins dropped Benie Des Dieux down to hurdling to plug the gap left by Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini last term. He won’t have to worry about this time around, as Laurina prepares to take the Mares’ Hurdle scene by storm.

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National Hunt horses to follow - Three Willie Mullins horses who will win Grade Ones this season

Our expert takes a look through the horses who impressed for Willie Mullins last season and picks out three who he feels will win top honours again during the new jumps season.

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