Willie Mullins Best Chances For Glory At The 2023 Cheltenham Festival
Willie Mullins is the master when it comes to training Cheltenham Festival winners. He’s the winning most trainer at the festival with 88 winners, including a record ten winners at last year’s festival.
The list of star names he’s won with at the festival make for a serious roll of honour, including:
- Al Boum Photo (two-time Gold Cup winner)
- Hurricane Fly (two-time Champion Hurdle winner)
- Quevega (Record SIX time successive winner of the Mares’ Hurdle)
- Allaho (two-time Ryanair Chase winner)
This year looks the same as every other, as he looks set to send over a fabulous contingent of runners, with top chances in most, if not all the top races for the four days.
Below, Racing editor Jake Russell (@JakeRuss1000 on Twitter) outlines Willie Mullins’ best chances for Cheltenham Festival 2023 glory.
Race – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Coming into the national hunt season at the back end of last year, the Willie Mullins already had a huge reputation, unbeaten as a bumper horse including an emphatic performance to win the Champion Bumper at last year’s festival. All eyes were certainly on him heading into the new season.
We got to see him strut his stuff over Hurdles in early December at Fairyhouse, where he won by an easy 14 lengths. He then lined up in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown, beating Il Etait Temps by 4 lengths, not jumping fluently at times, but he lengthened away coming to the line. So far so good for his Hurdling career, but next time out he did come slightly unstuck. Going into the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown he was almost a sure favourite to win the Grade 1 Novices Hurdle in many eyes, but that wasn’t to be as he was well beaten into 5th by 20 lengths finishing last of all the runners who completed, the race won by Il Etait Temps. The race wasn’t run to suit, and he did scope badly after the race, so excuses were there for a poor performance.
Facile Vega is clearly talented on his day, we all have seen that, but the run last time out does leave slight question marks surround him, but he is in best hands to get fit and ready for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. A race the yard has won on seven separate occasions.
IL ETAIT TEMPS
Race – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Race – Arkle Chase
The current market leader for the Grade 1 Arkle Novices Chase, this horse shot into favouritism for the race after his excellent display in the Irish Arkle at The Dublin Racing Festival. He wasn’t exactly fancied to win on that occasion, being well behind his stable mate Appreciate It in the betting, showing that the grand old saying of a horse doesn’t know his price is most certainly correct, as he wiped the field to win by 10 lengths, with Banbridge in behind. El Fabiolo arguably has the best form on offer in this race after that performance, so he seems the most likely winner in most punters’ eyes, as he looks to add a 5th Arkle to his trainers illustrious CV.
He holds the record of two wins in two starts over the larger obstacles, and is now set to have a second battle with Jonbon, after their tussle at the Aintree meeting in the Top Novices Hurdle last year. Both horses look to be even better chasers than Hurdlers, so it will be fascinating to see who can get the better of each other at Cheltenham in a championship race.
Race – Champion Hurdle
It’s a shame we are living in an era of Constitution Hill as he is a freak, because if we weren’t then State Man would be hailed as the top dog of the 2-mile division. But taking nothing away from the Willie Mullins trained horse, he is clearly very, very talented and he more than showed that last time out in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he is the best of the Irish contingency.
State Man hasn’t been beaten since his Hurdle debut back in 2021, where he fell, he has since won a County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year, the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, The Mathesons Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle, both of the last two this season, taking his tally to four Grade 1’s and counting.
His Irish Champion Hurdle performance last time out was no doubt a career best, serving it up to the rest of the field, by making all to win comfortably by 4- and three-quarter lengths. He, like Constitution Hill, doesn’t really have any flaws to his game. He jumps well and is versatile in terms of making all or sitting in behind.
What a contest we have in store on day one!
Race – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle/Triumph Hurdle
A horse in the JP McManus colours that has caught the eye of many this season so far, running decent enough to come 3rd on his stable debut, before going on to get a cosy ride when winning on his 2nd career start at Leopardstown in December. He then came 3rd next time out in a Grade 1 behind Gala Marceau at the Dublin Racing Festival, beaten by just under 11 lengths, which was a decent enough run but couldn’t land a glove on the two who finished 1st and 2nd.
He looks to have been tenderly handled in his three runs over Hurdles, and he has been fancied for the Boodles by many, a race that the yard like to leave for a potential Graded horse in a Handicap, and Tekao could be the one to fill that mold of previous years.
Race – Supreme Novices Hurdle/Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
In typical Willie Mullins fashion, we are unsure on where this horse is going to go at the Festival next month, but he currently holds two entries, in the Supreme Novices Hurlde or Ballymore Novices Hurdle. He has been running at 2 miles on his previous four runs, which were his first four rides for his new yard Willie Mullins, including a decent 2nd place finish in the Boodles at the Festival last year, a race he was very well fancied in the market to win.
He seemed to be campaigned with a big handicap in mind for the festival, as he was given a pretty lenient mark of 134 at the start of this season after that decent run in the Boodles last year, and that clearly was as lenient as we all thought as he has shot up the ratings to a mark of 153 now. Gaelic Warrior has been quite impressive this season, winning all three of his races by just over 105 lengths, including an 86 length win on his seasonal debut at Tramore. But arguably his best performance this season came last time out, when winning a competitive handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival by just under 4 lengths.
Only time will tell what race he aims at, but given his entries he will be going the Grade 1 route, and given his performances this year he does look like he could improve enough to win a graded contest.
Race – Champion Chase
Last year’s impressive Champion Chase winner, is on a slight recovery mission after a disappointing effort in the re-arranged Clarence House Chase last time out. There doesn’t seem to be many excuses for that poor performance last time out when expected to win, he jumped well on the most part, apart from the last, but he was well beaten at that stage.
So going into this year’s festival there are a few question marks surrounding him after that run last time out, but there seem to be on all of the main runners in this year’s Champion Chase, we all know how talented he can be, judging on his performances last year where he was a multiple Grade 1 winner.
If he can bounce back to his very best, and put in a performance like he did in this race last year, he will be hard to peg back. There has been a bit more support for him in the market these past few weeks, so again that is worth keeping a close eye on leading up to the festival.
IT’S FOR ME
Now then ….
It's For Me (4-9f) states his case for the @weatherbysltd Champion Bumper at the #CheltenhamFestival with an ultra-classy debut @NavanRacecourse for @WillieMullinsNH 👀@simon_munir | @agentbloodstock pic.twitter.com/Z8NdDxmNey
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 21, 2023
Race – Champion Bumper
The Champion Bumper this year does potentially lack the quality of previous years, with Facile Vega and Envoi Allen winning some of the previous races. Willie Mullins does have his usual contingent of many runners going into the race, with most of them winning their respective bumper races this season.
It’s For Me does look potentially the best of the bunch, winning his debut bumper run at Navan in fine style, looking keen in the early stages before going on to win very impressively by 10 lengths. The form hasn’t exactly been franked since then, with the runners in behind running since and not winning, but he couldn’t have been any more impressive at a track that is a stiff test for horses with little experience. His running style suggests that Cheltenham will suit, but only time will tell if he is good enough to win this wide-open race come March.
Race – Ryanair Chase
A horse that has come on leaps and bounds since going over fences, winning various Grade 1’s including a career best performance in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown in December. He took a keen hold early on in the race, but soon got his act together to jump nicely before going on to win impressively by 11 lengths.
He did disappoint last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival, when another Willie Mullins horse that was expected to go and win, sent off at odds-favourite in the Dublin Chase, only to be well beaten by Gentleman De Mee by 7 lengths. Paul Townend stated that the horse felt flat throughout the race, and nothing was picked up after the race which does leave slight question marks heading into the festival, but if he can re-produce anything near to his previous runs over fences, then he will be hard to stop.
He currently holds two entries for the festival, he’s in both the Champion Chase and Ryanair, but he has won over 2m4f recently, in which he won stylishly so it wouldn’t be any surprise to see him line up in the Ryanair come March.
Race – Triumph Hurdle
A horse going into this Cheltenham Festival with a pretty big reputation, which was ever so slightly dented in her last run at the Dublin Racing Festival. She came into the new season with all eyes on her after a decent performance in France for previous trainer, she was pitched straight into Grade 3 company on Hurdle debut, jumping nicely all the way around before going on to win by 4 lengths. That form has been franked nicely since with Comfort Zone coming out to win two Grade 2 contests, who finished 3rd behind Lossiemouth on her debut.
She then followed that up with a nice performance in a Grade 2 contest at Leopardstown, winning by 7 and a half lengths before heading into the Dublin Racing Festival with an every growing reputation. She was well fancied that day, but was beaten into second by Gala Marceau by just over 2 lengths. Lossiemouth didn’t have much luck in running at all, hampered by a stablemate before going wide coming down the home straight. Although beaten as an odds-on favourite that day, she still ran with credit given how she was unlucky in running. I still think she is the one to beat heading into the Triumph at the Festival.
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS
Race – Cheltenham Gold Cup
One of the stars of the national hunt scene, probably the most exciting horse heading into this festival where most will be going to see him, he heads into the race with a huge reputation, considered as the Gold Cup winner by many at the start of the season. He seems to improve with each run even to this day, and put in a career best last time out in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He is already a multiple Grade 1 winner over fences, and was unlucky not to add another one when falling late on at the Festival last year. His running style seems to really suit Cheltenham, the Martin Pipe winner back in 2021, and was going to win by a wide margin in the Turners last year.
He is another horse with no flaws to his game, he jumps perfectly over his fences, and travels smoothly through his races, really putting the other runners to the sword with his class. There are a few question marks on whether the step up to 3 miles plus will suit him, especially with the stiff finish of Cheltenham, but given how he ran through the line last time out, and Paul Townend struggled to pull him up suggests he had a lot more in the tank and looking ready for this step up in trip.
He is clearly the class act in the contest with nothing to prove, and barring all incidents on the way around it would take a top-class horse to beat him.