2021 Cheltenham Festival – Find out Willie Mullins’ Best Chances of Success
Willie Mullins Key 2021 Cheltenham Festival Chances
With 72 wins to his name, Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer of all time at the Cheltenham Festival. He has taken the prize for leading trainer in seven of the last ten years and only once in the last six has he had fewer than six winners.
Ireland’s 14-time champion trainer remains the Festival’s dominant force and is set to field a powerful squad again, with Al Boum Photo the headline act as he bids for a third Gold Cup. Also on the team are two potential bankers of the meeting in star novice chaser Monkfish and Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi. There are plenty to choose from, but here are eight of the trainer’s best chances.
Al Boum Photo (Cheltenham Gold Cup)
Prior to the 2019 Festival, Mullins had never won the Gold Cup despite 20 years of trying. Now he has won two, thanks to Al Boum Photo. Both of those victories came after the same one-race prep, with Al Boum Photo winning the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore before heading straight to the Gold Cup.
Mullins has stuck to the winning formula this year and Al Boum Photo indicated he was as good as ever when comfortably beating stablemate Acapella Bourgeois in the Tramore contest this season. He is set to face some new challengers this year but he is the rightful favourite as he bids to become only the fifth horse to win three Gold Cups.
Chacun Pour Soi (Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase)
The Champion Chase is the most glaring Cheltenham Festival omission on the Willie Mullins CV and in Chacun Pour Soi he has one of his best chances yet of putting that right. The four-time Grade 1 winner is the best two-miler in Britain or Ireland and has been dominant in three starts this season.
There are a couple of potential negatives: he has been a fragile horse and was withdrawn from last year’s Champion Chase on the morning of the race due to a foot abscess, so Mullins has to get him to the starting line in one piece. Also, he has never run at Cheltenham, so his ability to perform to his best on the track has to be taken on trust. But he is at the very top his game and if he brings this season’s form to Cheltenham, he will be very hard to beat.
Monkfish (Brown Advisory Festival Novices’ Chase)
Monkfish is already favourite for the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup after only three outings over fences. Last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner has won all three of those starts, most recently with a fantastic front-running display at Leopardstown that was hailed by a delighted Mullins as his best yet.
It was also the third time Monkfish had beaten Latest Exhibition, one of his biggest threats in the Brown Advisory Festival Novices’ Chase (formerly RSA) according to the betting, and if he runs up to his level at Cheltenham, it will take a much improved effort from one of his likely rivals to deny him.
Appreciate It (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
The Supreme has been one of the most fruitful Festival races for Mullins, who has won it six times. Appreciate It spearheads his bid for a seventh and tops the betting after three wins from three starts over hurdles. Last season’s Champion Bumper runner-up has already beaten Ballyadam, one of his chief rivals in the Supreme, on two occasions – most recently in the same Leopardstown race won by recent Mullins-trained Supreme winners Champagne Fever, Vautour and Klassical Dream. On day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival, he can get many punters off to a flyer
Energumene (Arkle Novices’ Chase)
Almost all the Arkle talk had been about the brilliant Shishkin until Energumene galloped clear of his rivals in the Irish equivalent at the Dublin Racing Festival. That ten-length victory on only his third start over fences was achieved in a time very similar to that of Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi on the same card and set up what will be one of the most highly anticipated showdowns at the Festival.
Shishkin remains favourite but the Irish challenger has done more than enough to confirm that this will be no gimme for last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner.
Gaillard Du Mesnil (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle)
On paper the Ballymore looks the most competitive of the Festival novice hurdles, with Bravemansgame and Bob Olinger holding strong claims. But Gaillard Du Mesnil threw down the gauntlet to that pair with an impressive win in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He moved smoothly through the field from his less advantageous midfield position in that Grade 1 to catch the leader at the last before powering away for a five-length success that propelled him to the head of the Ballymore betting.
Concertista (Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle)
Last year’s winner of the Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle is set to graduate this year to the senior equivalent. Mullins has dominated the two mares’ races at the Festival and has won nine of the 13 runnings of this one. His record alone makes his runners impossible to ignore but Concertista has done more than enough to earn her place at the top of the market with two smooth successes in mares’ hurdles this season.
Kilcruit (Weatherbys Champion Bumper)
Mullins and Gordon Elliott have shared the last four Champion Bumpers between them and the two Irish powerhouse yards could be fighting it out again this year. The Elliott-trained Sir Gerhard had been the Bumper favourite ever since his 14-length demolition job at Down Royal in October, but Kilcruit leapt above him in the betting with a hugely impressive victory in a high-quality bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival. In a performance described by Mullins as unreal, he quickened in impressive style to beat Letsbeclearaboutit by 12 lengths. Sir Gerhard beat the same horse by only four and a half lengths at Navan in December. Plenty of Cheltenham Free Bets will be used on this horse on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival.