The Horse Whisperer: Mullins’ magical quartet
You have to go all the way back to 2006 to see an 0 by the win count at a Cheltenham Festival for Willie Mullins.
Since then, the nine-time Irish Champion Trainer has saddled 25 winners at Prestbury Park’s March showdown.
So, it is no surprise that for this year’s meeting, the king of Closutton is responsible for eight of the current ante post Cheltenham Festival favourites, with the vast majority of prominent contenders also residing at Mullins’ County Carlow yard.
Of the likely contestants, it is four stable stars that could prove to be ‘Irish Banker’ material for Cheltenham. Four results that would put to bed the chances of the British getting their hands on the Festival Top Trainer title.
Dubbed the machine, Faugheen has shown the credentials, thus far, of being a serious Champion Hurdle contender.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle winner is undefeated in eight races with an aggregate winning distance of nine and a quarter lengths. Not bad, don’t you think?
However, it is the manor of Faugheen’s successes that has astonished racing fans.
Obliterating his rivals with consummate ease, the seven-year-old claimed a taking three and a half length win in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on his seasonal reappearance, before effectively trotting to a nine-length triumph in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
If Faugheen is to be beaten – The New One, Jezki and Hurricane Fly will have to be at their brilliant best.
Another of Mullins’ quartet is the runaway chaser Un De Sceaux.
Most effective over two miles, the seven-year-old has taken to fences like the proverbial duck to water – despite falling on debut.
With three fences to go, and in a different parish to his rivals, Un De Sceaux took a tumble that lost him his unblemished racing record.
Though, a return to the racetrack at Fairyhouse ensured that we saw the real seven-year-old in action.
With a technique resembling a stag on a space hopper, Un De Sceaux demonstrated an effortlessly impressive round of jumping that helped him pull clear by 12 lengths of his nearest rival.
All roads now lead to the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Un De Sceaux’s likely destination means that Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Vautour looks likely to run in the JLT Novices’ Chase.
With flexibility in the distance he runs at, the slightly further Grade 1 contest will appeal more than running against his stable mate.
Held in the highest regard, Vautour was breathtaking on his seasonal debut, beating the subsequent Grade 1 winner Clarcam by eight lengths. But, he was unable to reaffirm this display on his second start of the season when beaten at Leopardstown on Boxing Day in testing conditions.
Despite making a big mistake at the fifth from last fence, the star was unable to rally back and was a distant second to the previously beaten Clarcam.
Although allegedly not at his best, it is likely that Vautour will next take in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase, before potentially going up in trip for the Festival.
Having won the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival last year, the distance will be to his liking and it is where we are expected to see him excel again at the Festival.
The final member of the four is everyone’s favourite mare – Annie Power.
Despite suffering an injury at the start of the campaign, the World Hurdle runner-up is still expected to make it in time for the Cheltenham Festival.
With the newly-promoted Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham expected to be her destination, providing she turns up fit and well, she really does look unbeatable.
Only beaten by More of That in her career last year and with the Queen of Cheltenham, Quevega, now retired, Annie Power looks set for stardom.
Accumulatively, as of January 2015, you can back these four at odds of 93/1.
Come Friday 13 March in the evening, Mullins’ magical foursome could turn out to be the bet of the year!