It’s been 20 years since Irish Champion Trainer, Willie Mullins, first tasted the sweet success of a Cheltenham Festival victory and few at the time could have guessed that he would subsequently go on to become the all-time leading Irish trainer at the Festival, with 33 successes to his name so far.
With a list of horses under his charge that would make even the most ardent fan of National Hunt Racing weep, as well as many a trainer I suspect, Willie Mullins goes into this year’s festival with a string of such high quality horses that it’s difficult to believe that one man could even train them all.
But despite the success, Mullins is as grounded as ever and takes nothing for granted knowing all too well the potential pitfalls of racing and that on the day it really can be anybody’s race.
Speaking to GG.com, Mullins said: “You just hope you don’t get a cough or cold in the yard and it’s a nervous time, but it’s a good nervousness.
“We’re looking forward to it as much as we’re dreading it. We’re looking forward to one or two of the nice horses hopefully winning their races.”
So who has he got lined up for the Festival, which begins next Tuesday, March 10th 2015? Starting with the first race of the festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, Mullins has entered an unbelievable 12 runners. To put that into perspective, Paul Nicholls has entered just one!
Of the 12, though many will be withdrawn closer to the time and many have been given multiple entries, it’s Douvan who currently has the shortest odds and is the race favourite with Paddy Power on 7/4. In fact, Mullins holds three of the five shortest prices favourites with Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill on 7/1 and 10/1 respectively.
Un De Seaux is the odds on favourite for the Arkle at 7/4, also on opening day, with Hurricane Fly and Faugheen set to do battle in the Champion Hurdle.
And while he may have more race favourites than any of the other trainers, Mullins is all too familiar with the statistics.
“We know they can’t all win. I was only thinking in bed what the percentage is of winning favourites on the first day,” said Mullins.
“I keep reading in the paper we have five favourites on the first day. Do five favourites win out of seven races? One or two might get through, we might have a treble if we’re really lucky.
“The Supreme favourite normally gets turned over, that’s Douvan, who is probably one of our hottest ones.
“It’s what we’re in the game for, though – to go to Cheltenham with as many as we can muster with a chance.
“As much as I dread it, it’s lovely. That’s the position we want to be in.”
On day two, Don Poli leads the betting markets for the RSA Chase at odds of 3/1 with Champagne Fever vying for favourite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on 6/1.
But all eyes will be on the Cheltenham Gold Cup where Road To Riches is currently neck and neck with Silviniaco Conti on the betting markets and Holywell, third favourite and also trained by Mullins, may also be capable of causing an upset on the day.
As so many are so short priced, an accumulator would probably serve very well here.