Annie Power gets Champion Hurdle go-ahead as Mullins unveils plans for Festival team
David Metcalf | March 1, 2016
Ireland’s champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins confirmed that Annie Power will be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle, as he gave updates on his magnificent team during a media day ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
Mullins has won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award four times in the last five years at The Festival, including a record-breaking eight winners last year.
He is the leading Irish trainer at The Festival, with 41 successes, and currently sits second on the all-time list behind Nicky Henderson.
Here’s what the master of Closutton had to say during yesterday’s stable tour about some his leading contenders for the four-day Presbury Park spectacular which gets underway on Tuesday, March 15th:
Annie Power looking to hoodwink rivals
“We have got to supplement Annie Power for the Champion Hurdle,” Mullins said, despite the mare being Coral’s 13/8 favourite for the feature race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
“Vroum Vroum Mag looks a possible for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and, if that is the case, I would think Annie will run in the Champion. Going back two years, Annie Power was quite a short price for the Champion Hurdle.
“We thought she was a Champion Hurdle horse that year but we obviously had Hurricane Fly and a few others in the race. I don’t think the trip will be a problem for her. We have six horses here who, if they were with other yards, would be aimed at the Champion Hurdle and she is as quick as any of them.
“I think it might actually be easier for her to race over two miles with the sort of pace they will be going. It will be easier to ride her anyhow. I would imagine she will wear the hood. We will see how she is going before but it wouldn’t cost anything to wear it.”
Black Hercules possible for RSA or JLT
Of Black Hercules, Mullins added: “He is the one that I am thinking most about. He is favourite for the National Hunt Chase, but he raced very keen with Ruby the last day and I wonder, if he did that again, would he get home?
“I don’t think I have mentioned it to Mr Wylie yet but it has been on my mind to bring him back for the RSA Chase or even the JLT Novices’ Chase. I actually think he might be better suited by coming back (in intended trip) and that one is up for discussion big time.”
Options open for Bleu Et Rouge
Turning his attention to Bleu Et Rouge, Mullins continued: “He can go in any of the three novices’ hurdles. He has the speed to run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but I am not sure he has the jumping ability.
“He should go for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but the owner (JP McManus) has Yanworth in that. If Yanworth stays right, I’d imagine Bleu Et Rouge will run in one of the other races.
“He has enough stamina to go out in trip for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. I’m sure Barry Geraghty will want to ride him which is why he is likely to avoid Yanworth.”
Djakadam and Don Poli delighting ahead of Gold Cup
Regarding the first of two leading Cheltenham Gold Cup entrants Djakadam, Mullins added: “I must compliment the vet in Cheltenham for the work on Djakadam’s stitches. We were lucky the cut was on his chest because we were able to keep him walking.
“He probably missed 10 days before he was starting back to trot but he would have had a week off anyhow. We did not take him to Leopardstown (for a racecourse gallop) just in case what’s left of his stitches opened, but they look very good.
“I am not too worried about whether or not he jumps again between now and Cheltenham because is he is basically a good jumper. He is doing plenty of work. There is still more to do but I am very happy with where he is.”
Of other Gold Cup contender Don Poli in 2016 Cheltenham betting, Mullins continued: “He is in good order. He is doing nice work and jumped well at Leopardstown yesterday. He loves Cheltenham and the hill. He is obviously not the fastest horse in the world, but in the RSA Chase last year he appeared in front at the top of the hill.
“Bryan (Cooper) never dreamt he would have enough speed but when he got daylight he shot to the front. The extra two and a half furlongs in the Gold Cup is exactly what he wants and I think he has enough speed.”
Inexperience not a worry for Douvan
Of Arkle Challenge Trophy favourite Douvan, Mullins said: “I suppose Douvan looks to have good prospects in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase. This time last year I could not believe what I was seeing from him on the gallops.
“Looking back, I can’t believe I said what I did, but I was only saying what I was seeing here and thankfully he lived up to it in Cheltenham.
“I am happy he has enough experience. He has had three starts over fences and, although it would have been great to have another, we had a very dry autumn.”
Footpad and Gangster among strong hurdling team
Mullins confirmed Footpad and Let’s Dance will both run in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, while Gangster will go in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with both races taking place on the final day of the Festival, Friday, March 18th.
Of Footpad, he said: “I like the form of Footpad’s race. We dropped him in and I thought he was very, very good in a true run race. The Triumph is usually a strongly run race and that will suit him.”
Regarding Gangster, Mullins added: “He is a definite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He was working very well and then had a small setback after that. He is back and rolled out perfectly this morning.
“He has done plenty of work to go there and is a horse with a lot of ability. He is very hard to train though as he keeps having little setbacks. Hopefully, we can get him back because he works fantastically when he’s right.”
Lots to like about Limini
Mullins confirmed Limini will race in the Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle. “Her form is very good and she shows us that at home as well,” he said. “She has a fantastic pedigree – her dam is half-sister to Vintage Tipple, who won the Oaks for my father.
“Her Flat form in France has worked out very well. Nicolas Clement wanted to give her one run more run in a Listed race, which I think he thought she would win, but he didn’t. The horses she beat have gone on to win Group races.
“Even though she jumped the way she did, she was still able to beat a fantastic field in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown very easily. Her jumping has been way better this season and if she can handle the hurdles in Cheltenham, she has a fair engine.”
Min hoping to rule Supreme
Of Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Min, Mullins added: “He definitely runs in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. I don’t think he is as good as Douvan and it is hard to think he might be as good as Vautour, even though I hope he is.
“He looks very decent but we won’t know where he stands until after Cheltenham. His temperament is fine at home, but when he gets down to the start he takes a grip. I would imagine there will be a lot more pace on in Cheltenham and that will help him.
“When I had a winner in Galway somebody asked me about Min. There has been an undercurrent of Min, Min, Min from so early in the season that he probably has a bigger reputation than he is entitled.
“Having said that, all the form lines from his races are working out. Maybe horses like Ball d’Arc are improving but Min made him look very ordinary. If those form lines are to be believed, he is entitled to be favourite.”
Canyon on course for Champion, but World Hurdle remains an option
Mullins is still yet to decide which Cheltenham Festival feature race Nichols Canyon will run in. “We will have another think about the Ryanair World Hurdle for him, but I think connections are keener to go for the Champion Hurdle,” he said.
“He did disappoint us the last day. He is usually very, very good and you have to forgive a horse one bad run every now and then.”
Stength in depth among chasers
Mullins also talked about his chasing contingent, which includes JLT Novices’ Chase hope Shaneshill. “He looks like he wants to be going further than two miles,” he said. “He will probably go for the JLT Novices’ Chase or maybe the RSA Chase as there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree.”
Outlander: “It looks like he will be going for the JLT Novices’ Chase. That looks the right race for him.”
Pont Alexandre: “We are looking at the RSA Chase or the National Hunt Chase for him.”
Roi Des Francs: “We are looking at the National Hunt Chase or RSA Chase for him, depending on what Gigginstown want to do.Stamina is not an issue with him and I think he’s good.”
Sambremont: “He is most likely for the National Hunt Chase, although we have also given him an entry in the Kim Muir. Patrick might be tempted if he got a nice weight but the Irish don’t have a great record in that.”
Un De Sceaux in terrific order
Mullins was also bullish about the chances of Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Un De Sceaux. “He is in terrific order and I would love it if the Queen Mother Champion Chase was tomorrow,” the trainer said.
“I am counting down the days. We will probably do a school at a racetrack before Cheltenham. I would love it if yesterday’s schooling was this Sunday because Leopardstown is a great place to school. We will squeeze him in somewhere with a few others.
“What I loved about his win at Ascot was his style of racing. He switched off and sized up his fences instead of charging down and flying out over them. It was the most mature performance I have ever seen him put in. He did everything right and had plenty in the tank to pull away at the end.”
Lido a likely Gold Cup contender
Valseur Lido, meanwhile, is set to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. “To me… he looks to be crying out for more distance,” Mullins said.
“Ruby had not asked him a question going to the last in the Irish Gold Cup and the extra two furlongs will be right up his street. Gigginstown might prefer to go for the Ryanair, but we will see.”
No stamina fears for Vautour
The impressive Vautour holds two entries at the Cheltenham Festival, with Mullins still to decide whether he goes in the Gold Cup or the Ryanair Chase.
“We threw the kitchen sink at him last year and we are doing the same this year, which is why he went to Leopardstown,” Mullins added.
“You will probably see him somewhere else in the meantime as well. I read an interesting article in the Racing Post this morning suggesting his pedigree might not have enough stamina in it.
“We will have to see but I think he has enough stamina and at the moment he is going for the Gold Cup. Watching him at home, he is a stayer. We asked him a big question in Kempton pushing on that far out.
“Traditionally, our horses would not be as fit at Christmas as they are in March and he has never shone at Christmas. He has always been way better when it comes to Cheltenham. I think with different tactics he should easily stay.”
Mares’ Hurdle favoured for Vroum Vroum
With Annie Power set to be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle, that would leave Vroum Vroum Mag as Mullins’ leading contender in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
“She has run in the races that have been there for her. I don’t have any problem racing the geldings, but the programme of races was there and they were nice races,” Mullins continued.
“I have been taken with her performances from a visual perspective rather than what she has beaten. She just goes along nicely before Ruby changes hands and she picks up two gears. I think she is a very good mare.
“At this stage, it is looking like she is going for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. To step into open Grade One company at The Festival would be a big jump for her, even with the fillies allowance.
“You would have slight concerns about quicker ground for her but the ground is always safe at Cheltenham. It is a winter game and we need winter ground as it is safer for man and beast.”
Yorkhill has speed for Supreme test
Mullins brushed aside questions about whether Yorkhill had sufficient turn of foot to make an impact in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. “I think Yorkhill is plenty fast enough for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle,” he said.
“I am happy with him at two miles even though his pedigree suggests he can go out to three miles. He is a point-to-point winner but he’s sharp and would prefer nice ground.
“He has had two runs over hurdles and two wins, including a Grade One. And the horse who finished third came out and won the Betfair Hurdle. He is good value!”
Augusta Kate spearheads strong assault on Champion Bumper
Over half the current field (13/25) in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, which ends day two of the Festival, are Mullins entries.
“On Racing Post ratings, Avenir D’Une Vie is top, although I thought Bacardy’s performance at Christmas was very good,” he said. “Very Much So won the Goffs Bumper two years ago and was meant to go jumping this season.
“Castello Sforza is another who was meant to go hurdling and it looks like he will go for the bumper at Cheltenham. They all have bits of form that give them a chance.
“Augusta Kate is impossible to rate. You have seen what we’ve seen because she shows nothing at home. I don’t know if it’s our gallop or the way we train but she doesn’t show us any ability.
“Indeed, when I went down to Listowel with her, Graham (Wylie, part-owner) asked if she was any good because he wanted to put some friends into a syndicate. I said we would win something, as in a summer bumper somewhere, but she won by 18 lengths and then won a really good mares’ bumper by 12 lengths.”
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