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Mullins mob-handed in Cheltenham novice hurdles

Irish trainer Willie Mullins enjoyed his most successful Cheltenham festival to date in 2013 with five winners to take his total to 29. This year, he accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the entries for the Supreme, Neptune, Albert Bartlett and Triumph Hurdle combined.

Mullins trains the ante-post favourite and all but one of those races and has the second favourite in the other. Vautour currently heads the market for the Supreme after winning the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

That was only his second career start and Mullins is undecided whether it will be the Supreme or the longer Neptune for the five-year-old. He ran too freely under Paul Townend and also idled in front so Mullins is keen to give him another run before Cheltenham.

Ivan Grozny was catapulted to the top of the Triumph Hurdle betting after winning by 12 lengths at Naas. Connections were disappointed when the horse was beaten by Plinth at Leopardstown but he jumped much better next time and better ground may bring about further improvement.

Mullins has 19 of the 104 entries for the two miles and five furlong Neptune Hurdle including the favourite Faugheen. The six-year-old is unbeaten in five starts and was an easy winner of a Group 3 at Limerick in December.

Rathvinden could join Faugheen in the line-up after running a good race behind Red Sherlock at Cheltenham last weekend. He had previously fallen when just moving into contention in the Warwick race won by Deputy Dan.

Mullins trains 16 of the 81 horses entered for the three-mile Albert Bartlett but knows that he has a good horse to topple in David Pipe’s Kings Palace. His most obvious chance rests with last season’s champion bumper winner Briar Hill.

The son of Shantou started at an incredible 25-1 when winning impressively last March and remains unbeaten after three wins over hurdles. His victories have been more workmanlike than spectacular but he is yet to step up to three miles.

His supporting cast isn’t bad either with Clondaw Court, Sure Reef and Wounded Warrior among them. Sure Reef battled to a hard-fought victory in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Leopardstown last week.