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Yorkhill can thrill at Punchestown Festival, yet where will Mullins go next?

Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | Updated April 24, 2016

Willie Mullins’ unbeaten Yorkhill put in one of the most erratic jumping displays in Grade 1 company of recent times when winning the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, and his season is set to conclude at the Punchestown Festival.

Entered in the Champion Novice Hurdle on the opening day of that Irish National Hunt extravaganza on Tuesday, April 26th over 2m, Yorkhill is made a strong favourite for that race with Coral, and much has already been made of the six-year-old’s future prospects.

Chestnut gelding Yorkhill is set to be aimed at either the 2017 Champion Hurdle or Arkle Challenge Trophy come the next Cheltenham Festival, depending on what connections and handler decide.

“He would win next year’s Arkle with his mouth open”

Yorkhill_big

In the wake of his Neptune Novices’ Hurdle triumph at Prestbury Park, Mullins said of Yorkhill: “He could go novice chasing, but I think the way for him is down the Champion Hurdle route.

“Ruby [Walsh] said he would win next year’s Arkle with his mouth open. But when you see the way my Champion Hurdle horses fell like flies this year – Faugheen and Arctic Fire, I would like to have another super-sub like Annie Power.”

Walsh couldn’t take the leg-up on Yorkhill at Aintree, having suffered a broken wrist following two falls the previous day, and understudy jockey Paul Townend had far from a smooth ride yet still steered him to victory in the Mersey.

Coral quote odds for Yorkhill in both prestigious Cheltenham Festival races; he’s a 7/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle, and more significantly an early 3/1 ante post favourite in the 2017 Arkle market.

Stable strength on big stage

Willie Mullins Naas Photo: Patrick McCann 21.02.2016

Mullins horses have dominated both of the Prestbury Park showpiece opening day’s big contests in recent years. The County Carlow trainer has done the Arkle and Champion Hurdle double in both 2015 (Un De Sceaux and Faugheen) and 2016 (Douvan and Annie Power).

Saddling four of the last six Champion Hurdle victors, it would appear the Mullins stable is already saturated with mounts that have leading claims to go over the lesser obstacles.

Joining star mare Annie Power and Faugheen, who was unable to defend the Champion Hurdle crown in 2016, are stablemates Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon. That represents stiff competition for Yorkhill, and none of these other elite horses have displayed the erratic pulling tendencies he did on a big stage like Aintree.

Should he instead follow in the footsteps of Un De Sceaux and Douvan, who gave Townend a far more straightforward time in the saddle at Aintree when easily winning the Maghull Novices’ Chase, then Yorkhill will likely start in a beginners chase and his progress will be monitored from there.

It is a tried and tested formula for Mullins when taking former novice hurdle winners over fences, and a heretofore flawless career profile bodes well for Yorkhill. It remains to be seen whether his head tossing and pulling were just an aberration.

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