Cheltenham Tips

Cheltenham Festival Trainer Focus: Record-breaking Mullins out for more Cheltenham success

Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins holds one of the strongest hands at this year's Festival

"With a grand total of 78 winners to his name, no trainer has been more successful at the Festival than the master of Closutton, who has assembled a formidable team for yet another assault on jumping's showpiece this year."

Mark Milligan has taken a look at Willie Mullins' record at the Cheltenham Festival and has picked out five of his best chances on the week...

Willie Mullins trained his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival back in 1995, and since then his roll of honour has grown steadily longer, including four wins in the Champion Hurdle, two Stayers' Hurdle victories and back-to-back wins in the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.

With a grand total of 78 winners to his name, no trainer has been more successful at the Festival than the master of Closutton, who has assembled a formidable team for yet another assault on jumping's showpiece this year.

Bettors make Mullins odds-on to land seven or more winners in our latest Betfair Barometer market.

In terms of individual races, Mullins has been most successful in the Champion Bumper, saddling no less than 11 winners of that Grade 1 contest, most recently with Sir Gerhard last year, who is profiled later on in this piece.

It looks long odds-on that Mullins will continue his stranglehold on that race this year, too, with the unbeaten Facile Vega heading up what looks an incredibly strong challenge once again.

The jockeys

The now-retired Ruby Walsh has ridden the greatest number of winners for Mullins at the Festival, his tally of 36 coming to an end when he partnered Klassical Dream to victory in the 2019 Supreme. Willie Mullins also supplied Walsh with his first winner at the Festival courtesy of Alexander Banquet in the 1998 Champion Bumper.

In terms of current jockeys, Paul Townend - who became the number one at Closutton following Walsh's retirement - has ridden the most number of winners for the stable with 16, including a hat-trick at last year's meeting.

Only five other jockeys have ridden more than one winner for the stable at the Festival, and it's Willie's son (and assistant trainer) Patrick who heads that list with 4 to his name, the most recent being Rathvinden in the National Hunt Chase in 2018.

Five of the best

Sir Gerhard (Supreme or Ballymore)

Trying to figure out which races certain Mullins-trained horses are going to run in is a tricky process in itself, and one that's encapsulated by the talented Sir Gerhard, who has options in both the Supreme and the Ballymore.

An expensive purchase from the pointing field, Sir Gerhard is already a winner at the Festival having taken last year's Champion Bumper and is sure to take all the beating in whichever contest he lines up in.

A winner on hurdling debut at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, the son of Jeremy sauntered clear there before making his next start in Grade 1 company at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Despite facing a far from straightforward task, he was still sent off at odds-on and justified that support in convincing fashion. His jumping was a little sticky at times, but the way he kept on finding to hand out a six-length beating to Three Stripe Life was most impressive and earned him a Timeform rating that puts him firmly at the head of the novice hurdle pecking order.

It's that sticky jumping, however, that would cause me a little bit of concern were he to line up in the Supreme rather than the Ballymore. A speed test over 2m on the opening day may not play to his strengths, and I could envisage him being more in his comfort zone over the longer trip on the following day.

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Gaelic Warrior (Boodles)

Gaelic Warrior has been a real talking horse over the last few weeks and sustained support has seen him forced into favouritism for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on the first day of the Festival.

A lightly-raced French import that has been acquired by Rich Ricci, his form in the couple of starts he made in France looks strong, despite him still being a maiden.

On just his second start he was a narrow third to Imprenable and Sans Bruit, both of whom have gone on to prove themselves more than useful. The former won a listed race on his next start before going on to finish fourth in a Grade 1, while the latter won his next two starts, including in Grade 3 company.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that Gaelic Warrior may well prove much better than a handicapper in time, and a mark of 129 for the Boodles could well underestimate him a great deal.

The British handicapper has taken a big chance in allowing Gaelic Warrior to race from that sort of perch and confidence in the Ricci camp is certainly high where this one is concerned. He's sure to take all the beating and could well go off a short price if a few bankers have gone in earlier in the day.

Facile Vega (Weatherbys Champion Bumper)

As mentioned earlier, Willie Mullins has dominated the Champion Bumper and in Facile Vega he looks to have another strong chance of taking the prize back to Closutton.

A son of six-time Cheltenham winner Quevega, he's obviously bred for the part and has looked something out of the ordinary on both starts to date.

An impressive winner on his debut at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, he was then pitched straight into the Grade 2 bumper run at the Dublin Racing Festival over the same C&D for his next start - a race Mullins had taken previously with Appreciate It and Kilcruit - and Facile Vega didn't disappoint.

Up against six other winners in what looked a spicy contest, he was sent off odds-on and produced a scintillating display, marking himself out as the best bumper horse seen this season.

His trainer has a wealth of riches in this division, so the biggest test may well come from within his own yard, though on what we've seen so far from Facile Vega, it's going to take something special to inflict a first defeat on one who looks headed right to the top.

Galopin Des Champs (Brown Advisory or Turners)

Galopin Des Champs was a Grade 1-winning novice hurdler last season, and he looked a special talent on his chasing debut at Leopardstown, where he slammed Aint That A Shame by a wide margin.

Stepped up into Grade 1 company for his next start at the Dublin Racing Festival, Galopin Des Champs comfortably beat previous Grade 1 winner Master McShee, and he did so in a time that had clock watchers purring.

With a Timeform rating of 167p, the son of Timos is at the top of the tree where novice chasers are concerned this season, and it's entirely possible he has a bigger effort still in his locker.

At the time of writing, Mullins seems to be leaning towards a clash with Bob Olinger and L'Homme Presse in the Turners Novices' Chase, which would be something to savour, though he does also have the option of the Brown Advisory the day before.

Personally, I hope he goes with the former, as we could well have the race of the Festival on our hands if that's the case.

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Allaho (Ryanair Chase)

Mullins is on record as saying Allaho is his banker of the Festival and it's hard to disagree with that assessment. Put simply, if the Allaho that won the Ryanair last year turns up, his rivals are all playing for place money only.

It's probably fair to say that Allaho had divided opinion a bit before last year's Festival, having previously failed several times in Grade 1 company. However, his doubters were swiftly silenced as he produced a Denman-esque performance of strong galloping to completely dismantle his opponents from the front.

It was something of a 'wow' performance to watch, and with Allaho seemingly every bit as good this season - his most recent win at Thurles being on a par ratings-wise with last year's Ryanair victory - he looks sure to take all the beating once again.

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