RaceBets have an incredible offer for new customers, on Day 1 of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival (Tuesday, March 13th). You can back Willie Mullins to saddle at least one winner, at the amazing price of 8/1! (Maximum bet £5.00, T&C’s apply). Let’s take a look at some of the horses expected to represent his yard, on the opening day.
Getabird (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
Sired by Getaway and out of a dam called Revoque, the 6-year-old is unbeaten in four starts and looks likely to start the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as a narrow favourite over Samcro.
He was sent-off as an 8/11 favourite, on debut at Fairyhouse in a GAA flat race and easily beat Joseph O’Brien’s Imperial Way by 12 lengths. Getabird was even shorter for another flat encounter, this time at Gowran Park. Hardline pushed him to a greater degree than many in the stands expected, but the 1¼-length win was still cosy enough.
Mullins sent Getabird to Punchestown, for his first race over hurdles and was rewarded with an assured performance. Imperial Factor was beaten by 7 lengths and never looked capable of winning. His last outing was arguably the first real test and this also took place at Punchestown. Gordon Elliott’s Mengli Khan was expected to make a real fight of it, in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, but failed to lay a glove on Getabird who won by 9 lengths.
“That was great. He was quite worked up in the parade ring, which isn’t like him, and he jumped off as if he was going to run (away with me). I was a bit worried when we turned out of the back that we hadn’t gone fast enough, but the gears he’s shown from the back of the second-last, he didn’t have those when I rode him as a bumper horse.” said jockey Patrick Mullins, after the race.
Getabird looks like he’ll take a lot of beating, in this year’s Supreme.
He’s won on all three of his starts, in the current campaign, which began with an 11-length defeat of Brelade in a beginners chase at Navan.
Footpad was then sent-off as a 4/6 favourite, in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. Gordon Elliott’s Death Duty looked the biggest danger, but that horse fell at the last (he already looked beaten, though). Willie Mullins’ horse won comfortably, by 11 lengths from Any Second Now.
He was sent back to Leopardstown for the Grade 1 Arkle Novice Chase, in which the highly-rated Petit Mouchoir was the principal threat. Henry de Bromhead’s 7-year-old was beaten 5 lengths, but would probably have got a great deal closer were it not for poor jumping at the start of the race.
Footpad’s main challengers in the Arkle are likely to be Saint Calvados, Brain Power, North Hill Harvey and Petit Mouchoir who could help to make this the best race of Day 1 if he turns up with his racing head on. Mullins is bullish about his chances of winning the 2018 Arkle with Footpad, though.
“He’s just so natural and athletic; he takes [his fences] as he meets them. He seldom puts in a short one and just has no fear over a fence. He was a very good hurdler without being top class but his method of jumping a fence has catapulted him right to the top.”
Faugheen (Champion Hurdle)
This incredible gelding is now a 10-year-old, but he hasn’t been seen at Cheltenham since winning the Champion Hurdle in 2015. Faugheen was at the fore of Willie Mullins’ unforgettable 1-2-3, in that encounter. Arctic Fire was runner-up, while the once peerless Hurricane Fly was back in 3rd.
Faugheen looked back to his best when thrashing another Champion Hurdle winner, Jezki, in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November. However, that 16-length victory did not lead to the most promising of build-ups to this year’s Festival. Paul Townend pulled him up in the Leopardstown Ryanair Hurdle, after the horse quickly hit the reverse gear once the 4th fence had been jumped.
Faugheen did make it home, in the Irish Champion Hurdle, but he was beaten fair and square by Jess Harrington’s Supasundae – a horse that will go into the Festival full of confidence and among the favourites for the Stayers’ Hurdle. The likes of Mick Jazz, Melon, Defi Du Seuil did finish behind Faugheen in that race, but he once again finds himself with something to prove this year.
“He’ll have to up his game to win at Cheltenham. I still think he can be competitive. He certainly hasn’t gone downhill in his work at home since then but maybe he has been a bit slower to improve than we hoped so far. We know he loves Cheltenham and it has sparked him up before, so all we do is hope that it will reignite him again. He was what he was and hopefully he can come back to that but age isn’t on his side, so if it isn’t to be, it isn’t to be.” Mullins said candidly, last week.
Can Faugheen still be a force? He’ll bring the house down, at Cheltenham, if he can win the Day 1 showpiece.
Yorkhill (Champion Hurdle)
The Presenting-sired gelding won last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase and was runner-up behind Road To Respect in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase, at Fairyhouse – a race he was expected to win easily, but it all fell apart for him approaching the final fence.
Yorkhill’s current campaign has been a disappointment. Both outings were at Leopardstown and he trailed in last of 8 finishers in the Christmas Chase. It was an odd encounter, that saw the odds-on favourite Sizing John finish with only Yorkhill behind him (this race was also won by Road To Respect).
Yorkhill was dropped in class, for the Dublin Chase, but the line-up featured the likes of Min, Special Tiara, Simply Ned, Ballycasey and Ordinary World – making it a Grade 1 race, in all but name. Yorkhill was poor again, finishing 6th of 7 runners and a long way back.
“He’s not a great work horse at home. He’s very lazy and on the racetrack he idles a little bit when he gets to the front.” said Mullins, at the end of February. Even so, we know he has the ability to destroy top-class horses on his day and Yorkhill could pull-off a Day 1 surprise if he can rediscover his best form.
Min (Champion Hurdle)
Under Ruby Walsh, Min lined-up as favourite for the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but was beaten 7 lengths by Nicky Henderson’s Altior – a horse that has remained unbeaten since then and is the current favourite for the Champion Chase.
Min recovered from this defeat, first winning a beginners chase at Navan and he then landed the spoils in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown. He spent almost a year off the track before beating Flaxan Flare by 36 lengths at Gowran Park, in November.
Min was made a 2/7 favourite for the Grade 1 Leopardstown Club Chase, but an unexpectedly strong challenge from Simply Ned saw the pair scrap it out in the closing stages and though Min went first past the post he was demoted to second-place by the stewards after twice impeding his rival.
The two met again in the Dublin Chase, but Simply Ned offered much less resistance despite finishing 2nd (Yorkhill was expected to be the main threat, but he disappointed as mentioned earlier in this piece).
“It was great, it was relief and he looked better today than at Christmas. Everyone tells me he jumped well today. It puts him back on track for Cheltenham” a delighted Rich Ricci told reporters after this win.
Min should roll-up to Cheltenham feeling very good about himself and he could be the Day 1 value bet, when it comes to Mullins’ inmates.
Melon (Champion Hurdle)
It’s easy to forget that Melon would have won last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, had Gordon Elliott’s Labaik not decided to cause the upset of the Festival by running the race of his life.
Labaik went first past the post in front of a very-much subdued main-stand, where torn-up betting-slips were raining down like confetti at a wedding nobody really wanted to attend. Those who hoped to win their money back by betting on Labaik in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle were rewarded with a last-place finish, after the horse refused to even jump-off until the race was already lost!
Like Labaik, Melon has spent hardly any time on the track, since the Supreme. His only race came at Leopardstown, last month, where he finished fifth of eight in the Irish Champion Hurdle and looked decidedly one-paced at the business-end of the contest.
That uninspiring performance can be forgiven, after nearly a year sitting it out on the sidelines and getting beaten by Supasundae, Faugheen, Mick Jazz and former Champion Hurdle-winner Jezki is no disgrace.
Mullins hopes to get a much better race out of Melon at the Festival and thinks that his charge is in no need of accessories.
“He didn’t face his hood when we tried him in it last time so we’ll take all the gear off at Cheltenham.”
Benie Des Dieux (Mares’ Hurdle)
Many British racing fans won’t yet be familiar with this extremely-promising mare, who looks like being yet another star for Mullins. She began her career in France, where she suffered her only career defeat at Auteuil way back in 2015.
A year off the circuit followed, during which time she left France to join Mullins’ yard. Her Irish debut came at Limerick, in December 2016, where she won a beginners chase by 30 lengths. Somewhat surprisingly, Mullins then sent her to Carlisle for the Listed Houghton Mares’ Chase. Benie Des Dieux made all and barely needed to get out of 2nd-gear to see-off Tacenda.
She was brought back to Ireland and pitched into a competitive renewal of the Opera Hat Mares Chase (Naas), in which she was up against stablemate Asthuria and Gordon Elliott’s Dinaria Des Obeaux. This was a genuine test and she came through it with flying colours, asserting in the final furlong after Asthuria proved to be a game and willing opponent. David Mullins was on-board and the mare clearly impressed him.
She travelled nearly a bit too well, but she’s so quick over a fence. She was a bit keen there on the soft ground but it was just her class coming through. I was making ground everywhere and I couldn’t really get her to come back. She’s a pleasure to ride and so easy to have anything to do with. She’s so quick over a fence that she could do anything. She could come back jumping hurdles as she nearly jumps her fences like a hurdle.”
Let’s Dance (Mares’ Hurdle)
She was simply outstanding, in the 2016/2017 campaign, building upon important victories at Punchestown and Leopardstown and winning last year’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle despite drawing plenty of ‘oohs’ from the crowd as she reached for the last.
Let’s Dance made her seasonal reappearance in the Listed Grabel Mares Hurdle, but disaster struck at the 7th fence when she fell. She took this setback in her stride though, winning in Grade 3 company at Leopardstown during Christmas week and beating Jess Harrington’s Forge Meadow by 8 lengths.
Mullins then sent her to Gowran Park for the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle, but Paul Townend couldn’t get a tune out of her and the co-favourite (along with winner, Presenting Percy) finished 5th of 6 finishers and adrift by some margin.
It certainly wasn’t the ideal prep-race performance for Cheltenham, but Mullins remains hopeful regarding her chances of Cheltenham success.
“I think Let’s Dance is getting there. We’ll see what way the Stayers’ and the Mares’ are working out, I really don’t know what I’m going to do with her but she’ll run in one of those.”
With Vroum Vroum Mag now ruled-out, Let’s Dance is expected to join Benie Des Dieux for the mares race. Both are likely to be up against the mighty Apple’s Jade, but this contest has been won by Mullins 8 times since it was launched in 2008!
While none of the horses mentioned can be regarded as being 100% guaranteed to race on Day 1, you can be sure that Mullins will be fielding a fearsome cavalry and his opening day record is outstanding. This brilliant trainer has won 13 of the last 35 Day 1 contests and he’ll be expecting to add to that haul on Tuesday. Don’t miss-out on this superb offer.
Back Willie Mullins to get at least one Cheltenham winner, on Tuesday – 8/1! (New customers only. Maximum bet £5.00, T&C’s apply)