Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival Runners Update After Dublin Racing Festival

Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival Record
Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival Record

The powerful Willie Mullins team once again dominated the 2023 Dublin Racing Festival with 8 wins from the 15 races, but despite this incredible 53% return they still saw three of their ‘big gun’ horses Facile Vega, Blue Lord and Lossiemouth lose.

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Trainer Willie Mullins has fired in 88 Cheltenham Festival winners over the years – the most of any other handler – and with 10 successes in 2022 he’s already long odds-on to send out the most wins at Prestbury Park again over the four-day meeting in March.

His team from County Carlow recently warmed up for Cheltenham at the Dublin Racing Festival recently – so, with that in mind, let’s take a look at how some of his main players fared, which races they might now be aimed at and how the ante-post Cheltenham markets have reacted.

Willie Mullins Cheltenham Festival Runners Update

Target Race: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle @ 7/2 with BetUK

Willie Mullins has made it no secret that he thinks the world of this horse, but he was left with egg on his face last weekend when Facile Vega trailed in 5th (of 6th) and beaten 20 lengths in the Grade One Tattersalls Irish Novices Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Mullins was quick to go on record to say that jockey Paul Townend got it wrong by going off too quick with former Epsom Derby favourite High Definition, who eventually unseated his rider J J Slevin. The frantic pace took its toil as Facile Vega stopped quickly up the Leopardstown straight and was swamped by four others, that included his stablemate and eventual winner Il Etait Temps.

So, with the unbeaten record gone it’s back to the drawing board for Mullins, but having ‘bigged-up’ the horse up he’ll be keen to show people he’s not wrong and with different riding tactics (more held up) likely to be employed at Cheltenham, then he’s still sure to have plenty of supporters in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – the opening Festival race on Tuesday 14th March.

VERDICT: Needs to bounce back, but best watched until we see if the excuses for that last race are valid

Target Race: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle @ 9/2 with BetUK

Il Etait Temps is the horse that lowered the colours of Facile Vega in that Grade One Tattersalls Irish Novices Hurdle at Leopardstown and took full advantage of the quick early pace to pick up the pieces down the straight to win by an impressive 9 1/2 lengths.

Yes, there is every chance the form of that race will not stand up with the excuses surrounding Facile Vega, who after all had beaten this horse by 4 lengths in the Grade One Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at the end of December.

That said, Mullins has said he’s always thought the horse was a fair sort and it was only his jumping that was letting him down. But despite making a hash of the first flight, jockey Danny Mullins said after the race that once they got down the back straight he started to ping his hurdles and it could just be that the penny has finally dropped in the jumping department.

That win saw his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle odds come right into @ 5/1 with BetUK.

VERDICT: Penny might be dropping but likely to have been flattered by that last win

RELATED: 2023 Cheltenham Festival: Honeysuckle Has Mares’ Hurdle Target After Irish Champion Hurdle Defeat

Target Race: Triumph Hurdle @ 13/8 with BetUK

Got the odds-on favourite backers off to a terrible start in just the second race at the Dublin Festival, when Lossiemouth found herself in several bad positions in the race to eventually be left with too much to do up the Leopardstown straight.

Jockey Paul Townend and Lossiemouth found themselves back in the field on the inside – with a wall of horses in front of him and less than half the race to go. It didn’t help that one of those in front of this talented mare was not the best jumper either and when Townend eventually switched her to get a clearer run – those in front, that included the winner Gala Marceau, had already flown.

The bookmakers reacted by pushing out her price for the Triumph Hurdle, the opening race on the Friday, from 6/5 to 13/8 @ BetUK, but the ‘good news’ for her fans is that it was clear that with a bit more luck in-running, her 7lbs mares’ allowance, plus the stiff Cheltenham finish are sure to still give her a cracking chance of getting back to winning ways and giving owner Rich Ricci his second Triumph Hurdle winner in as many years.

VERDICT: Looks well worth giving another chance to, with the Cheltenham Hill looking a big plus

Target Race: Turners Novices’ Chase @ 5/1 with BetUK

Appreciate It had run and jumped well for much of the race in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Festival on the opening day, but was eventually beaten 10 lengths into third by stablemate El Fabio and Banbridge. That was only this horse’s second career defeat under rules but is quite an old horse for this division at 9 and that showned last time out by getting beaten by the younger legs.

Many feel that a step up in trip will help Appreciate It, while Mullins said after the Leopardstown race that might not have recovered from his race before at Naas – however, he was sent off 1/9 that day, won by an easy 21 lengths and beat very little, so it’s hard to buy that excuse.

Yes, the stiffer Cheltenham track will suit, but with connections already making noised about a possible Gold Cup bid, at his age they will have to get their skates on upping him in trip. With that in-mind, the Turners’ Novices’ Chase, where he could meet Mighty Potter, could be a more feasible target at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.

VERDICT: If heading for the Turners Novices’ Chase (and not the Arkle) could be interesting upped in trip

RELATED: Is Paisley Park Still The Value Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post Tip For 2023 Stayers’ Hurdle?

Target Race: Arkle Novices’ Chase @ 2/1 with BetUK

El Fabiolo shot right to the head of the Arkle ante-post market after winning the Irish version and now only has Jonbon ahead of him in the betting. Raced freely that last day and despite making a bad mistake four fences out recovered well to win by a tidy 10 lengths – with Bandridge staying for silver.

He had Appreciate It and Dysart Dynamo well back in third and fourth, plus has form tied in with Jonbon after running that horse a neck second in the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April. He’s now 2-from-2 over fences and looks the sort at just 6 years-old to have more to come.

VERDICT: Young and improving chaser that is now a big player in the Arkle. Hard to fault, but if you are looking for a negative it might be that this will be his first run at Cheltenham and if making a bad mistake there (like last time) might not get away with it.

Target Race: Champion Hurdle @ 5/2 with BetUK

State Man made it six wins on the spin when taking the Irish Champion Hurdle by 4 3/4 lengths, with last year’s Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle back in second. The bookies reacted by chopping State Man to 5/2 (from 7/2) in the betting for the day one feature, but there is still the small matter of a certain Constitution Hill ahead of him in the betting – a horse that’s already being billed as a ‘freak and a machine’ and one that will give State Man his biggest test to date.

But State Man is no stranger to winning at the Cheltenham Festival, after taking the County Hurdle last year with ease and has since mopped up four Grade One races. It’s hard to fault his form and he’s certainly the one to give Constitution Hill a race as trainer Willie Mullins looks for his first Champion Hurdle since Annie Power won in 2016.

VERDICT: Looks set to run a big race and in any normal year would be the odds-on favourite for the Champion Hurdle, but Constitution Hill is a horse with the whole package – speed, stamina and jumps – so might just have too much toe for him at Cheltenham.

Target Race: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle @ 7/2 with BetUK

Gaelic Warrior impressed by winning a competitive handicap hurdle on the final day of the Dublin Racing Festival – a win that will set him up nicely for the Cheltenham Festival. He’s got an entry in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but after his recent win Mullins said that if he was deciding today, it would be the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, on the Wednesday, over further (2m5f) that he’d run him in.

Connections preferred to run him in Dublin, rather than a tilt at the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but has now won his last three starts in the style of an improving horse that could have more to come upped in trip too. Those looking to take him on might look to the longer trip being an unknown, plus he did wander about a bit the last day in the closing stages to suggest he’s not totally 100% straightforward.

VERDICT: Hard to crab what he’s one this season, but if heading for the Ballymore the longer trip is an unknown and that recent hanging in the final furlong last time wasn’t ideal.

Target Race: Cheltenham Gold Cup @ 11/8 with BetUK

Galopin Des Champs cemented his position at the head of the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting market, despite drifting out a tad in the betting, with an easy 8 length win in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival. However, there were times in the race that his backers might have been sweating a bit, but he seemed to look better the further they went, which is a plus for Cheltenham as there is another two furlongs to travel.

He seems to have learned to settle better in his races and he’ll need to do that in the Gold Cup to last out, but it’s interesting that the bookies were not totally impressed with that Irish Gold Cup win after pushing him out to 11/8 (from 6/5). It will also be the first time Galopin Des Champs is back at Cheltenham – the scene of his last fence fall in the Turners’ Novices’ Chase last season.

VERDICT: It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a Gold Cup with much depth and that will help Galopin. Seemed to hit a bit of a flat spot last time out and had a few worried for a small time, but improved the further they went and that will only be a plus up the Cheltenham Hill and with 2 more furlongs to go.

Note: Odds are subject to change

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