A Mullins Mauling For Bookies As Cheltenham Looms?

Tuesday to Friday - 12th to 15th March

No question about the safest bet at next week’s famous Cheltenham meeting – it’s the 1-8 bookmakers are offering about Willie Mullins emerging top trainer over the four days from March 12 to 15.

David Mollett writes that the 67 year-old Mullins started training in 1988 after being assistant to his father, Paddy, and Jim Bolger. He has won the Irish jumps trainers championship 17 times.

On Tuesday – the first day of the festival – it’s possible Mullins could saddle six of the seven winners on the card. In the opening event – the Supreme Novices Hurdle – nine of the 15 horses confirmed to run hail from the master trainer’s stable. They include the even-money favourite, Ballyburn.

Willie Mullins – master of his art

“To say we fear a Mullins mauling on the first day is an understatement. All his leading horses are sure to be incredibly well backed in singles and multiples. We’ll just be hoping anyone but Willie gets on the scoresheet,” said Coral spokesman, David Stevens.

Mullins will be out to win Friday’s Gold Cup for the fourth time in six years. Galopin des Champs is back to defend his title and Ladbrokes quote the 2023 winner as the 5-4 favourite followed by Fastorslow (5-1), Shishkin (6-1), Gerri Colombe (7-1) and Bravemansgame (12-1).

Some pundits are opposing the favourite stating the market leader’s jumping is far from perfect, but Shishkin also comes with risks attached as he has refused to race on one occasion.

As far as South Africa is concerned, the big interest will be the performance of Il Etait Temps in Tuesday’s Arkle Trophy – the horse races in partnership of the Hollywood Syndicate and the Ridgemont and Barnane Stud brothers, Craig and Ross Kieswetter.

Paddy Power quote the Gordon Elliot runner, Found A Fifty, as the 100-30 favourite followed by Il Etait Temps at 4-1 and Gaelic Warrior at the same price.

Il Etait Temps steps out on Tuesday (Pic – Supplied)

Hollywood boss Owen Heffer and son, Devin, are sure to set off early from their Windsor hotel on Tuesday and – with a number of notable withdrawals – must have an excellent opportunity of taking top honours in the Gr1.

“We were there last year and it was an incredible experience. Being in the parade ring was really special,” enthused Devin before departing for the UK.

“He’s been a great horse in picking up the pieces when the favourite falters, but we are aware that everyone lines up their charges for Cheltenham.”

“We will be happy for conditions similar to Leopardstown – that will suit and he can show his fighting qualities again.”

Any nerves? “Obviously I’ll be a bit nervous,” concluded the young man who is the Brand & Communications Manager of the thriving Hollywood operation.

The other half of the Il Etait Temps ownership is the Kieswetter Bros well known as the owners of Ridgemont Stud in the Cape.

Craig Kieswetter was a top cricketer who played 71 times for England before his early retirement due to an eye injury. The 36 year-old has no doubt that the horse is in the safest of hands.

Interviewed by the Sporting Life website in the UK, Craig stressed that Willie Mullins is unquestionably a master of his trade.

Craig Kiewswetter (photo: supplied)

Craig Kieswetter – ‘It’s about results’

He said: “Willie is going to go down as one of the all-time greats, but there is still plenty of life in the old dog yet. He’s probably along the lines of a Messi or Ronaldo or Schmacher – he’s a champion.”

“I have read articles questioning if it’s good for the industry that Willie is dominating, but at the end of the day he provides results and this is a results-based sport.”

Pat Mullins is Il Etait Temps (French for “It’s About Time”) regular pilot and he’s bullish about a big performance from his mount.

“I got a great feel out of him at Limerick behind Gaelic Warrior. I think I was going into the Dublin Racing Festival hoping the better ground might bring out some more of him too.”

“He’s quite a small horse so the heavy ground at Limerick made the fences very big but he still jumped very well on the day.”

Willie Mullins won the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo (2019 and 2020) and Galop des Champs last year.

Galop des Champs will race in front of a sell-out crowd on Friday and Mullins is confident of another win. “He’s come out of his race in Leopardstown very well and I’m very happy. It’s going to be a tip-top Gold Cup, I think. We’re in great form.”

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