We Can Hear The Cheltenham Hooves!

Countdown to Tuesday 14 March

March has arrived and some say it’s springtime in the UK. To racing fans that can only mean Cheltenham.

The four-day Festival is just under two weeks away, and interestingly, there is now a South African connection to this iconic UK event.

Irish Champion trainer Willie Mullins, who has 59 potential runners over all four days, has included the grey gelding Il Etait Temps as one of the stable’s four nominations for the opening event, the Gr1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. This race is famous for the Cheltenham ‘Roar’ as the runners jump away on their 2-mile journey.

Willie Mullins – massive hand again

Il Etait Temps is leased by the Hollywood Syndicate, in partnership with Barnane Stud. Barnane Stud represents the Irish arm  of the Kieswetter family’s breeding operation, well known in South Africa by the Ridgemont Highlands Stud Farms in the Western Cape.

Il Etait Temps had shown fair form last season when placing in all three of his juvenile races. The fact that they were all Group 1 contests only added value and Willie Mullins always stressed that the ability was there, the jumping just needed improvement.

This season he has not only strengthened but his jumping has improved with each of his three starts culminating with a Group 1 success. That was in the Tattersalls Irish Novices’ Hurdle at the Dublin Festival last month where he booked his ticket to this Festival.

Il Etait Temps – SA connection and Gr1 runner on Day 1

According to his trainer: “He’s learning to race and jump properly at the top level. Danny Mullins is looking forward to riding him, and if he can put it all together at Cheltenham he’ll be there or thereabouts at the finish. He’s a live one in the Supreme.”

His stable companions could be among his biggest dangers, namely – Diverge, Hunters Yarn and Facile Vega.

Diverge, a son of Frankel, raced on the Flat last season before joining the Mullins stable. Unplaced on his first start, he then won a maiden hurdle at Punchestown by 23-lengths. On that performance this progressive sort must be respected, but he now takes a huge jump in class.

Hunters Yarn, a 6-year-old by Fame And Glory, is another improving sort. Beaten only once in five starts over 2 miles, he is rated by the yard and could also line up in the Supreme.

However, Il Etait Temps biggest threat from within the yard should be Facile Vega.

The beaten favourite at Leopardstown where Il Etait Temps was a ready winner, Mullins thinks they got the tactics wrong in the race for the son of Quevega. “He and High Definition just locked horns passing the winning post on the first circuit and went a mile-and-a-quarter speed going down by the reservoir and the first hurdle down the back and he just took too much out of himself.”

Willie Mullins concluded: “Paul (Townend) pulled him up when things weren’t going well down the home straight. I’m happy just with a change of tactics in the Sky Bet Supreme.”

“I couldn’t see any problem with dropping in again – I think he has the ability and class for the race and has every chance. He’s been very good after Leopardstown.”


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