Eleven-times Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins had another superb season in 2015/16, saddling seven winners at the Cheltenham Festival and being pipped to the British Trainers’ Championship only on the final day of the season. Despite a recent split with Gigginstown, he still has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal for the coming campaign.
What more can be said about Willie Mullins that hasn’t already been said? While he has been considered a top trainer for well over two decades, claiming his first Champion Trainer title in 2000/01, it has been since 2007/08 that Mullins has taken his performance to previously unheard of levels.
In February 2013, with over two months of the season remaining, he broke Aidan O’Brien’s record haul of winners in a season of 156 in 1995/96 and eventually went on to record a scarcely-believable total of 193 winners.
Well established as the most successful Irish-based trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 48 winners at the meeting, Mullins has trained a sequence of household names such as Florida Pearl, Hedgehunter, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Faugheen plus, two of the stars of last season, Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power and Arkle Chase hero Douvan.
Despite the recent split with Gigginstown House Stud Mullins still has a formidable team of horses at his disposal for the upcoming season and he was good enough to talk attheraces.com’s Kevin Blake through his string.
A 166-rated hurdler, she has won 15 of her 17 starts, but was only given her chance to shine at the very highest level at the backend of last season, with her subbing in to replace the injured Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and producing an impressive winning performance which she backed up in even more impressive style in the Aintree Hurdle.
“She’s in good order and all is well with her. She’ll be going down the Champion Hurdle route and we have the Morgiana Hurdle pencilled in as a possibility for her return.”
A 163-rated hurdler, he progressed into one of the leading hurdlers around in 2014/15 and was likely to play another major role at the spring festivals last season only to be ruled out through injury.
“Arctic Fire was late coming back in and probably won’t be back at the races until the second half of the season. We won’t decide which route he’ll go down until he’s nearly ready to run, but while he does have the size to jump a fence, if he’s that bit later starting off for the season, we might hold onto his novice status over fences until next season and stay over hurdles for this season.”
A high-class performer in bumpers last season, she won three of her five starts.
“She’s a lovely novice hurdle prospect for the season. I haven’t had any great worries for her with regard to ground and being by Yeats, she should stay further than two miles. She isn’t that far away from starting off.”
A 158-rated chaser, he won all three of his completed starts over fences in 2015/16, most notably the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
“We started him off campaigning him as a stayer over fences, but his style of racing led to us bringing him back in trip and he was very good at Cheltenham. We see him as a middle-distance chaser, but he could possibly try even shorter trips.”
2/6, tracked leaders in 3rd, went 2nd 4 out, ridden entering straight, led narrowly after 2 out, joined and mistake at last, kept on under pressure inside final furlong, headed and no extra close home
A 169-rated chaser, he was the outstanding novice chaser of last season, winning all six of his starts in facile fashion including spectacular winning performances in Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals.
“He’s obviously very exciting. I think we’ll start him off at two miles and work our way through the season, with trying longer trips being a possibility.”
A 176-rated hurdler, he has won 11 of his 12 career starts over hurdles, but missed the chance to defend his Champion Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival last year due to injury.
“He’s in good shape and his starting point will be either the Morgiana Hurdle or the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. He won’t have any problem with two-and-a-half miles in the Hatton’s Grace if we point him in that direction. He’ll be one that we play by ear as the season progresses.”
Won/8, made all, soon went on, slight mistake 3rd, reduced lead 7th, good jump 4 out and extended lead again, slight mistake 2 out, asserted from before last, ridden out and stayed on well run-in
A 147-rated hurdler, he made an impressive winning Irish debut in a conditions hurdle at Leopardstown in February, but was pulled up went off joint-favourite for the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“He gave himself no chance in the County Hurdle by racing too freely. He’s probably more of a chaser than a hurdler, but it hasn’t been decided what route he’ll go down this season just yet.”
6/9, settled mid-division, 6th halfway, improved to challenge and slight mistake 3 out, disputed before 2 out, ridden and headed before last, no extra in 5th when slightly hampered last, kept on one pace
Won/5, led, 6 lengths clear halfway, reduced advantage 2 out, travelled well and 4 lengths clear when sprawled badly on landing last, rider lost iron and dropped to 3rd, stayed on well run-in to lead again close home
A 149-rated hurdler, he made a very good impressive in winning both his starts over fences last season, with his miraculous recovery from a calamitous error at the final fence in a Grade 2 contest at Leopardstown being one of the most memorable moments of last season. He picked up an injury soon after that which ruled him out of the rest of the season.
“We’ve decided to give him more time to recover from the injury he picked up last season and he won’t be back on the track until the second half of the season. He looks like a stayer to me and three miles should suit him well.”
A French import, she won her first three starts over hurdles for Mullins, most notably the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, prior to coming up a bit short at Grade 1 level later in the season.
“She has been a little bit slow to come to herself, but she will stay hurdling and will hopefully be back in time to run at Christmas. She was a bit unlucky on her last run at Punchestown, as Whiteout got a very good ride from the front that day and Limini just had a bit too much to do to catch her. I’m hoping she will stay far enough to make up into a contender for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.”
A 154-rated hurdler, he was one of the talking horses of last season, winning his first two starts for Mullins in impressive style, but finding Altior too good for him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“The plan is to go novice chasing with him. I’m very pleased with how he did over the summer and how he’s going at home. I think he was just beaten by a very good horse at Cheltenham.”
A 162-rated hurdler, he has won six Grade 1 races over hurdles and acquitted himself well at the spring festivals last season.
“He’ll stay over hurdles and I imagine we’ll go down the staying route with him. He ran very well over three miles on his last start in America and that was at the end of a hard season, so you’d have to hope he’ll get it well this season.”
A 137-rated hurdler, he has won four of his five starts over hurdles including a Grade 3 novice at Tipperary in October.
“He is improving with every run and is getting braver with his jumping all the time. He could stay further than two miles, but the ground is a question mark for him, as I don’t necessarily think he will be one for winter heavy ground. He is very much in the picture for the Royal Bond.”
A 169-rated chaser, he is a four-time Grade 1 winner over fences that came up short against Sprinter Sacre on a sound surface last season, but returned to winning ways on his favoured soft ground at Auteuil in May.
“He’s in good order and would have the option of switching between hurdles and fences. We’ll be on the lookout for races in France for him throughout the season. We’ll probably keep him to between two and two-and-a-half miles and he’s probably better on softer ground than most other horses, so we’ll keep him on it as much as we can.”
2/7, tracked leaders in 3rd on outer, disputed 2nd from 5th, improved to dispute lead after 3 out, ridden and headed 2 out, dropped to 3rd at last, rallied inside final furlong and went 2nd close home, not reach winner
A 176-rated chaser, he has won at the last three Cheltenham Festivals, most recently when bolting up in the Ryanair Chase. While his optimum trip remains a point of debate, but he remains one of the most exciting horses in training.
“He’s in good shape and his first half of the season will probably be similar to what he did last season, with the King George being in the picture. I’m going to see how he races in his first few starts before making longer-term plans. He’s in every picture with regard to potential targets.”
A 154-rated hurdler and 155-rated chaser, she is unbeaten in 10 starts for Mullins, with her most notable successes coming in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
“She can do any job! She is probably top-class over both hurdles and fences. Her performance at Punchestown was fantastic and it reflected the work she had been doing at home. Given that she is in Rich Ricci’s colours and he has plenty of talent in all divisions, she could well play the role of super sub all season and take up the challenge whenever he doesn’t have another suitable runner for a big race.”
2/6, held up early, ran freely, jumped left throughout, led after 4th, badly left at 5th and 6 out, slight mistake 3 out, soon disputed, led before 2 out, ran around approaching last and jumped awkwardly, soon ridden and headed, rallied and just held at line
A 154-rated hurdler, he won four of his five starts in novice hurdles last season including the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“He has won a point-to-point and jumps fences well, but we haven’t made a final decision whether he stays hurdling or goes chasing yet. I think he could make a fantastic hurdle horse. He isn’t too far away from a run.”