With 72 winners, Irish trainer Willie Mullins is the most successful, when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival. He’s a seven-time leading trainer, and during last year’s meeting, trained an incredible seven winners. But Mullins also holds the record for the most winners in a single Festival (with eight) – a feat he managed in 2015, which was equalled three years later by Gordon Elliott. And when it comes to the latest 2021 Cheltenham odds, you can guarantee horses from Mullins’ yard will be the amongst the favourites in nearly every race! But the big question is, can anybody stop him?
It’s fair to say that the Mullins juggernaut will strike, particularly if the recent Dublin Racing Festival is anything to go by. It may be a new addition to the calendar, in its fourth year, but the Leopardstown two-dayer was a happy hunting ground for Mullins, who scooped up nine wins from a racing card of 15 fixtures, and a total of six victories in the eight Grade 1 races on offer.
Amongst those winners were Chacun Pour Soi, Appreciate It, Monkfish and Kemboy. While 40/1 outsider Maze Runner stunned in the Handicap Hurdle, earning the six-year-old a first win since December 2018. But of the winners, it was clear that Kemboy was the star of the show – winning the Irish Gold Cup, to hand Mullins an eleventh victory in the race. The nine-year-old was up against two horses from the yard of Elliott, The Storyteller and last year’s winner, Delta Work – and the victory has seen his stock rise ahead of the Blue Riband event, in the Cheltenham namesake.
Similarly, stablemate, Chacun Pour Soi was the clear favourite in the Dublin Chase – and didn’t disappoint, beating Fakir D’oudairies by eight lengths to secure back-to-back victories in the Grade 1 race. In a fine vein of form, with four wins from his four previous entries, there was heartbreak at last year’s Festival when the gelding, who was the second-favourite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, was rendered lame ahead of the race. It was a massive disappointment for all connected with Chacun, but he will have his chance to shine and hopefully land Mullins a surprise debut win in the day three feature race.
Looking ahead to next month’s big event at Prestbury Park, and you’ll notice that not only has Honeysuckle overtaken Epatante in the latest Cheltenham festival ante post betting tips, but the majority of Mullins’ leading pack are at odds no longer than 7/4.
And if the Irish Racing Festival was a signal of the top trainer’s intent ahead of next month, well it certainly frightened his nearest rivals. British trainer Nicky Henderson may only be four victories behind Mullins when it comes to overall victories at the Cheltenham Festival, but he knows a big performance will be needed. Hoping that this weekend’s Newbury meeting goes ahead, Henderson said of the recent display:
“I wish I hadn’t watched it actually – it was slightly frightening!” before continuing:
“I certainly haven’t shown it to one or two horses. I don’t think Epatante needed to see Honeysuckle, or Shishkin needed to see Willie’s two-mile novice (Energumene) and Altior needed to see Chacun Pour Soi.
“I saw them and it gave me a mighty fright. I’ve never seen anything like it. Well done Willie – it was the most staggering weekend.”