Mullins Gearing Up For Another Cheltenham Masterclass

It’s almost that time again, with a little under three weeks before the 2024 Cheltenham Festival begins in earnest. Many things can be relied upon at this meeting: thrills and spills – both on the track and in the Guinness Village – champions crowned, new stars confirmed, and, no doubt, a shed-load of winners for the Irish trainers.

Spearheading the green assault on Prestbury Park as usual will be the King of the Cheltenham Hill, Willie Mullins. For many trainers, unearthing a horse capable of winning at this meeting is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. In contrast, for Mullins, it appears to be more like shelling peas. Standing tall, atop the all-time Cheltenham Festival trainers’ table with 94 wins – including 11 across the four championship-level events – Mullins has finished as the meeting’s leading trainer 10 times in total, including in each of the past five years.

Can anyone stop the Closutton maestro in 2024? Currently holding well over 100 entries across the four days and seemingly boasting greater strength in depth than ever, it looks a tall order. In fact, some are even predicting he may just better his previous best tally of 10 wins from the 28 races on offer. No surprise then that many punters are already plotting their Willie Mullins-only Lucky 15s and Yankees, but which of the runners does the market deem as the most likely to prevail? Here, we look at the five shortest-priced contenders from the yard of this peerless trainer.

Wednesday 13 March: Queen Mother Champion Chase – El Fabiolo

Wednesday 13 March Queen Mother Champion Chase OddsAvailable to back at around the 2/5 mark, this Simon Munir & Isaac Souede-owned seven-year-old is the second shortest-priced favourite across all 28 races in the ante-post lists – behind only Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle.

A quick look at the form book makes those prohibitive odds perfectly understandable. Six runs over fences have yielded six wins, he boasts a perfect one-from-one record at the Festival following last year’s Arkle success and is 2-0 up in his head-to-head clashes with main market rival Jonbon. Looking as well as ever when powering clear in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase last time out, he bids to hand Mullins a third successive win in this race, following the triumphs of Energumene in 2022 and 2023.

Tuesday 12 March: Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – Lossiemouth

Tuesday 12 March Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle OddsOnly four horses were trading at odds-on at the time of writing – two each from the yards of Mullins and Nicky Henderson. Joining El Fabiolo on the Mullins list of apparent good things is this tough and talented Rich Ricci-owned mare.

Long held in high regard by trainer and owner alike – with a shot at the Champion Hurdle mentioned in some quarters – she will likely prove tough to beat against her own sex. Suffering the only defeat of her career in her final start before the festival last season, she brushed that off to come home in front in the Triumph Hurdle. Ominously, this year’s prep run resulted in a 9½ length rout of the field in the Unibet Hurdle at this track. She’s no bigger than 4/6 at the time of writing.

Friday 15 March: Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup – Galopin Des Champs

Friday 15 March Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup OddsBy his own high standards, it took Mullins a long time to finally grab the ultimate prize in the most prestigious staying chase of the season. Ahead of the 2019 edition of this meeting, the Mullins Gold Cup tally still stood at zero. Five years on, he now has three to his name. Al Boum Photo kicked things off with back-to-back wins in 2019 and 2020, and bidding to follow suit is last year’s champ, Galopin Des Champs.

But for an inexplicable slip after the final flight – when around 10 lengths clear – in the 2022 Turners Novices’ Chase, this strapping sort would boast a record of three wins in as many starts at the Cheltenham Festival. The pick of those efforts came when storming up the hill to land the 2023 edition of this. Off the boil in his next two starts, he has rebounded with resounding wins in the Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup, and once again looks like the one they all have to beat, priced at around the even money mark.

Tuesday 12 March: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Ballyburn

Tuesday 12 March Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle OddsDespite being favourably mentioned throughout the early part of last season and catching the eye with an incredible win from an improbable position in a Punchestown Bumper, Ballyburn ultimately didn’t make it to last year’s meeting – instead returning to Punchestown to record an easy Bumper success, this time in a far more straightforward style.

Ballyburn remained one of the biggest talking horses from the Mullins yard over the summer, only for his credentials to receive a knock when beaten on his hurdling bow at Fairyhouse. That, however, proved to be a mere blip, with the son of Flemensfirth bouncing back with a 25-length romp at Leopardstown before slamming a solid Grade 1 field back at that same track in February. He’s now the clear favourite for this race at 7/4 and about the same price for the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle.

Thursday 14 March: Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Jade De Grugy

Thursday 14 March Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle oddsThis Day 3 contest is shaping up to be one of the most enthralling of the meeting, with many of the field arriving with a string of 1s next to their name. Brighterdaysahead, Dysart Enos, Queen’s Gamble, Joyeuse, and more all arrive riding the crest of a wave, but in Jade De Grugy, they will be taking on an unbeaten, beautifully bred mare, hailing from a yard which knows what it takes to prevail.

Only added to the Cheltenham menu in 2016, Willie Mullins promptly racked up wins in the first five editions of this race. Managing no better than third in the three editions since, he will no doubt be keen to reestablish his dominance, and, in this fluent jumping daughter of Doctor Dino, many believe he has the horse to do just that, as evidenced by her status as 2/1 favourite in many lists.