Willie Mullins Has Some Big Decisions to Make for Cheltenham 2019
Sometimes being a racehorse trainer is not just about what you do in the yard, but the decisions that you make about when and where to use your best assets. For Willie Mullins, arguably Ireland’s most celebrated jumps horse trainer, there is a lot to think about as we wind our way towards the Cheltenham Festival (12th-15th March).
For a start, Mullins has a couple of aging superstars on his hands, horses that were once capable of being the headlines grabbers at the Festival, but now seem to be coming to the twilight stage of their careers. Faugheen and Un De Sceaux, both of whom are two-time winners at the Festival, will be 11-years-old by the time the next one comes around. That’s certainly not too old to win in national hunt events, but it may just lead to a lack of that x-factor needed for the ultra-elite level of horse racing.
Can Faugheen Have One Last Great Race?
Bookmakers, however, are still fairly keen on their chances. Faugheen, for example, is given odds of 12/1 by William Hill for the Stayers’ Hurdle, which is one of the four main races of the Festival. Many thought Faugheen’s time had come to an end, but Mullins still believes in him, as does regular jockey Ruby Walsh. Win or lose, Faugheen will still be considered one of the modern greats of jumps racing, such was his imperious record from around 2013-2016. However, he completely trashed the race-favourite, Penhill (7/1), just last April, so there is plenty of hope that the great Faugheen has one last run in him.
Mullins will have to make a decision on where to put Un De Sceaux at the Festival. It basically boils down to a choice of two: The Ryanair Chase, where he would be probably one of the favourites, or the prestigious Queen Mother Champion Chase. In the latter, Un De Sceaux would likely come up against Altior, a horse he lost to narrowly a few weeks ago. Altior is the overwhelming favourite and regarded as the best chaser on the planet, but Un De Sceaux ran him very close. 20/1 is quoted by Ladbrokes for Un De Sceaux to win the Champion Chase, and with Cheltenham Festival free bets available for that bookie, he may be the perfect shot to nothing bet.
Where to Put the Star Mares?
Perhaps something that Willie Mullins does not get enough credit for is his wonderful knack of producing brilliant mares, with the likes of Quevega, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag all earning him incredible success. He has two potential superstars on his hands right now, with Laurina and Benie Des Dieux. The question, however, is where does he use them?
There is a lot of suggestion that Laurina will be thrown in at the deep end and asked to tackle the Champion Hurdle. There, she will come up against Buveur D’Air, arguably the greatest hurdler since Faugheen was in his pomp. Can a lightly-raced, 5-year-old win against stronger, older males? Mullins has achieved the feat before and you can see that Laurina is respected with the 4/1 odds (Bet365) in the current markets.
For Benie Des Dieux, it might be a case of stick to what you know. The 7-year-old won the Mares’ Hurdle last time out and looks set to duel with Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade at the 2019 Festival. Apple’s Jade is favourite at 7/4, with Benie Des Dieux at 4/1(William Hill). It’s probably Mullins’ easiest decision to make and could well be the race of the Festival.
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