Leading Jumps trainer Willie Mullins has this week shared his thoughts on his hurdling stars and gave us an idea as to what horses will be going for what races at the Cheltenham festival this season, all being well.
One of his stand out runners for the season comes from an unlikely candidate, With the County Hurdle winner Saint Roi a serious option for the Champion Hurdle this term.
The JP McManus owned gelding was a classy winner at the festival last term and did nothing to pull Mullins away for the Champion Hurdle idea on his seasonal debut when taking a Grade Three event at Tipperary.
Patrick Mullins has been trying to persuade his father that the five year old could be a serious challenger in the Grade One event.
Mullins said:“I thought he had all the ingredients to win the amateur maiden hurdle in Clonmel last year, but that is one of life’s great mysteries.
“He jumped terribly that day and we got the physio on to him, maybe he was a bit sore. Usually he is a fast jumper.
“We think this horse could be anything. To do what he did last year in the County Hurdle off the back of just two runs for us was extraordinary, you just don’t see that happen.
“He’s not the biggest, but he’s a fantastic jumper usually, he works with a lot of speed, he’s won at the track, although the Champion Hurdle is on a different one to the County, but for me he ticks all the boxes. Until he says he’s not good enough we’re going to think he is.”
Another challenger from the yard in the same decision is the ever consistent Sharjah, who has landed Three Grade One contests in the last two season and finished a good second behind Epatante in the Champion Hurdle last season.
“Last season for four or five strides I was thinking ‘here we go’, but the mare probably won quite comfortably in the end – Barry (Geraghty) was always in position A,” he said.
“A smaller field might have helped me, we went forward in the Irish Champion to follow Honeysuckle and it didn’t seem to work so we went back to ride him patiently so he could pass horses which he seems to love.
“I think he’s a huge price (for the Champion) again, I think he could be a Theatreworld and be placed in the race a couple of times and on another day – Epatante was coughing in February last year – you just don’t know.
“To me he’s a fantastic horse, he had a little break after Galway and will probably have the same programme, Morgiana then back to Leopardstown. I’d love to win a third Christmas Hurdle on him and I’d love another crack at Honeysuckle.”
Rich and Susannah Ricci have another smart prospect in Saldier, who has been very fragile to train over the last few seasons with injury after injury, but did show how good he could be when landing the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle on his only start last term.
“Saldier is back in riding away with the rest of the winter horses and we’re probably looking at following the pattern of the rest of the good hurdlers,” said Mullins.
“I think the form of his Morgiana win would put him smack bang in the Champion Hurdle picture if we can keep him right – so far we’ve had no issues with him.”
Finally Patrick Mullins spoke about the superstar mare Benie Des Dieux and what her plans would be for the season and it looks as though they will take another crack at Honeysuckle in the Mares Hurdle.
“Benie Des Dieux is back in and, like Quevega, we won’t campaign her very heavily, we want another crack at Honeysuckle, I’d love to see them meet again,” said the champion amateur.
“I think she was unlucky, but Rachael (Blackmore, Mullins’ housemate and rider of Honeysuckle) disagrees strongly.
“I think the Mares’ Hurdle has worked out, I know they could have run in the Champion or Stayers’ but it was a great race.”