Willie Mullins admits it would be huge achievement if Chacun Pour Soi can complete his clean sweep of victories in the five championship races at The Festival™ supporting WellChild by striking gold in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Having saddled winners in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, Ryanair Chase and WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, the prestigious two-mile Grade One is the only major race missing from the illustrious CV of the most successful trainer in Festival history. The closest Mullins has come to success is second place with Un de Sceaux (2016) and Min (2018).
However, the Closutton handler appears to have outstanding claims of setting the record straight this year with the lightly raced nine year old, who was forced to miss the race 12 months ago after suffering a late setback.
The Susannah Ricci-owned gelding is unbeaten in three starts this season, with his latest two victories coming at Grade One level at Leopardstown in the Paddy Power Rewards Club Chase in December and this month’s Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.
Mullins said: “It would be huge for the stable and everyone here to get that (Champion Chase) win and have all the Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival.
“When we started off we just wanted a runner and then a winner, not dreaming we could be in the position we’re in today, but it’s something we’ve been lucky with and I’d love to do it.
“Hopefully he will give us a chance to try and put that away. He’s in great form since Leopardstown and does everything right at home, so fingers crossed.
“It hurts, but at Cheltenham, every 35 minutes it’s a new page and you don’t really get to think about it or for it to sink in and thankfully we had a good Cheltenham last year so it’s history.
“It’s different if you had one horse, you would probably wallow in it, but as I said to the lads ‘just put it behind us and get on to the next race’.
“He’s like that. Dermot rides him and there’s never anything wrong with him, until the morning of the race last year. He had his troubles early on in his career but now everything has settled down he just goes up the gallop every morning and does his work.
“We want to get there and see what he can do at Cheltenham can he be as good as Leopardstown. He is one of the ones if you had to pick the top five or six travelling over, you’d say he is one that you are really hoping can bring his ‘A’ game there.”
Last year’s Champion Hurdle runner-up Sharjah will bid to put his defeat in the Irish equivalent on his last start at Leopardstown behind him by going one better to give Mullins a fifth victory in the race, and first since 2016.
He added: “I’m happy with him and maybe that race (Irish Champion Hurdle) just comes too soon for him after Christmas. It’s funny he’s done that twice.
“Patrick has his own way of riding him, he likes to sit and wait and he’ll probably do that. The better the ground the better the chance and if he can adjust his tactics a bit, it might make the difference.”
Dual Grade Three scorer James Du Berlais is on course to make his eagerly awaited debut for Mullins following his switch from the Robert Collet yard in France in the Grade One feature on March 16th.
He added: “He had a very busy season in France last year, and was bought by Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Soude) as a novice chaser, but it’s a long time to wait so we put him in training.
“I was happy to run him somewhere and I’m not going to run him in the Stayers’ Hurdle. I said ‘let's run him in the Champion Hurdle and let him have a go there’, rather than do nothing the whole spring.
“I was delighted to see he’s rated 167 on English ratings, so that puts him in there with a shot. It’s going to be a true run race and that will suit.”
Although stablemate Saldier has beaten only one rival home in two starts this season Mullins is favouring an outing in the Champion Hurdle for the seven year old.
He added: “He’s another I entered in the County Hurdle this morning, but his aim all season has been the Champion Hurdle and both me and Rich (Ricci) would like to see him end up in there and we’re pressing every button to get him there.”
One horse who will be missing from Mullins’ Champion Hurdle contingent is last year’s impressive County Hurdle winner Saint Roi, who has met with a setback.
He added: “Unfortunately he is out of Cheltenham. Chatting to JP (McManus, owner) the other day we came to the conclusion we are not happy with him and he won’t run at Cheltenham.
“He just hasn’t gone forward and he has had one or two little niggles and JP was happy to let him get over those entirely.”
Multiple Grade One-winning chaser Kemboy, who holds entries in both the Ryanair Chase and WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup, could bid to make it fifth time lucky at the Festival in the by reverting to smaller obstacles in the Paddy Power Stayers’
He added: “We have to look at every option and I want to chat to connections, but we know he stays and hurdles are no problem to him, so he had to be entered anyhow.
“He seems fine after the Irish Gold Cup and we’re happy with him. We are happy with the whole team.”
Stablemate Bacardys, who finished third in the race 12 months ago on his third outing in the three mile Grade One prize, looks set to make a fourth appearance in the race.
Mullins added: “I just wonder if it is a shade too short for him, but there isn’t another race for him, but we would be delighted if he can be placed again.”
Mullins is likely to be triple handed in the Ryanair Chase on the same card by last year’s winner Min, ante-post favourite for the two and a half mile event Allaho and Festival regular Melon, who also holds an entry in the WellChild Gold Cup.
He said: “The three of them have similar tactics/methods of running which might backfire against us a little bit but at the moment I would say that’s their number one call unless we change at the last minute.
“I always thought Allaho was going to be a three mile out and out staying chaser the way he gallops and jumps, but his sire probably holds him back a little bit from having huge stamina, so he may just have a higher cruising speed at a shorter distance.
“He jumps very well and if you can match the two possibly over that shorter trip might suit him.
“Nothing has shown up with Min (after the Dublin Chase) and I’m not really worried. He just missed one fence down the back and took off too soon.
“Patrick did say he felt he wasn’t galloping and maybe the pace was too fast for him over that shorter trip and we shouldn’t have run him over the shorter trip – so once things weren’t happening we were happy to pull up.
“Looking at the re-run of the race at Christmas, I think Melon will probably have to end up there and we’ll have to adjust tactics for the day.
“We looked at Christmas and the race the other day and he doesn’t enjoy being held up. He much preferred what he was doing at Christmas (tracking the leaders) and possibly the trip was too long (last time) so that’s why we will probably go for the shorter trip.”
Mullins looks to have a particularly strong hand in the novice races at The Festival™ supporting WellChild, with a number of favourites across the four days.
Mullins, who was the leading trainer at last year’s meeting, is responsible for the first two favourites of the week in Appreciate It (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and Energumene (Sporting Life Arkle Trophy Novices’ Chase).
Energumene’s clash with the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin is one of the most anticipated rivalries of the entire week and Mullins has provided a positive update on his charge – who is a 5-2 second favourite with Sky Bet for the Grade One contest at the time of writing.
He said: “I’m looking forward to running him. We bought him out of an English point-to-point and we always knew he could gallop, but to gallop and jump the way he does over fences is really exciting.
“You buy horses hoping they can do something like that, but it usually takes two or three years to find out by the time you’ve won a bumper and gone over hurdles before chasing, and they don’t all turn out like that, so it’s nice to have one like him.”
Asked if he needs to make the running in the race, Mullins replied: “I don’t think it’s essential - he goes his own gallop, but we never said he needs to make the running and we won’t be hanging back. We have no problem with him staying, it was whether he’s fast enough for two miles – so that’s why we’ve tried him over two miles. He’s had two runs and he seems to have plenty of speed.”
Mullins has a whole host of potential runners in the novice contests throughout the week, who he assessed here:
Appreciate It (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
“I had him down as a stayer so the fact that he has that turn of foot is good too. He owes me - he destroyed a pair of sheepskin gloves of mine on Saturday evening! But we’re here with him, and his two performances have been good so far, so we’re pleased with him.
“What he did at Christmas was terrific, and I’m wondering whether he was as good in himself at Dublin or was it a better race? He did what he had to when he had to and we all thought he was in trouble turning for home, but when Ballyadam came to him he got the job done – which was the sign of a good horse, and he’s been in great form since.”
Blue Lord (Sky Bet Supreme, Novices’ Hurdle)
“We could see Blue Lord as well. After he won his maiden at Punchestown I was thinking two and a half for him, but when I ran him at Naas he was too free.
“I think his jumping is good enough and maybe we’ll just have a bolder approach to how we ride him.
“I know connections have entered him in the County Hurdle this morning, but I’m not sure he has the expertise to jump with them in the County. He might have the ability but I’m not sure he has the technique yet and I’d rather have him with the novices.”
Franco De Port (Sporting Life Arkle Trophy Novices’ Chase)
“I think he will run here. I know the Irish Arkle is 2m 1f and 100 yards and the Cheltenham version is probably a furlong and a half shorter, but that will probably be run at a very fast pace.
“It’s the obvious thing to me, that we have one horse at the front and the other to hopefully do what he did at Christmas if the race falls apart.”
Blackbow (Sporting Life Arkle Trophy Novices’ Chase, Marsh Novices’ Chase)
“I’m wondering whether I should go for a longer tip with him. I’m not sure if he’s an out and out two miler at this stage of his career. I’m going to do some thinking about the Marsh. “
Saint Sam (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)
“We’ve been sort of aiming him for the Triumph, but he has an entry in it. I’ll have a chat with connections. I do know chatting to them after his last run that we were all set for the Triumph but we’ll see what happens.”
Lord Royal (National Hunt Chase)
“He ran a cracker at Navan last time out. He’d been disappointing every time since he won his maiden hurdle (at Clonmel), but he’s best held on to. I was delighted with the way he stayed on from the last (at Navan), and whoever rides him will have more or less have the same instructions.
“I think whoever rides him needs to hold onto him a little longer, and over 3m 6f you should be able to go a little slower pace wise and that will suit him. He’s a beautiful jumper and I think he’ll improve on better ground – he’s not one to give up on and when we get it right he’s one to win a big race down the line.”
Gaillard Du Mesnil (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle)
“He hasn’t done much wrong. We ran over 2m 6f last time because we didn’t want to go back to two miles with him. I prefer this distance, and I think the pace there will suit us. He’s a horse that I like a lot and I think he’s improving all the time.
“Danny (Mullins) was very good on Stattler (at Leopardstown last month). He got the fractions right and nearly stole the race himself, but when push came to shove, Gaillard Du Mesnil showed what he’s made of and hopefully he’ll be able to do that at Cheltenham too.
Monkfish (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase)
“It’s been so far so good with Monkfish, and I’m just hoping he can come back and do the same at Cheltenham. He had a gruelling race there last year (when winning the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle) and I just hope he doesn’t remember that.
“Sometimes horses can, but he’s done everything right this season and done it well within his scope. He’s good at home at the moment and he’s one that I’m really looking forward to at Cheltenham.”
Kilcruit (Weatherbys Champion Bumper)
“He ran a terrific race (at Leopardstown in February) and I was as stunned as you were, as I thought the grey horse Ramillies would improve a lot, but I was stunned when I saw Patrick (Mullins) coming and never moving on him.
“He’s a tall horse but he’s very light-framed and I don’t train him that much at all, and Patrick has huge confidence in him as well. Whatever feel he gets is the one we all saw coming down the straight at Leopardstown. He’s been very good since, and he takes very little training.”
Ramillies/Cool Jet/Brooklyn Glory/Grangee/Brandy Love (Champion Bumper)
“I think Ramillies is the horse who’s probably got huge improvement in him. He’s a big strong horse, I’m not sure I’ve seen a rib on him yet but I’m hoping to see one before we get to Cheltenham.
“Cool Jet ran a terrific race after disappointing me in Leopardstown (over Christmas), and then Jodie (Townend) got a great tune out of him down at Thurles, so he’s a horse who’s possibly on the improve as well.
“We’ve a lot of fillies who have run well. Brooklyn Glory has won two and ran well the other day at Leopardstown. Grangee came and won there against all the odds but I think she’s going to improve as well.
“Brandy Love was very impressive at Fairyhouse (in December) and perhaps did too much too soon at Leopardstown and she could be a big runner in that race because of the way it will be run – so we’ve a nice team going there.”
Asterion Forlonge (Marsh Novices’ Chase)
“He is the one that I’m aiming at this point in time. We might decide to stay at home for the Ryanair Chase at Fairyhouse, but maybe with the type of season he’s having he could do both because he’s a hardy horse.
“We haven’t seen his best over fences yet. Things haven’t worked out but there’s a big performance in him. I’ll chat to the Donnellys and we’ll see but I’d say the Marsh would be his race for him.”
Hook Up (Parnell Properties Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle)
“She ran a cracker at Leopardstown last time. She came from a long way back to finish well and now looking at her against mares, that was a big performance.”
Gauloise (Parnell Properties Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle)
“I’m not sure we had the right tactics for her at Fairyhouse. We may have given away the initiative but maybe we learned a lot more about her there. I’m hoping that she’ll come back to form with more forceful tactics.”
Glens of Antrim (Parnell Properties Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle)
“I think she hasn’t shown us her best yet and she has the pedigree to go close in that race.”
French Aseel (JCB Triumph Hurdle)
“Where he came from at Ellmarie Holden’s is only down the road, so he only had to move about 20 miles. They have a similar type of woodchip gallop to what we have, so a lot of things are the same and he’s settled in here well.
“I took the view that I didn’t want to run him in the Dublin Racing Festival because he’d only just arrived here, and to instead wait and go to Cheltenham.
“He started his work three weeks ago doing little bits and now he’s up to full work and I’m very happy with what he’s done. He was very fit the day he won, he jumped very well, so I’m going to take that all on trust and just have him cherry ripe for the day.
“He looked a super horse on the day (when winning at Leopardstown over Christmas), so we’re giving him every chance not to fluff his lines before it and appear there on the day.”
Stattler (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle)
“I think he’s an ideal type. He jumps, he gallops he stays. He’s had a few runs and I’m happy he’s got what you need for the Albert Bartlett and we’re pleased with him and how he’s been since. “
N’Golo (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle)
“I don’t know what to do with N’Golo. I’d love to get some good ground and you can probably get good ground on the last day. We’ve entered him in handicaps this morning alongside every novice and he probably wants a bit of a trip in good ground.
“He has the profile of having enough runs under his belt – things might be happening a little slower for there too which might help him as he’s had a couple of bad runs, so we’ll see.”