Ireland’s champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins opened the doors to his famous Closutton stables in County Carlow for a media visit organised by The Jockey Club ahead of The Cheltenham Festival next month,
Mullins is the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history with 94 successes at Jump Racing’s Olympics.
The Closutton team in 2024 is headed by Galopin Des Champs, who will be bidding to defend his crown in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. Chasing’s Blue Riband celebrates its centenary in 2024.
Mullins said: “Galopin des Champs has come out of his last race very well and I am very happy.
“It’s going to be a tip-top Gold Cup I think and we are in great form.
“I totally think he has enjoyed being ridden off the pace in this last two starts. I had wanted him ridden off the pace for the two years before that because he was too keen and I felt he would get drawn into a battle which didn’t happen last year.
“This year I don’t mind (how he is ridden) because he stronger and more mature now and he will be up to it.
“We also have Monkfish in the Gold Cup as well as the Stayers’ Hurdle and I am thinking if enough rain comes and the ground is nice, then we will seriously have to consider him for the Gold Cup. He has got the class and I was happy that he came back in good order at Gowran, albeit over hurdles.
“At the moment, I’d say I am going to prepare him for the Gold Cup. We’ll have a word with Rich (Ricci, owner) and see what his preference is but Monkfish is in great order and hopefully we will have two runners in the Gold Cup this year.”
Talking about the likely field for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, Mullins added: “Nicky Henderson is pitching in Shishkin who won very well the other day and my neighbour Shark Hanlon has Hewick who was running great last year until he came down and likes good ground if we get that. Gordon Elliott has Gerri Colombe too so it’s not going to be a given.”
Referring to State Man who is his principal contender for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Mullins said: “State Man goes for the Champion Hurdle and I think he is great order.
“I thought his performance at Christmas was huge and more competitive than when he won the other day.
“Nicky Henderson has a habit of getting everything right for Cheltenham. We are stronger this year but I don’t know if we are better. I think we are going to have one hell of a race. I’ll leave the tactics to Paul (Townend, jockey) but I am happy to have him in the form he is in and I hope he is the same for Cheltenham.
“The Champion Hurdle winner is the Champion Hurdle winner (Constitution Hill) and he (State Man) hasn’t won one yet. He’ll have a crack this year and maybe next year but he has a bit to catch up, doesn’t he?
“He certainly doesn’t have the pizzazz of Faugheen or the speed of Hurricane Fly but he has other things that work - he jumps well, he’s so consistent at home. Anyhow he met Constitution Hill last year so hopefully we can turn the tables this year.”
Asked if State Man will be Closutton’s only Unibet Champion Hurdle contender next month, Mullins went on: “Well we took out Impaire Et Passe which was disappointing but at the moment he’s the only one we have that’s that good.
“I don’t think there’s any point in going there with Echoes In Rain. I don’t know though, she might go there, we’ll see. You don’t know what way the Champion Hurdle could cut up. What we have in is what we have in and we’ll make our mind up later on.
“Lossiemouth hasn’t done anything wrong and I know a lot of people would like her to go down the Champion Hurdle route but even if there was no Mares’ Hurdle as she is only a five-year-old I am not sure we go that route. Five-years-olds win every 25 years or so and usually in a bad year.
“She did everything right the other day and will have a chance in the future to go for the Champion Hurdle.”
In Wednesday’s highlight, the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, Mullins is set to be represented by the current antepost market leader El Fabiolo.
Mullins said: “El Fabiolo’s prep runs this year have been very good. If he can reproduce them and have a clear round in the Champion Chase, he’ll be the one at the top of the market.”
OTHER KEY CONTENDERS
Allegorie De Vassy – “She had been disappointing but we changed a few things and she won well last time. She goes back for the Mares’ Chase.”
Absurde - “He ran a cracker the other day. I think he’s very ground dependant – he’ll want good ground. There’s every chance he might go or we could just keep him at home. He’d be a player if he went but that’s a tough two miles and he might just be better off keeping our powder dry for Fairyhouse and Punchestown but once again I’ll have a word with HOS (syndicate ownership group) and they might prefer to stay at home so we’ll see what they say.”
Appreciate It – “He has been disappointing this year and hopefully we can get him back for the Ryanair Chase.”
Ashroe Diamond – “She won nicely at Doncaster and goes for the Mares’ Hurdle. She has improved by more than I expected.”
Asian Master – “He has been very impressive in his two wins and I imagine he’ll take his chance in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He as every right to as he is a slick hurdler and has shown a lot of ability. On pedigree he looks like he should be a hunter chaser but his been a revelation since he came here.”
Ballyburn – “Ballyburn has been very impressive. Pedigree-wise, you’d be thinking Baring Bingham and looking at his race record you’d be thinking Supreme. His owners have no preference and we’ll leave it open.”
Billericay Dickie - “I’m not sure Cheltenham would suit him. I’m not sure the ground would be right. At the moment he’s on the list but I don’t think we’ll go. I was surprised he won on that ground the other day – I think he’ll need way better ground.”
Capodanno – “He is only in the Ryanair Chase and we are looking at it but there are other options like Aintree to consider.”
Dancing City – “I suppose he had been disappointing me up until his last win then everything came right. A step up in trip and nicer ground helped and he goes for the Albert Bartlett for Joe and Marie Donnelly who also have State Man and Shishkin going for them.”
Dinoblue – “She didn’t miss a beat at Leopardstown against El Fabiolo and she had been working so well. I hope she’ll improve again. She made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes last year in the Grand Annual and goes back for the Mares’ Chase this year.”
Embassy Gardens – “At the moment I would be favouring the National Hunt Chase although he is also in the Brown Advisory. It’s up for discussion but is in good shape and has come out of Naas in great order. You’d have to say at the moment that unless something happens or Paul Nicholls doesn’t want to go for that race (the Brown Advisory with Stay Away Fay) you’d have to think the National Hunt Chase would be better.”
Facile Vega – “He has been a disappointment. I’ve been training him differently but still haven’t decided on a target for him as he is still in the Arkle, Brown Advisory and Turners.”
Fact To File – “His speed figures are fantastic, two speed experts have told me. He is in the Brown Advisory and the Turners. He’s done everything right and run a huge trial for both races. I think we might be leaning more towards the Brown Advisory.”
Fun Fun Fun - “She was very good the other day. She was keen. I’m not sure Cheltenham would be her ideal stop but we’ll have a think about it. She just might be too keen and too lively in the parade ring for her. There might be easier options at home. There’s a Grade One race at Fairyhouse so maybe we’ll keep her fresh for that.”
Gaelic Warrior – “Going left-handed didn’t seem to suit him last time but he did get agitated beforehand and ran too free. He was very disappointing. He seems alright now if a bit quiet in himself. Like boxers, these good horses don’t like it when they get beat! The Turners was what we had in mind but we are where we are and he still has all the options.”
Gala Marceau – “She goes for the Mares’ Hurdle again. She ran well in it last year and on her last run but has a big task ahead of her.”
Ile Atlantique – My preference all along has been the Baring Bingham. I am very happy and I thought he put up a tremendous performance in Naas when he was beaten by Readin Tommy Wrong as he did all the donkey work and got pounced on. Cheltenham will be a different race.”
Il Etait Temps – I imagine he is Arkle-bound. Danny (Mullins, jockey) got on great with him at the Dublin Racing Festival (when winning the Grade One Irish Arkle Novice Chase).”
Jade De Grugy – “She has been very impressive and goes for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. She jumps well and there doesn’t seem to be any chink in her armour. I’m very happy with how she is.”
Jasmin De Vaux – “He will be our bumper horse and I imagine there will be a few others to join him.”
Kargese – “I imagine he will go for the Triumph.”
Majborough – “Ran a cracker the other day and goes for the Triumph Hurdle. He looks very well developed for a juvenile hurdle and should progress well.”
Mistergif - “Yeah he’ll go (to Cheltenham). He won the same day (as Billericay Dickie). At the moment he’s on the list and every chance he’ll go.”
Mystical Power – “I have been very pleased with what he has shown and has shaped more like a two-miler. Like his mother (Annie Power) he has been a late developer and this fellow is improving all the time. You’d have to think Supreme Novices.”
Nick Rockett - “I was a little disappointed (after being beaten at Navan on Sunday 11th February) but then again against American Mike who was also having his first run over three miles – to me he’s a fair machine on his day but obviously he had a bad day over Christmas. I don’t think he’s qualified for the National Hunt Chase (horses need to have had four runs). That was his third run and I won’t be running him again before Cheltenham.”
Minella Cocooner (who finished third in the same race at Navan on Sunday 11th February). “I just think the way the race played out, Danny (Mullins, jockey) had planned to make it and had Gordon’s horse (Favori De Champdou) on the inside. If Danny was to ride the race he probably wanted to ride, but he couldn’t give your man 10 or 15 lengths round the inside, he had to keep him within tow and I think it cost Danny whatever chance he had. I could see what was going on inside Danny’s head. As a professional jockey he had to keep an eye on that in case he got it wrong. He wasn’t wrong to go around the outside but he got sucked into going too fast around the outside, so I’m putting a line through that run and I’m just thinking that it was just the way the race worked out for Danny. However, I’m not sure Cheltenham would be his cup of tea either. He might be better off staying at home as he gets very wound up.”
Predators Gold – “He could go for the Baring Bingham. He ran too keen last time and we could look at some different headgear,. The faster pace should help.”
Readin Tommy Wrong – “He’s in the Baring Bingham and Albert Bartlett. I don’t know I am at the moment and he could go for either race as he has stamina and class. It’s a nice position for (owners) Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Souede) to be in.”
Sharjah – “I’d imagine he will go to Cheltenham again as he always runs well there and could go for the Arkle or the Turners.”
Sir Gerhard – “I think are diverting Sir Gerhard back to the Stayers’ Hurdle. He ran a cracker last time. We know he is able to win around Cheltenham, we know he stays and we know he jumps hurdles way better than he jumps fences. He was Just a little sore after his last escapade over fences but he’s coming round.”
Photo Credit: Lorraine O'Sullivan