Mullins remains warm on Cooldine's hopes of an upset
With plenty of pace in the Gold Cup, stamina could prove vital, writes Johnny Ward
COOLDINE was hobbling, his lameness as obvious as his bay-coloured coat. On a normal day, Willie Mullins would have brushed it aside: just another small setback every trainer must contend with. But this was no normal day: the RSA Chase of 2009, for which the son of Beneficial was a heavily-backed favourite under Ruby Walsh, was only three hours away.
"He was the soundest horse all along," the champion trainer reflects, "and we identified it as possibly a nail in his foot. We took out the nail and it seemed to give instant relief; rather than put another nail back in, we glued on the shoe and once he got on grass, he was fine."
Mullins opted to stay silent as the race approached. In his own words: "the die was cast. If Ruby wasn't happy with him going down to the start, that would've been that. Once a horse gets going in a race with all the adrenaline, he won't think of it. Looking at the video, you wouldn't think that he was feeling it at all."
His 16-length romp catapulted Cooldine into sudden second-favouritism for this year's Gold Cup. It is a decade since the immortal Florida Pearl found one too good in jumps racing's Blue Riband, but Violet O'Leary's latest Cup hope has little in common with the old warrior apart from their jockey's silks. "Florida Pearl had lots of gears and speed," his handler recalls. "Cooldine is a hard worker; he jumps and gallops."
Will that be enough to dethrone Kauto Star? The freakishly-good favourite is rated an astonishing 195 in the UK (he would have to give stablemate, Grand National favourite and Gold Cup each-way fancy Tricky Trickster more than three stone in a handicap). Cooldine is marked 163 here, so it is tempting to write off his chance.
Mullins has done nothing of the sort. After the eight-year-old was pulled up (having been punted into favourite) in the Lexus Chase at Christmas, the natural consensus was that he could no longer be considered a Gold Cup contender. His trainer knew otherwise.
"He wasn't well in the run-up to Christmas and in the Lexus, he ran too freely because of his preparation. After that, we got a good run before the Hennessy Gold Cup."
It showed. Except for one blunder, Cooldine leapt with virtuosity, only worn down in the last 50 yards by the gigantic Joncol. The form admittedly bore little implication that he could strike for Gold next Friday -- but the gelding has been trained all season to win one race and it was not the Hennessy.
"Since Leopardstown, I think he has improved all the time. He has had two racecourse schools over fences and he's been excellent. The Gold Cup has been the one in mind and we're happy that we're going there as well as we can.
"I think he's a big help to us, he's really in good order and . . ." At this point Mullins hesitates as if wary of getting carried beyond caution by his own high hopes. ". . . we don't have any negatives since his last run."
While the Closutton handler "sees nothing wrong" with Denman -- discarded by many as a has-been -- his forecast for how the race will pan out is intriguing. Certainly, one could ruminate over the analysis
and conclude that Kauto Star, twice a Tingle Creek winner, just might be vulnerable.
Jockey Paul Townend will not seek, a la Ballydoyle and Sea The Stars, to expose any weakness in Kauto Star, but will certainly ensure that Cooldine's abundant stamina is called upon.
"There'll be plenty of pace on in the Gold Cup, I think. [With regard to tactics], I'll leave it to Paul," Mullins explains. "I'm most worried about getting a clear round and keeping free of any trouble. If he's good enough after that . . . I think a lot of the horses in this race are stayers so it's just going to be a gallop and down to whatever jumps well and can stay on the day.
"There aren't many speed horses and they won't get to use their speed, because there'll be such a pace -- it'll be ground out of them. Cooldine has a great each-way chance."
He may just as well have said: bring it on, Kauto Star.