Great expectations a worry for Mullins
Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30
Having gone from eight runners in 2003 to eight winners last year, champion trainer Willie Mullins will set a record at this year's Cheltenham Festival before the first race has been run a fortnight today, having gathered a team of 60 horses for the fixture - the biggest party ever assembled from one stable for the meeting.
But, having overseen the vast majority of his runners, including Douvan - whom he regards as his stand-out chance of the annual festival bunfight in the Racing Post Arkle Chase - cantering on a rain-lashed Carlow morning yesterday, even he was awestruck when he stopped to think about it, by the size of the armada which will start setting sail from his Closutton stable next week.
"Growing up, I don't think anyone one ever dreamed of sending over this number of horses," he said. "It is unprecedented. Even on the Flat, does anyone ever send 60 horses to Royal Ascot?"
The answer to his rhetorical question is no.
"As stressful as it is, it's fantastic and I hope we can have the winners to match the team, but there is always the worry that you will have a complete blowout.
"We go in hope, others go in expectation of us having four or more winners, but I would be very pleased with half as many as last year.
"If I won only the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, I would be delighted, but a lot of people would be saying we had only two winners.
"People might think it's a bit disappointing if we don't have three or four the first day, but it's not as easy as that. In championship races, all it takes is one mistake."
A veteran of 41 Festival winners, Mullins now greets each triumph with relief rather than joy, although he admitted a long-priced winner always gave him a huge amount of pleasure.
Last year he saddled four winners on the first day, but it was the dramatic mares' race in which he encountered the biggest range of emotions.
"Going to the last, I thought 'this is it' with Annie Power," he recalled. "She fell, then Glen's Melody (another of his runners) appeared, but I thought she had got beat on the line.
"At the same time, I saw the green screens going up at the last. I thought not only do I have one horse which isn't so well but I've been beat with the other and I was rock bottom coming off that stand.
"Then I heard the result called and someone told me Annie Power had just cantered back loose.
"That was some result for her to get up - it was the biggest moment of the meeting."
It will, no doubt, surprise some people that, when it is all over, Mullins does not go home, pour himself a large drink and sit down to watch replays of every race, dissecting every move and reliving the moment.
With the exception of Vautour's spectacular round of jumping in the JLT Novices Chase - "that is one I watched back to enjoy" - he has not seen a single replay of any of last year's other seven winners.
"We might have a look at one if Patrick (his son) has ridden a winner," he explained.
"But I would rather find a good film. Some will watch a race 25-30 times: I'll switch over if it ever comes on."
Although one of the keys to his success in the past has been to aim his horses at the races they are best suited to win, having saddled the runner-up in the Timico Gold Cup no less than five times, he admitted he was keen to fire as many bullets as possible at the race which continues to tantalise him.
Don Poli, Vautour, Djakadam, and Valseur Lido are chalked up for it.
"It's a phenomenal team for a race like the Gold Cup," he reflected. "It's the Gold Cup - it should be the race we aspire to win." (© Daily Telegraph, London)