Mullins launches Sandown assault on trainer's crown
Willie Mullins is going all out to wrest the British Champion Trainer's title from Paul Nicholls by upping the ante and entering both Vautour and Un De Sceaux in Saturday's big races at Sandown.
Facile winner of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, Vautour is something of a surprise entry in the Oaksey Chase and could bid to make amends for an expensive fall at Aintree, where he was a long odds-on favourite.
The Closutton supremo has also entered Ballycasey, Sir Des Champs, Valseur Lido and Vroum Vroum Mag in the extended two-mile-six-furlong contest at the Esher venue,
Defending champion Paul Nicholls - who led Mullins by £45,380 at yesterday's close-of-play after his two runners at Newton Abbot failed to win - could call on Art Mauresque, former champion chaser Dodging Bullets, Rocky Creek, Saphir Du Rheu and Wonderful Charm. Al Ferof, Bishops Road and Menorah are others among the 21 entered.
In the Bet365 Select Hurdle, Mullins and Nicholls have eight of the 17 entries. Shaneshill and Vroum Vroum Mag are the pick of the Mullins possibles, with Ptit Zig and Silsol heading up the Nicholls team.
However, they all might have to go some way to beat the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained The New One, which skipped the Scottish Champion Hurdle last Saturday in favour of this.
Gordon Elliott's Diamond King, Maximiser, Vaniteux and If In Doubt add further spice to a cracking renewal. The Celebration Chase, set to feature Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux, has been reopened after only nine entries were received.
Both title rivals have entries in all the other races on what is the finale of the season in Britain, with Mullins having three possibles in the featured staying handicap, the Bet365 Gold Cup, as he attempts to snatch the trainers' championship from Nicholls.
Sir Des Champs, Measureofmydreams - an early faller in the Scottish National, and Pleasant Company could form a triple assault for this country's champion trainer.
Nicholls, himself, could have multiple runners with Wonderful Charm, Rocky Creek, Southfield Theatre, last year's winner Just A Par, and Victoria Pendleton's Cheltenham mount Pacha Du Polder all in the mix.
Philip Hobbs' Sausalito Sunrise heads the weights following the expected defections of Many Clouds and The Last Samuri.
Kerry Lee could aim to crown a wonderful first season through Bishops Road or Mountainous, David Pipe may step Dynaste up in trip, with Oscar Rock aiming to strike a blow for the north. Grand National runners The Druids Nephew, Saint Are, Le Reve and Hadrian's Approach could all run again.
Mullins said: "They're all just entries at the moment. I haven't had a chance to look through them yet, so I'll do that at some stage and see where we are."
When asked how likely Vautour was to make the Sandown trip, he added: "Everything is in the mix at the moment."
Mullins also confirmed his next runners across the Irish Sea would come tomorrow at Perth - a venue which Nicholls has opted to swerve.
He also has Miss Me Now entered in a mares' hurdle at Taunton on the same afternoon, but she will not run.