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Mullins gearing up for festival

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Willie Mullins. Picture credit: Patrick McCann

Willie Mullins. Picture credit: Patrick McCann

Willie Mullins. Picture credit: Patrick McCann

CHRISTMAS is almost a distant memory and some of the Cheltenham entries are out. It won't be long now until we are packing the finery and heading for Prestbury and the greatest week's racing of them all.

It seems like every weekend is a big one in terms of Cheltenham preparations for Willie Mullins and the next couple of days are no different as the champion trainer makes the short trip to Punchestown and the rather longer voyage to Warwick and Kempton and then back for Navan on Sunday in a bid to find suitable opportunities to keep his top notch string apart from each other. At the entry stage Mullins had made 24 entries across the three meetings and some high profile ones at that.

At Punchestown the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle is the target for the current Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Vautour who is a general 10/1 shot for the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival and he will face five rivals including the interesting Western Boy trained by Pat Fahy.

The Mullins trained five-year-old made a winning start to life in Ireland when beating subsequent winner Lieutenant Colonel by five and a half lengths without coming off the bridle and the Punchestown race looks the natural progression for him.

At Kempton, Mullins sends over Upazo for the re-arranged Tolworth Hurdle that was rained off from Sandown last Saturday and he too is an interesting player in the novice hurdle division.

Despite being a winner on both his starts this season by a combined total of 16 and a half-lengths, not every firm has Upazo in their Cheltenham betting but he is backable at 25/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Speaking to The Herald earlier in the week Mullins (pictured, right) suggested that the moving of the Tolworth to Kempton from Sandown "could be a blessing in disguise" for Upazo as the trainer said "I think the track might suit him better".

Mullins said this week that he was running the six-year-old over the wrong trip last season and now feels he is more of a two-miler so it will be interesting to see how he fares in good company tomorrow afternoon.

However, also set to line up in the Tolworth are two other prominent figures in the Supreme Novices Hurdle betting in Grade One Punchestown bumper winner The Liquidator and the Nicky Henderson trained pair of Josses Hill and Royal Boy.

With high profile runners at three meetings tomorrow, it was always going to be a topic of discussion as to where Ruby Walsh would go but it is with little surprise that he heads for the Grade One at Kempton.

As well as Upazo in the Tolworth, Walsh will also ride Twinlight in the listed williamhill.com Chase where the six-time chase winner will be up against Captain Chris who heads the field of six declared for the 2m4f contest. One notable absentee from Kempton was the Mullins trained Rathvinden who looked set to contest the other novice hurdle on the card but the trainer has opted to reroute the six-year-old to Warwick where he will contest the Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.

David Casey heads to Warwick where he will ride the Mullins trio there which as well as Rathvinden will also feature the Grade One winning mare Glens Melody who takes on six other mares in the listed Warwick Mares Hurdle.

NO DOUBT

Casey, who had to give up the ride on Western Boy in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle at Punchestown, will also ride Vesper Bell in the 3m5f Betfred Classic Chase and there is no doubt that the Irish champion trainer has sent over five real live chances across the water.

Mullins had been expected to send juvenile Gitane Du Berlais over to Kempton for the opener on the card but he has instead opted to wait with the filly who impressed at Aintree last month. At Navan on Sunday Champion Hurdle outsider Un De Sceaux will bid to make it four from four for Mullins in the Follow Navan On Facebook Hurdle where he takes on Fred Winter winner Flaxen Flare along with Foildubh and Akatara.


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