Sunday 15 December 2019

Mullins big guns ready to turn up heat

The Willie Mullins-trained Faugheen is set to return to Leopardstown for this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
The Willie Mullins-trained Faugheen is set to return to Leopardstown for this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

When the conversation switches to the importance of this weekend's Dublin Racing Festival for Willie Mullins if he is to retain his Irish trainers' championship, there's a glint in his eye as he notes that "it's all there to play for".

Mullins has been top of the training pile 10 years in succession - 11 in total - but with a deficit of more than €600,000 to Gordon Elliott, he has assumed the unfamiliar role of underdog and appreciates the opportunity which Leopardstown's stellar two-day festival offers to eat into that lead.

With a plethora of prize money available, the Closutton crop are ready for battle.

There will be no dream meeting of reigning Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air and Faugheen - that duel will likely wait for Cheltenham as Nicky Henderson keeps his star seven-year-old at home - but Mullins has his best ammunition at hand.

Faugheen, the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero, has been "showing all the right signs" since running a shocker at Christmas and will line up alongside Melon in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle on Saturday where English raider Defi Du Seuil, trained by Philip Hobbs, looks likely to oppose.

"Faugheen seems to be coming right at home. He seems to have left it behind him. I'm very happy with the way he is now but we won't know until push comes to shove in the race and then we'll know if it was just a one-off or if there's something deeper there that we haven't discovered," he said.

As regards speculation of Faugheen being interfered with prior to an off-colour display in the Ryanair Hurdle, Mullins rubbished such notions.

"If someone is doing something the only way they can take advantage of it is to back the horse or back the other horses and there didn't seem to be any untoward shift in betting patterns, so we've dismissed that one," he added.

The head of the Coral Dublin Chase market is also led by two of Mullins's finest with the enigmatic but brilliant Yorkhill set to drop down in trip and square off against Min in what will be one of the duels of the weekend.

"I wasn't disappointed at Christmas with Min, he won. He got bumped from behind and everything. He probably did too much in the early part of the race and it left him a little flat later in the race," Mullins said before giving his two cents on Yorkhill.

"Yorkhill is too difficult a ride over a trip. He'll certainly be a lot easier to ride over a shorter trip. He jumps well enough to handle that sort of pace. We'll find out a lot more after Sunday and see what other direction we could go with him if need be."

With Ruby Walsh still nursing a broken leg, riding arrangements for Yorkhill and Min have yet to be discussed but Mullins does expect Paul Townend to pick Killultagh Vic over Djakadam in the Unibet Gold Cup while Footpad hasn't missed a beat over fences and tackles the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase.

"If everything goes right this week, we'll see him in the Arkle (at Cheltenham). If I can keep him at the sort of pitch (as last day), that would do me. So far he looks a 'complete' novice."

After claiming Newbury's Ladbrokes Trophy Chase by a neck last month, Mullins admits Total Recall is flung in on his return to hurdles "with around 30lbs in hand on ratings" for Sunday's William Fry Handicap Hurdle.

One man not averse to a handicap coup is Tony Martin and the Meath trainer is excited to pitch Paddy Power Chase winner Anibale Fly into Grade One company as his eight-year-old tackles the Unibet Irish Gold Cup.

"He's entitled to take his chance. He's a big galloping horse. The last day at Leopardstown he was very good so why not go back again," Martin said.

Irish Independent

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