Mullins calls for prize money to be doubled at Cheltenham
Willie Mullins has called for a dramatic increase in prize money at all the major jumps meetings.
The champion trainer was speaking at a press morning in his Co Carlow yard that was organised to promote next month's Cheltenham Festival.
He suggested that a third victory in the £440,000 Champion Hurdle for his 11-year-old Hurricane Fly would be "a dream result" for him next month and that Champagne Fever would probably strive to record his third Festival win over two miles in the Champion Chase.
However, it was his comments about prize money that garnered most attention. Many of Mullins' peers struggle to make ends meet, with Charlie Swan and Joanna Morgan two high-profile names who have recently quit, citing the strained financial reality of the vocation as contributory factors.
Mullins, who has saddled 33 Festival winners, stated that even his profit margin is "small", and noted how gambling enjoys a much stronger growth than racing itself.
"I'm probably not the person to say all this but someone has to," he mused.
"Look at the figures. National Hunt racing is at a sort of a crossroads. The top end is going very well but the bottom end is not. Maybe prize money in Cheltenham for the Grade One races could be, I'd say, at least doubled, to give what we see in Flat racing - meaningful prizes.
"Jump racing is a huge ambassador for racing, Flat and jumps. What people race National Hunt horses for, it's not fair and it's not on for what they do for the sport.
"The gaming end of the game seems to be getting bigger - it seems to be getting huge and racing isn't.
"We're going very slowly. All people seem to do is keep edging it up a little bit every year. Someone should break out and say, 'Right, we've really got to reinvigorate this sport before it goes down'."
As well as confirming that Champagne Fever is more likely to run in the Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair, he suggested that Nichols Canyon could bid for his third Grade One win in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle.
Of Douvan, his 2/1 Supreme Novices' favourite, Mullins spoke glowingly. "He could be as nice a horse as I've ever sent to Cheltenham," he said of the facile Punchestown Grade Two winner.
Mullins said that his 2014 Gold Cup runner-up On His Own, Boston Bob and Djakadam all have great chances in this year's edition, and that he feels that his red-hot Arkle Trophy favourite Un De Sceaux "will be fine" once he negotiates the first few fences without any problems.
He reiterated his inclination to run Annie Power in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle instead of the World Hurdle, and declared that he could send a legion of up to 50 horses to the Cotswolds, more than he has ever sent before.
However, he saved special mention for the redoubtable Hurricane Fly, hinting that stablemate Faugheen has to step up to justify his position at the head of the Champion Hurdle betting.
"I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Hurricane Fly fan, so it's probably not fair to ask me what will happen," he admitted. "I'll be absolutely delighted if Hurricane Fly can do it - it would be my dream result for the whole of Cheltenham.
"Obviously Faugheen is the future, so if he can do it he would have the potential to win another Champion Hurdle, and that would be fantastic.
"I thought he might go chasing, but when we analysed everything and looked at what he was doing and the fact that he hadn't been beaten, everyone was keener for him to go back hurdling and Vautour to go chasing.
"We thought Vautour could possibly win an Arkle and possibly be a Gold Cup horse one day and we weren't as sure about Faugheen doing that."
Mullins stressed that he doesn't know which horse Ruby Walsh will ride in the two-mile Grade One, though he didn't challenge the bookmakers' stance of having Faugheen odds-on to be the chosen one. "Probably what the bookmakers say is as near an indication as I get as to what's going to happen rider-wise," he said.
Meanwhile, Jason Maguire looks set to miss a second successive Cheltenham Festival after receiving a 14-day ban for schooling in public on Born To Succeed at Ludlow yesterday, though he could appeal. On the eve of the Festival a year ago, a fall at Stratford left Maguire seriously injured.