Mullins leads way but Elliott has a fine team of auxiliaries
In this corner last week, we ran the rule over Willie Mullins' legion with an eye on the all-pervasive Cheltenham Festival.
As of now, the insatiable champion trainer is responsible for 12 favourites for the 28 scheduled races at the four-day March climax.
He again flexed his muscles on either side of the Irish Sea on Saturday, when he saddled seven runners, plundering four winners and three seconds.
He departed Leopardstown yesterday with a further three seconds, Killultagh Vic and Ruby Walsh ensuring it wasn't a rare blank day with that scarcely believable win in the novices' chase.
It is indicative of the incredible depth to the firepower at his disposal that each of Saturday's winners are some way down the pecking order at Closutton in their respective divisions. Black Hercules and Thomas Hobson, both of which scored under fine Danny Mullins steers at Warwick, probably aren't genuine Grade One horses, likewise Mullins's two Naas winners, Sempre Medici and Roi Des Francs.
For all that Mullins dominates the landscape, though, others will travel to Prestbury Park with live chances, so it would be remiss not to explore the auxiliaries, leaving aside the handicaps for now.
Of the raiders, Gordon Elliott is assembling a team that is likely to be second only to Mullins (below) in terms of quality. Again, the next few weeks will see further clarity brought to bear, but, in Don Cossack, Elliott has leading Gold Cup contender, while No More Heroes is a worthy RSA favourite and Tombstone could be a player in one of the novices' hurdles.
Delegation Throw in potential dark horses like The Game Changer and Prince Of Scars and Elliott has the core of a delegation that would have been considered strikingly substantial just a few short years ago, before Mullins redefined the norm.
It is still substantial in its own right, of course, and there is a distinct hint of the maroon and white of Gigginstown House Stud running through it. It is a similar story with Elliott's Co Meath neighbour, Noel Meade. His Road To Riches has been seen just once this term, but looked in rude shape at Clonmel in November. The former champion has identified next month's Irish Gold Cup as the most suitable target for last season's Gold Cup third, and it isn't beyond Road To Riches to make a bold statement at Leopardstown.
Meade and Gigginstown could also run Wounded Warrior in the February 6 Grade One, while the same firm's Disko may have his credentials tested in the Deloitte Novices' Hurdle. That could be a critical afternoon for Meade.
Gigginstown's Identity Thief will swerve a joust with the likes of Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire in Sunday's BHP Irish Champion Hurdle. He is many people's idea of a live outsider for the real thing come March, and will spearhead a typically select Henry de Bromhead Cotswolds sally.
The highly effective Co Waterford handler has a Champion Chase contender in last year's third Special Tiara. His unfortunate Tingle Creek Chase runner-up could be joined by stablemate Sizing Granite in having a final prep in Sunday week's Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown, while Supasundae could warm up for a Supreme Novices' Hurdle foray in a Listed race the same day. Sizing John was well beaten by Douvan over Christmas, but, novice chasing being what it is, it would be unwise to discount such a high-quality animal from featuring prominently in either the Arkle or the JLT.
Anibale Fly could earn a place in one of the novices' hurdles for Tony Martin, who will doubtless depart with a stronger team that might currently seem the case after a few subdued months by his standards.
Jessica Harrington might pitch yesterday's likeable winner Our Duke into the deep end for the Deloitte, with Ttebbob another that could yet restore its reputation. Harrington will surely have a few carefully placed darts to fire. Aidan and Joseph O'Brien have Triumph Hurdle and Champion Bumper contenders in JP McManus's Ivanovich Gorbatov and Aspen Colorado, while Alpha Des Obeaux (Mouse Morris), Windsor Park (Dermot Weld) and Martello Tower (Mags Mullins) are players in the World Hurdle.
McManus's Enda Bolger-trained On The Fringe and Gilgamboa are other potential travellers of note, as may be Zabana. Chinned in the 2015 Coral Cup before finishing third behind Jezki and Hurricane Fly at Punchestown, he made a big impression on his Leopardstown fencing bow. Sporting the striped Chris Jones silks immortalised by Klairon Davis 20 years ago, Zabana will now head back there for the Dr PJ Moriarty Novices' Chase. He could yet emerge as a serious player for Meade's former long-serving deputy Andrew Lynch, who has saddled just four winners this term.
That leaves Lynch one shy of his career-best tally, having saddled just eight horses. As such, he is firmly in the small-scale handler bracket, so it would be great to see him claim next month's Grade One before daring to dream even bigger.
By the same token, Lynch's Co Meath colleague Gavin Cromwell will have a cut at the same day's Grade One juvenile novices' hurdle with Jer's Girl. A sales reject, the Jeremy filly went down fighting at the Foxrock venue over Christmas and might not be done with just yet.
Walk In The Park
for Derby second
We recently observed in these pages how Walk In The Park's stud fee of €3,500 was one of the stallion business's most striking bargains.
The sire of Douvan and Min has been standing in France at Haras De La Huderie near Deauville. He reportedly has less than 70 offspring registered in France in the past three years, but he could be on the verge of some increased activity and a bump in price.
Bought out of Willie Browne's Co Tipperary stable at a breeze-up sale in 2004 for £283,500, Walk In The Park sported Michael Tabor's silks during his racing career. The son of Montjeu won just once in 15 outings (including a hurdle) for John Hammond, but was second to Motivator in the 2005 Derby.
His history is significant, because he was then sold in 2007 for €195,000. Nothing has been confirmed, but there has been a suggestion he will again change hands, possibly for a move back to Ireland to stand at Grange Stud in Fermoy. The Co Cork outfit is one of Coolmore's National Hunt wings. Suffice to say selling him was a rare error of judgement on their behalf.
Meanwhile, Kieren Fallon, who twice rode Walk In The Park, has been reported as stating that he will continue his riding career in America on a permanent basis.
Tweet of the weekend
Katie Young (@katieayoung)
National Service wins again for @gelliott_racing & @EASYFIX1 #flying #lovesengland
One of Gordon Elliott's staff draws attention to the versatile handler's feat of winning two races in three days with National Service. Successful for Liam Keniry at Wolverhampton on Friday at odds of 6/1, he followed up at Kempton yesterday at 11/4 for Timmy Murphy. It was an unlikely if aptly-named amalgamation in a six-furlong handicap, as both Elliott and Murphy are former Grand National winners.
544,455 Euros that Killultagh Vic's remarkable Leopardstown recovery cost the brave in-running punters who laid him on Betfair at 1,000 after his last-fence blunder. Easy come...