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Friday 15 December 2017

Mullins team for Cheltenham starting to take shape

Hurricane Fly with Ruby Walsh
Hurricane Fly with Ruby Walsh

Willie Mullins expects to send a team of around 50 horses to next month’s Cheltenham Festival as he continues to hope that the “king” of his team Hurricane Fly can create history and silence the doubters by winning a third Champion Hurdle - even at the expense of stable companion Faugheen.

Mullins admitted that he was “the wrong person to ask” about what could potentially happen if Hurricane Fly and Faugheen faced the starter in the full of their health for the opening day feature in just under three weeks.

“For me, Hurricane Fly winning would be the dream result of the entire Cheltenham meeting, but I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Hurricane Fly fan so I’m probably the wrong person to ask!

“I think if Hurricane Fly was two-years younger he would be favourite as he has done everything a horse should do going for a Champion Hurdle.

“Faugheen is the future, so if he can do it, he would have the potential to win another and that would be fantastic also.”

Confirmation on what Ruby Walsh will ride is not expected until declaration morning but Mullins did indicate that the bookmakers’ suspicions ofFaugheen being the most likely candidate are more likely.

“I spoke to Ruby at length about giving Faugheen another run and he felt his jumping didn’t need it so I was happy to go with that. I have no worries about Faugheen at all.

“I’m not going to say what I would (ride) if I was Ruby and I keep saying that I just hope Hurricane Fly, Faugheen and Arctic Fire, who I’m not discounting in the race, are all fit on the Tuesday and Ruby Walsh is there fit on the Monday to make the decision but I think probably what the bookmakers say is as near an indication as to what I get rider wise.”

Walsh will also have a call to make in the Gold Cup with Boston Bob, last year’s runner-up On His Own and Thyestes Chase winner Djakadam all set to line up in the final day feature.

“I was disappointed with Boston Bob and On His Own the last day, but when you have horses good enough to go for those races, especially the likes of the Gold Cup, I think you might as well go for them because if you went and won the Ryanair you’d say ‘God, why didn’t I go for the Gold Cup’... It looks an open race,” Mullins said.

“Djakadam is very well. His performance the last day is better than the other two (Boston Bob and On His Own) however, it is only handicap form.

“I think he’ll handle the track. He took a novicey fall there last year but I don’t think jumping will be an issue and the further distance will be a help.”

With doubts over both of the last two Champion Chase winners Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy, Mullins is expecting to point Champagne Fever in that direction following his win at Gowran Park last weekend, while despite the probable absence of last year’s winner More Of That in the World Hurdle, Annie Power is expected to go for the Mares Hurdle, over three furlongs shorter.

“You would probably think after Champagne Fever’s performance the other day that he should go for the Ryanair and we haven’t fully decided but I think connections and everyone would prefer to go for the Champion Chase. The Gowran Park win will put him in a good frame of mind going back to Cheltenham.”

Annie Power looked like she may miss the entire season when being ruled out of the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in November and although her options will remain open, asking her to go three miles for her first run since the Punchestown Festival in May is unlikely.

Mullins added: “I’m aiming Annie Power for the Mares Hurdle at the minute but we’ll see what happens with the World Hurdle but having her first run she is probably going to be a bit fresher than she would be if she had a run so that is probably another good point to go for the Mares Hurdle.”

Un De Sceaux is on course for the Arkle for which Mullins admitted he is a “ridiculously short price”, but will “put up a big show at Cheltenham if he takes to the fences” while Douvan “could be the most exciting horse” he has ever taken to Cheltenham.

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