Ireland’s champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins has won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award four times in the last five years at The Festival.
He is the leading Irish trainer at The Festival, with 41 successes, and currently sits second on the all-time trainers’ list behind Nicky Henderson.
Having won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at The Festival in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, he is the long odds-on favourite to top the table again this year.
He sent out a record-breaking eight winners at The Festival in 2015, beating Nicky Henderson’s seven achieved in 2012. The eight included a record-equalling four-timer on the opening Champion Day – Henderson also had four on the second day in 2012.
Mullins has built up a formidable team of horses at his Co Carlow base and has been Ireland’s champion Jump trainer for the last eight seasons and 10 times in all. He is set to take the title again this season.
Mullins gave his comments on his entries at The Festival:
Annie Power: “We have got to supplement Annie Power for the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Vroum Vroum Mag looks a possible for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and, if that is the case, I would think Annie will run in the Champion.
“Going back two years, Annie Power was quite a short price for the Champion Hurdle. We thought she was a Champion Hurdle horse that year but we obviously had Hurricane Fly and a few others in the race.
“I don’t think the trip will be a problem for her. We have six horses here who, if they were with other yards, would be aimed at the Champion Hurdle and she is as quick as any of them.
“I think it might actually be easier for her to race over two miles with the sort of pace they will be going. It will be easier to ride her anyhow.
“I would imagine she will wear the hood. We will see how she is going before but it wouldn’t cost anything to wear it.”
Arbre De Vie: “The Coral Cup would look his job.”
A Toi Phil: “I would imagine he will go for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
“Gigginstown have a lot of horses for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and he slots in nicely for the Neptune.”
Avant Tout: “He is entered in chases and hurdles. He won a two-mile chase on good ground and a three-mile handicap hurdle at Punchestown. He could go anywhere.”
Bellshill: “His performance the other days suggests he is going to go for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
“Nothing came to light after his run in the Deloitte. He just had an off day.
“In the autumn I thought he could easily have the speed for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, especially the way he jumps, but his run the other day has put doubts in my mind.”
Black Hercules: “He is the one that I am thinking most about. He is favourite for the National Hunt Chase, but he raced very keen with Ruby the last day and I wonder, if he did that again, would he get home?
“I don’t think I have mentioned it to Mr Wylie yet but it has been on my mind to bring him back for the RSA Chase or even the JLT Novices’ Chase. I actually think he might be better suited by coming back (in intended trip) and that one is up for discussion big time.”
Blazer: “He will go up in trip for either the Coral Cup or Martin Pipe Conditions Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.”
Bleu Et Rouge: “He can go in any of the three novices’ hurdles. He has the speed to run in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but I am not sure he has the jumping ability.
“He should go for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but the owner (JP McManus) has Yanworth in that. If Yanworth stays right, I’d imagine Bleu Et Rouge will run in one of the other races. He has enough stamina to go out in trip for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
“I’m sure Barry Geraghty will want to ride him which is why he is likely to avoid Yanworth.”
Boston Bob: “After he won in Fairyhouse, I thought about the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“There is only three weeks between Cheltenham and Aintree, so we might just save him for the Grand National. Nothing has been finalised though.”
Djakadam: “I must compliment the vet in Cheltenham for the work on Djakadam’s stitches. We were lucky the cut was on his chest because we were able to keep him walking. He probably missed 10 days before he was starting back to trot but he would have had a week off anyhow.
“We did not take him to Leopardstown yesterday just in case what’s left of his stitches opened, but they look very good. I am not too worried about whether or not he jumps again between now and Cheltenham because is he is basically a good jumper.
“He is doing plenty of work. There is still more to do but I am very happy with where he is.”
Don Poli: “He is in good order. He is doing nice work and jumped well at Leopardstown yesterday.
“He loves Cheltenham and the hill. He is obviously not the fastest horse in the world, but in the RSA Chase last year he appeared in front at the top of the hill. Bryan (Cooper) never dreamt he would have enough speed but when he got daylight he shot to the front.
“The extra two and a half furlongs in the Gold Cup is exactly what he wants and I think he has enough speed.”
Douvan: “I suppose Douvan looks to have good prospects in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase.
“This time last year I could not believe what I was seeing from him on the gallops. Looking back, I can’t believe I said what I did, but I was only saying what I was seeing here and thankfully he lived up to it in Cheltenham.
“I am happy he has enough experience. He has had three starts over fences and, although it would have been great to have another, we had a very dry autumn.”
Felix Yonger: “He is good and goes for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.”
Footpad: “Both Footpad and Let’s Dance definitely run in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. I have a few others in there and we will see nearer the time.
“I like the form of Footpad’s race. We dropped him in and I thought he was very, very good in a true run race.
“The Triumph is usually a strongly run race and that will suit him.”
Gangster: “He is a definite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He was working very well and then had a small setback after that.
“He is back and rolled out perfectly this morning. He has done plenty of work to go there and is a horse with a lot of ability.
“He is very hard to train though as he keeps having little setbacks. Hopefully, we can get him back because he works fantastically when he’s right.”
Limini: “She will go for the Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle.
“Her form is very good and she shows us that at home as well. She has a fantastic pedigree – her dam is half-sister to Vintage Tipple who won the Oaks for my father.
“Her Flat form in France has worked out very well. Nicolas Clement wanted to give her one run more run in a Listed race, which I think he thought she would win, but he didn’t. The horses she beat have gone on to win Group races.
“Even though she jumped the way she did, she was still able to beat a fantastic field in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown very easily. Her jumping has been way better this season and if she can handle the hurdles in Cheltenham, she has a fair engine.”
Long Dog: “He would be one for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle or the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He fits in the same bracket as Thomas Hobson who looks set to go for the longer race.”
McKinley: “I’d say he will go for the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.”
Min: “He definitely runs in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. I don’t think he is as good as Douvan and it is hard to think he might be as good as Vautour, even though I hope he is.
“He looks very decent but we won’t know where he stands until after Cheltenham.
“His temperament is fine at home, but when he gets down to the start he takes a grip. I would imagine there will be a lot more pace on in Cheltenham and that will help him.
“When I had a winner in Galway somebody asked me about Min. There has been an undercurrent of Min, Min, Min from so early in the season that he probably has a bigger reputation than he is entitled.
“Having said that, all the form lines from his races are working out. Maybe horses like Ball d’Arc are improving but Min made him look very ordinary. If those form lines are to be believed, he is entitled to be favourite.”
Myska: “She could go for the Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle, but she disappointed the last day and that is a worry.
“She might wait for the mares’ Grade One at Fairyouse over Easter.”
Nichols Canyon: “We will have another think about the Ryanair World Hurdle for him, but I think connections are keener to go for the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
“He did disappoint us the last day. He is usually very, very good and you have to forgive a horse one bad run every now and then.”
Open Eagle: “He will go for one of the staying novices’ hurdles.”
Outlander: “It looks like he will be going for the JLT Novices’ Chase. That looks the right race for him.”
Pont Alexandre: “We are looking at the RSA Chase or the National Hunt Chase for him.”
Roi Des Francs: “We are looking at the National Hunt Chase or RSA Chase for him, depending on what Gigginstown want to do.
“Stamina is not an issue with him and I think he’s good.”
Sambremont: “He is most likely for the National Hunt Chase, although we have also given him an entry in the Kim Muir. Patrick might be tempted if he got a nice weight but the Irish don’t have a great record in that.”
Sempre Medici: “He definitely goes for the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
“He has got to improve about 10lb to get involved. He is not rated in the 160s yet but I have got nothing else to run him in, unless he goes in a handicap off top-weight and I don’t want to be doing that.”
Shaneshill: “He looks like he wants to be going further than two miles. He will probably go for the JLT Novices’ Chase or maybe the RSA Chase as there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree.”
Sir Des Champs: “At the moment, he is going to Cheltenham and I would love to have a go at the Gold Cup if I can get him into any sort of form. He has been disappointing.”
Thomas Hobson: “I am thinking of the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle for Thomas Hobson. He could be a class horse in that race.”
Up For Review: “He definitely goes for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.”
Un De Sceaux: “He is in terrific order and I would love it if the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase was tomorrow. I am counting down the days.
“We will probably do a school at a racetrack before Cheltenham. I would love it if yesterday’s schooling was this Sunday because Leopardstown is a great place to school. We will squeeze him in somewhere with a few others.
“What I loved about his win at Ascot was his style of racing. He switched off and sized up his fences instead of charging down and flying out over them. It was the most mature performance I have ever seen him put in. He did everything right and had plenty in the tank to pull away at the end.”
Valseur Lido: “To me, Valseur Lido runs in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. He looks to be crying out for more distance.
“Ruby had not asked him a question going to the last in the Irish Gold Cup and the extra two furlongs will be right up his street.
“Gigginstown might prefer to go for the Ryanair but we will see.”
Vautour: “He is in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase.
“We threw the kitchen sink at him last year and we are doing the same this year, which is why he went to Leopardstown yesterday. You will probably see him somewhere else in the meantime as well.
“I read an interesting article in the Racing Post this morning suggesting his pedigree might not have enough stamina in it. We will have to see but I think he has enough stamina and at the moment he is going for the Gold Cup. Watching him at home, he is a stayer.
“We asked him a big question in Kempton pushing on that far out. Traditionally, our horses would not be as fit at Christmas as they are in March and he has never shone at Christmas.
“He has always been way better when it comes to Cheltenham. I think with different tactics he should easily stay.”
Vroum Vroum Mag: “She has run in the races that have been there for her. I don’t have any problem racing the geldings, but the programme of races was there and they were nice races.
“I have been taken with her performances from a visual perspective rather than what she has beaten. She just goes along nicely before Ruby changes hands and she picks up two gears. I think she is a very good mare.
“At this stage, it is looking like she is going for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle. To step into open Grade One company at The Festival would be a big jump for her, even with the fillies allowance.
“You would have slight concerns about quicker ground for her but the ground is always safe at Cheltenham. It is a winter game and we need winter ground as it is safer for man and beast.”
Yorkhill: “I think Yorkhill is plenty fast enough for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
“I am happy with him at two miles even though his pedigree suggests he can go out to three miles. He is a point-to-point winner but he’s sharp and would prefer nice ground.
“He has had two runs over hurdles and two wins, including a Grade One. And the horse who finished third came out and won the Betfair Hurdle. He is good value!”
Weatherbys Champion Bumper: “I have several entered. On Racing Post ratings, Avenir D’Une Vie is top, although I thought Bacardy‘s performance at Christmas was very good.
“Very Much So won the Goffs Bumper two years ago and was meant to go jumping this season. Castello Sforza is another who was meant to go hurdling and it looks like he will go for the bumper at Cheltenham.
“They all have bits of form that give them a chance.
“Augusta Kate is impossible to rate. You have seen what we’ve seen because she shows nothing at home. I don’t know if it’s our gallop or the way we train but she doesn’t show us any ability.
“Indeed, when I went down to Listowel with her, Graham (Wylie, part-owner) asked if she was any good because he wanted to put some friends into a syndicate. I said we would win something, as in a summer bumper somewhere, but she won by 18 lengths and then won a really good mares’ bumper by 12 lengths.”
Born: 15th September 1956
Background: Six-time amateur champion rider in Ireland, Mullins both rode and trained Wither Or Which to win the 1996 Weatherbys Champion Bumper. He also partnered two other winners at The Festival, both in the National Hunt Chase, Hazy Dawn (1982) and Macks Friendly (1984).
He hails from one of Ireland’s most famous racing families, one of five children of the late Paddy Mullins, the outstanding all-round trainer, whose most famous star was Dawn Run, winner of the 1984 Champion Hurdle and 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup (the only horse to win both races).
Willie started training in 1988, having been assistant to his father and Jim Bolger. He is married to Jackie, who is very involved in the training business, and son Patrick has been Ireland’s champion amateur rider for the last six seasons.
First Winner as a Trainer: Silver Batchelor, M & J Gleeson INH Flat Race, Thurles, February 18, 1988. He also rode the horse.
Cheltenham Festival wins (41)
1995: 1 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Tourist Attraction)
1996: 1 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Wither Or Which)
1997: 1 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Florida Pearl)
1998: 2 – RSA Chase (Florida Pearl), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Alexander Banquet)
2000: 1 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Joe Cullen)
2002: 1 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (Scolardy)
2004: 1 – RSA Chase (Rule Supreme)
2005: 1 – Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Missed That)
2007: 1 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Ebaziyan)
2008: 2 – Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Fiveforthree), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Cousin Vinny)
2009: 3 – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Mikael D’Haguenet), RSA Chase (Cooldine)
2010: 2 – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Thousand Stars)
2011: 4 – Stan James Champion Hurdle (Hurricane Fly), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Final Approach), Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Sir Des Champs)
2012: 3 – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Champagne Fever), JLT Novices’ Chase (Sir Des Champs)
2013: 5 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Champagne Fever), Stan James Champion Hurdle (Hurricane Fly), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), National Hunt Chase (Back In Focus), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Briar Hill)
2014: 4 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Vautour), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Quevega), Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Faugheen), Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Don Poli)
2015: 8 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Douvan), Racing Post Arkle Chase (Un De Sceaux), Stan James Champion Hurdle (Faugheen), OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Glens Melody), RSA Chase (Don Poli), JLT Novices’ Chase (Vautour), Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (Wicklow Brave), Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Killultagh Vic)
Winner of The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at The Festival: 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015