Willie Mullins Closutton Stables 17-April-2024. Trainer Wilie Mullins pictured ahead of morning exercise. Photo Healy Racing / Racingfotos.com

Monday Musings: Willie’s Big Nose(s)

I was going to try to demean a little Willie Mullins’ amazing Saturday at Ayr, his four-timer surely guaranteeing him a first and unique UK NH trainers title for an overseas stable, writes Tony Stafford.

My line was: where were the Gordon Elliott hordes, seven in the previous week’s Grand National and, who can forget, 14 in the Troytown Chase at Navan in November?

I thought maybe the two dominant forces (one rather more than the other it’s true) might have had a chat, but on further research, I see Gordon didn’t run anything in the Ayr race last year either!

So it was left to Willie to run six, mostly horses that had been slogging through heavy ground all winter and now faced with a much faster surface. The shortest-priced, Mr Incredible, refused to jump the first fence from miles behind, and another unseated there, but that was it.

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The remaining quartet finished first, for £110k, then fourth, fifth and sixth in the 26-runner race – if they can run 26 around Ayr, why not 40 at Aintree? Only one horse fell.

Here, it’s about time we started to marvel at the skills of Paul Townend, for so long dismissed in some circles as merely an inferior replacement for Ruby Walsh. Like the big-race win on Macdermott, ridden by Danny Mullins, the following three-mile handicap hurdle success on Chosen Witness was also by a nose, clinched in the last stride.

Earlier, multiple Grade 1 hurdle winner Sharjah was coaxed to stay a previously never attempted three miles under 12st in a novice handicap chase in the patient hands of Townend. Might we see the winner in next year’s Grand National as a 12-year-old?

There was a marmite-like divided reaction to the no-fall Grand National debate last weekend. The BHA and no doubt the top Irish trainers, for; others, like Chris Cook of the Racing Post and Geoff Greetham, former boss of Timeform, sharing my view that it’s not really a Grand National anymore. Probably, if anything, the once-feared fences will remain at best as they were last weekend, or even become easier to placate the ever-closer attention of the Animal Welfare adherents.

Gordon Elliott does have entries for Sandown’s end-of-season party on Saturday but unlike in the earlier days of the Pipe/Henderson and Pipe/Nicholls last-day cliff-hangers, his will only add to the potential Irish domination on the day.

The four Mullins horses that took chunks of the money on offer in Saturday’s big race would generally have been hard to assess, mostly stepping up in class. The trainer has an abundance of horses already at the top but many more coming through the grades. How can you (or maybe even he) put a figure on such potential for improvement?

After Sandown, there’s Punchestown of course. I wondered how many of our top trainers will be involved in a competitive way? Nicky Henderson has ten entered at the opening stage, including Aintree winners Jonbon and Sir Gino, slipped in surreptitiously almost into a Mullins-dominated meeting often with up to ten potential contenders in each race.

Mostly, none of the stars was needed to collect the two biggest prizes at Aintree and Ayr.

Dan Skelton seems to be giving it a miss while Paul Nicholls’ trio includes the so far unraced for him but eagerly anticipated €740k buy Coldwell Potter. Jonjo has a quartet in one bumper and we might see Aintree bumper runner-up Tripoli Flyer for Fergal O’Brien. Less likely, there’s an entry for Corach Rambler.

As I said last week, Willie Mullins takes his success with great dignity, but it does tend to get on one’s nerves after the continuing monopoly!


The 2024 flat-race season finally got going with Newmarket and Newbury last week and now it’s less than a fortnight to the first two Classic races. If anyone was expecting the Craven Stakes to indicate a potential threat to City Of Troy, they would probably be thinking again.

Richard Hannon had his Haatem ready to make a winning return and last year’s Group 2 Richmond Stakes scorer added another good prize to his tally with an authoritative three-and-a-half length verdict over the Gosdens’ Eben Shaddad. Sighters from the Charlie Appleby and Aidan O’Brien teams were well behind.

When Haatem won the Richmond, it followed an earlier six-and-a-half length demolition by the O’Brien colt in the Superlative Sakes on Newmarket’s July Course. Haatem’s final run coincided with City Of Troy on his next appearance, an all-the-way victory in the Dewhurst Stakes by almost four lengths from Alyanaabi – Haatem was eight-and-a- half lengths back in fifth.

You can still get 4/6 about the brilliant Coolmore horse, his price only buttressed by second favourite Rosallion, trained by Haatem’s handler Richard Hannon. His horses have made a great start to the season, not least winning nice races for long-standing stable owner Julie Wood.

I love her strategy. Rather than keep her good horses, she enjoys racing them and then, even the fillies, sells them on. Last week she had two first time out winners on the same Newbury card, Voyage in the ten-furlong maiden, and Star Style, a Zoustar filly in the seven-furlong newcomers’ race.

Stretching more than five lengths clear of some well-related if less talented fillies, Star Style filled the usual Julie Wood sourcing pattern.

Preferring to buy on her own judgment as foals rather than wait for agents to tell her what’s nice a year later, she happened to take a liking to this filly, who is out of a mare she raced, Sweet Cicely. Star Style will, I’m sure, more than live up to her name.

One agent who is becoming ever more prominent is Sam Sangster, with his horses with Brian Meehan. Last year they had Isaac Shelby as an example of his skills at the sales and, at Newmarket last week, Jayarebe romped home in the Feilden Stakes in the manner of a guaranteed high-class performer.

Up with the pace throughout, he strode clear of some smart types to win by almost four lengths in the fastest time of the day on the drying ground.

Half an hour later Godolphin’s five-year-old Ottoman Fleet gained a repeat victory in the Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes, fully extended to hold fast-finishing Astro King, winner of last year’s Cambridgeshire under a record weight, and Hi Royal, last year’s 2000 Guineas runner-up. The two winners carried the same weight of 9st2lb which makes the three-year-old’s performance 10lb superior, allowing for weight-for-age.

He carries the lucky (for Meehan) colours of Iraj Parvizi, whose Dangerous Midge won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf for Meehan at Churchill Downs. Jayarebe has no Classic entries, but the likelihood is that he could be supplemented for the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly.

Later on the card, there was a suggestion of yet another great buy by Sam Sangster when the three-year-old filly Kathmandu outran her 40/1 odds to finish third in the Group 3 Nell Gwyn Stakes behind Pretty Crystal, trained by Richard Fahey, and 1000 Guineas hopeful Dance Sequence, trained by Charlie Appleby.

It was a messy race and many thought Dance Sequence ought to have won. She’s still only 7/1 for the Classic on May 5.

Before the race, Kathmandu’s connections – they go by Sangster and (Ed) Babington and she runs in Robert Sangster’s colours - were already on a winner with their 50 grand purchase. The previous evening, Kathmandu’s two-year-old half-sister by New Bay was bought for 525,000gns to join Godolphin on the first stage of the Craven Breeze-Up sale. That and black type, too.

“We’ve always thought she was good, so we entered her three weeks ago for the French 1000 Guineas. The decision on whether she runs, as ever, will be left to Brian.” Quite right too!

- TS

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