Willie Mullins retains faith that Min can make a bold attempt to retain his Ryanair Chase title – despite an evident blip in his ultra-consistent record at Leopardstown last month.
Min, a neck winner of Thursday’s Grade One last year from Saint Calvados, has been a model of reliability throughout his career until pulling up after jumping poorly in the Dublin Chase.
Paul Townend was on board the yard’s odds-on winning favourite Chacun Pour Soi that day, over a trip three furlongs shorter than this, but the powerhouse yard’s number one jockey will renew his association with Min this week.
Mullins is also set to field Allaho, Festival regular Melon and outsider Tornado Flyer in a field of 14 which features a strong British challenge from Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura and Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher.
Ireland’s multiple champion trainer prefers to focus on Min’s largely exemplary career record, rather than his recent aberration, and reports the 10-year-old in fine form at home.
“Nothing has shown up with Min (after the Dublin Chase), and I’m not really worried,” said Mullins.
“He just missed one fence down the back, and took off too soon.
“(Jockey) Patrick (Mullins) did say he felt he wasn’t galloping, and maybe the pace was too fast for him over that shorter trip and we shouldn’t have run him over the shorter trip – so once things weren’t happening we were happy to pull up.”
Mullins hopes Allaho, a close third over an extended three miles in championship novice company at Cheltenham last year, will also be running over his optimum distance this time.
His only concern for his three principals is that they could conceivably compromise one another’s chances.
“The three of them have similar tactics and methods of running – which might backfire against us a little bit,” he said.
“I always thought Allaho was going to be a three-mile, out-and-out staying chaser – the way he gallops and jumps – but his sire (No Risk At All) probably holds him back a little bit from having huge stamina, so he may just have a higher cruising speed at a shorter distance.
“He jumps very well and if you can match the two, possibly over that shorter trip it might suit him.”
Melon has run with great credit in defeat at the last four Festivals, finishing second each time, and he too has had the Mullins camp scratching their heads over his best trip of late.
“We looked at Christmas and the race at the Dublin Racing Festival for Melon, and he doesn’t enjoy being held up,” added the trainer.
“He much preferred what he was doing at Christmas (tracking the leaders), and possibly the trip (an extended three miles) was too long (last time).”
Bailey did make an initial Gold Cup entry for Imperial Aura, a Festival handicap winner at close to this distance 12 months ago, but the Ryanair was always by far his most likely target.
The Cotswolds trainer said: “We go there with a very strong chance.
“I think it’s a very strong an competitive race, as they all are (at Cheltenham).”
Imperial Aura uncharacteristically unseated his rider David Bass when evens favourite in a Kempton Grade Two to win for the fourth time in succession on his last appearance two months ago.
But Bass said: “He’s schooled brilliantly since Kempton, and I find his jumping is better the quicker he’s going, so the way the Ryanair should pan out will suit him.
“I tend not to be as much of a form analyst as usual (at the Festival), because I just have to concentrate on my horse.
“The Ryanair looks wide open – you could give a chance to so many, so I think it will be a cracking race. I think he’s good enough to win, and I’m excited to ride in the race.”
Henderson has justifiably high hopes too for Mister Fisher, kept fresh since his decisive Cheltenham victory in December’s rerouted Peterborough Chase.
“He’s a lovely horse with a great temperament and a great attitude – a proper professional,” he said.
“He won the Lightning Novices’ Chase over two miles at Doncaster last year, so he’s got the pace, and he stays and jumps.
“I’d be very hopeful he’ll be competitive.”
Amy Murphy’s Peterborough runner-up Kalashnikov returns for the Ryanair too, with Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies – second in the 2020 Arkle – and Denise Foster’s two-time Festival winner Samcro also in the line up.
O’Brien’s confidence is boosted by Fakir D’oudairies’ Cheltenham form.
“He’s been a fantastic horse for us and has shown a liking for Cheltenham in the past – winning a Grade Two juvenile hurdle, finishing fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and second in the Arkle Challenge Trophy,” he told Betfair.
“He looked better than ever on his latest start when second to Chacun Pour Soi in the Dublin Chase.
“We have always thought that mid-range trips such as this would suit him, and we are really looking forward to seeing what he can do over it. It looks a wide-open race, and I hope he will run a big one.”