Tag Archive for: Willie Mullins

Thoughts turn to rematch as heavyweight showdown lives up to all its promise

This was an equine prize fight. Two heavyweight two-mile chasers going toe-to-toe. Both big punchers looking for the knockout blow.

As pre-Cheltenham races go, the SBK Clarence House Chase was up there with the very best. Seldom do we see such a clash of the titans before March.

The parade ring had emptied ready for the showdown, Nicky Henderson was the last to leave, each step up to the main grandstand looked a shade heavier and wearier than the one before. You wondered what the toll had taken on him, such was the endless stream of phone calls and television interviews to promote the fight. Don King/Bob Arum, eat your heart out.

Enough of the anticipation. Energumene could not wait. A more slight, slender type than Shishkin, he set a furious gallop under Paul Townend and looked to have the others in trouble, especially when Nico de Boinville had to lift the Arkle winner’s head off the turf when he pecked at the sixth.

Two out and Willie Mullins’ charge looked to have brushed off Shishkin the way he brushed through the fences. But then Shishkin responded.

“Two out, it looked like we were on the ropes a little bit, but one thing this horse will do is fight for you,” said Henderson.

“Mind you, that is the biggest fight he has been in. For both of them it was the biggest fight they have been in.

“He certainly doesn’t give up and as Nico said going to the last ‘I thought I’d got him’. He picked up.”

That he did. And by the line he was going away.

“He obviously does stay two miles properly well,” added Henderson.

“But this was round one. We all know where round two is going to take place. Hopefully.

“Our jobs, Willie and I, is to get them there in one piece and have a rematch. It is very, very close, there is nothing between them, is there?”

There was a long-looking, widening length at the line and there was no doubt that Mullins knows he has to find more from Energumene between now and the Festival.

“We have no excuses,” said Mullins. “We ran a cracker, jumped well and did everything right.

“I was even shaking on the stand as the horses passed the post – it was a terrific race. Two good jockeys, two good horses played right down to the wire.

“I think Nicky gave the quote of the week when he said racing really wants this race, except for the two trainers – we were probably the two who didn’t want to see our champions beat.

“Maybe Shishkin didn’t jump as well as we did and whether there is more improvement in him, I don’t know. I was watching my own horse, but Shishkin made two mistakes I think, so that would leave you to think we have a bit to go yet before we beat him.

“Shishkin is not too bad around Cheltenham. You would have to think we are going to find it hard.”

Henderson was quick to put up his guard and was not going to be drawn in.

“When you are jumping that fast, you have got to meet everything spot on. You get lucky one day, you get unlucky another day,” he said.

“We made one peck going down the hill (the sixth fence), although I think we might marginally be better going left than right-handed.

“As I said in the week, I hope it will be what it is being billed as, but I hope it doesn’t ruin the Champion Chase.

“We didn’t want one smashing the other up to smithereens. Firstly, we all want to get round, be safe and recover.

“That they all come home safe and sound. Obviously, that was a battle and now we have to get them over that and get them ready for what will be round two, but it is actually for the championship.”

As in boxing, there are different eras and comparisons, fascinating as they are, cannot be drawn between Muhammad Ali and Tyson Fury. Each are very different.

Henderson has won the Queen Mother Champion Chase with the likes of Altior and Sprinter Sacre and he said: “The Sprinter Scares and Altiors were fantastic, but they might have had easier times.

“They were going off 2-1 on and everybody expected them to canter round and go and collect the prize and goodbye.

“Shishkin is tough. He is game. He is very honest. I just hope the race was what everybody wanted and it was good. It is good for the sport, good for the game and it was a proper race. The crowd has been fantastic.”

Nico de Boinville savours a special moment
Nico de Boinville savours a special moment (Adam Davy/PA)

For De Boinville, the race meant plenty. Winner of the Gold Cup among plenty of other top prizes, the Clarence House Chase victory simply underlined his coolness on the big day.

“All credit to the horses in behind. After the last, he just seemed to motor away,” he said. “I think that is one of the best races I have ever been involved in.

“One could have ducked the other, but we’ve both come to the party and shown what we can do.

“It’s not so much the prizes you win, it’s how you go about winning them. The pace of the race today, there was no let-up. That’s why we want to be riding champions against other champions.”

And much of the credit must go to Mullins, Henderson, Kim Bailey and Dan Skelton, those responsible for the quartet who ran. They each played a part in building up the race to what it was entitled to be – an epic prize fight before the championship.

“It is our duty to do that. It is our responsibility,” said Henderson.

“I have had a lot of fun in racing. It has given me a lot of pleasure. We owe it to the people in racing and the people here and on the television to try to put a show on.

“That is why I get a little bit upset. The Tingle Creek issue still rankles, because I was really upset about it.

“We are doing our best for the horse by not running him. We are doing our best for racing and that is all you can do. We love it, we love the sport and we love the game and races like that is what it is all about.”

He added: “They are two proper two-mile chasers. The race has been built up and it lived up to it. It was like the Bustino-Grundy days, and this fellow (Shishkin) lives in a box only about for away from where Grundy lived.

“They are very special horses, but today was round one and Willie and I have to go and get these boys ready for March.

“We won today, which I am thrilled about, but they went down fighting tooth and nail, and looked like they had us on the ropes.

“But we got back and now we are going on to March and they will meet again and it will be another thriller.”

Henderson’s weary gait had been replaced. There was a now a spring in his step. The pressure had been released and Shishkin will go to Cheltenham as the undefeated champion in waiting.

Yet this was a split decision rather than a knockout blow. The rematch will be well worth the money.

Ding Ding, round two.

Shishkin just gets the better of Energumene in epic Clarence House

Shishkin got up in the final few strides to deny Energumene in a pulsating renewal of the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

Both horses brought unbeaten records over fences to the table in the Grade One showpiece, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin the marginal favourite at 5-6 under Nico de Boinville.

The Willie Mullins-trained Energumene was sent off at 5-4 in the hands of Paul Townend and travelled and fenced fluently in the lead for much of the way.

It was not an easy watch for Shishkin’s supporters, with De Boinville having to get lower in the saddle at various stages of the two-mile-one-furlong journey.

The writing appeared to be on the wall for favourite-backers in the home straight, with Energumene seemingly still full of running under a motionless Townend while Shishkin – who made one fairly serious mistake and was not fluent at another fence – was being rousted along.

Energumene still appeared the most likely winner as he held a narrow advantage jumping the last, but Shishkin’s trademark turbo kicked in on the run-in to prevail by a length.

The Joe Donnelly-owned Shishkin was given a huge reception as he returned to the winner’s enclosure, and Henderson said: “It was built up and it produced. They are two great horses.

“A race like that goes back to the Grundy and Bustino day (1975 King George And Queen Elizabeth Stakes) and he (Shishkin) only lives about four boxes from where Grundy did. It was important, it was a great weekend for racing actually.

Nico de Boinville after steering Shishkin to victory
Nico de Boinville after steering Shishkin to victory (Adam Davy/PA)

“They (Townend and De Boinville) said to each other going down the hill, ‘we are flat to the boards’. It had to be that, there was no point hiding. Energumene was going to set a good gallop and we had to keep in touch.

“There were moments it looked as if we weren’t going as well but he stays very well, he possibly does drift a little bit.

“The great thing is they’ve both come home safe and sound. It was a great race. Willie and the guys are all great mates.

“There’s going to be rematch. I always said I hope it’s a good race today because then it won’t ruin the Champion Chase and they will be back to fight it out together.

“Willie and I have both got jobs to do, we’ve got to get them back from a hard race today but there’s lots of time.

He added: “This is a battle, not the war. The big day is in March and there’s nothing between them. I’m pretty sure if we can both get them there together, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Fascinating.

“It’s special when you get that kind of build up, and it became very important – Nico said it gave him the best moment of his riding career so far, which says something when you’ve ridden Gold Cup winners and things like that.

“Today was round one and Willie and I have got to go home and get ready for March – that is going to be round two.

“It (Champion Chase) is no worse a race for what happened today. We won today, which obviously I’m thrilled about, but they went down fighting tooth and nail. It looked as though they had us on the ropes, but we got back.

Nicky Henderson was unsurprisingly thrilled by Shishkin's victory
Nicky Henderson was unsurprisingly thrilled by Shishkin’s victory (Steven Paston/PA)

“Now we’ll go on to March, hopefully everything goes right and they’ll meet again and it will be another thriller.

“I couldn’t have him much better than he was today. Kempton brought him on nicely after the hiccup we had before Christmas.

“We weren’t going to duck today as I wanted the time between now and Cheltenham, rather than wait for the Game Spirit (at Newbury next month).

“I’ve now got time to freshen up and get ready for what will be another massive race.

“Fair play to Willie, who is an enormous mate and Nico and Paul are as well. We’ll go on and hope we can produce what will be another humdinger.”

Energumene lost little in defeat
Energumene lost little in defeat (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins was gracious in defeat, saying: “We have no excuses. We ran a cracker, jumped well and did everything right.

“Maybe Shishkin didn’t jump as well as we did and whether there is more improvement in him, I don’t know. I was watching my own horse, but Shishkin made two mistakes I think, so that would leave you to think we have a bit to go yet before we beat him. Shishkin is not too bad around Cheltenham You would have to think we are going to find it hard.

“He got in tight, but they are two-mile chasers meeting fences on a stride. I thought we jumped well enough, unless he was completely electric… but then if Shishkin jumped every fence as well as we did, the chances are he’d have beaten us easier, you know?”

Shishkin and Energumene all set for heavyweight showdown at Ascot

The time for talking is over, as Shishkin and Energumene – two of the most exciting horses in training – meet in the SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, Shishkin’s profile is unblemished ever since a fall on his hurdling debut at Newbury in 2019, winning twice at the Cheltenham Festival, and he retuned this season at Kempton Park over Christmas – when he left Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen trailing in his wake.

He was meant to reappear in the Tingle Creek himself and Henderson came in for plenty of criticism when he took him out of that race, believing he was not in the best of health. But he was proved absolutely right, as Shishkin subsequently returned a dirty scope.

Energumene is a rare case of a Willie Mullins star who came from the English point-to-point circuit, and just like Shishkin he has only met with defeat once for current connections.

That was in a Navan bumper back in 2019 when he finished third. It has been success all the way since then, with his smallest winning distance over obstacles eight and a half lengths, which was the case last time out in the Hilly Way Chase.

“We were not probably expecting to have this dust-up (with Energumene) quite so early in the year, but so be it – there we go. A ferry strike – that’s what we need! It will be interesting to say the least,” said Henderson.

Should Shishkin be beaten for the first time over fences, Henderson says the pair will likely meet again in March.

“If there is anything less than five lengths in it, you are going to take each other on again at Cheltenham, as there is nothing else to do,” he said.

“He did his last bit of work on Saturday and has just ticked over since.

“Thankfully it’s been relatively dry this week so the ground shouldn’t be an issue, it certainly won’t be as soft as it has been in some years for this.”

Henderson will also have eyes on Haydock earlier in the afternoon as Jonbon, a full-brother to the Mullins-trained Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Arkle winner Douvan, puts his own Festival credentials on the line in the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

He will no doubt sleep a little easier if all went to plan – but were both to lose then his Cheltenham team would seem a great deal thinner.

Shishkin puts in a monster leap at Aintree in April
Shishkin puts in a monster leap at Aintree in April (Tim Goode/PA)

“It’s a big weekend, because not only have we Shishkin at Ascot but also Jonbon at Haydock. But whereas Jonbon still needs to go and prove himself, Shishkin doesn’t.” he said.

Team Energumene admit they deserve to be second-favourites based on what the pair have achieved to date, but hope this is the first of a series of clashes between the two.

“This is as exciting a race as there has been for a long time and like everyone, we can’t wait to find out,” said assistant trainer Patrick Mullins.

“The two-mile chases are the most exciting races to ride in and to watch. Shishkin deserves to be favourite, he’s achieved more, he’s won a Supreme Novices’ and an Arkle.

“Our fella has to go and beat him, he has to step up, but he’s very unexposed and I don’t think anyone can have excuses. It should be lovely ground, it’s a very fair track and they’ve both had a run – may the best horse win.”

The Mullins’ are known for their domination of the bumper scene in Ireland, yet Energumene was kept away from the major festivals in that sphere.

“He just had a little setback when he first came to us so we were minding him during his bumper season, but since he’s gone jumping he’s got so much scope that he gains ground in the air,” Mullins jnr went on.

Energumene was impressive at the Punchestown Festival
Energumene was impressive at the Punchestown Festival (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He’s filled out and he just takes your eye every day on the gallops, he has a presence about him. Hopefully he still will have after this.

“This is round one, hopefully there’s a few more rounds to come in the future. It will be great for everyone if they both run their race.”

Last year’s winner First Flow has almost been forgotten in the build up. Not by his trainer Kim Bailey, however, and he arrives at his peak having won the Peterborough Chase last time out.

“I’m very happy with First Flow. This has been his main target for this season and we’re very keen to try to retain his crown,” Bailey told the race sponsors.

“He’s up there with the best horses I’ve ever trained and he’s definitely the best two-mile chaser I’ve ever had.”

Asked if he feared one over the other of Shishkin and Energumene, Bailey said: “I couldn’t split the two! They’re two unbelievably good horses. It’s fantastic for racing to have such a strong field.”

Dan Skelton’s Amoola Gold completes the four-runner line-up.

Big two declared for Clarence House treat

Shishkin and Energumene remain on course for a mouthwatering clash at Ascot after both horses featured among the declarations for Saturday’s SBK Clarence House Chase.

After well documented issues in the autumn, Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin made a spectacular return to action in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last month.

The Sholokhov gelding is a hot favourite to extend his unbeaten record over fences to seven in this weekend’s feature event, but in Energumene he faces a new and serious rival.

Since finishing third in a Navan bumper on his debut, the eight-year-old has won each of his seven starts for Willie Mullins and is five from five over fences.

He looked set to meet Shishkin in the Arkle at Cheltenham last March after a dominant display in the Irish equivalent, but a setback ruled him out of the Festival.

Energumene recovered in time to win by 16 lengths at the Punchestown Festival, though, and looked as good as ever on his seasonal reappearance in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork in early December.

David Bass and First Flow after winning last year's Clarence House Chase
David Bass and First Flow after winning last year’s Clarence House Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Due to the profile of the top two in the market, last year’s winner First Flow will be a big price to successfully defend his crown for Kim Bailey.

The 10-year-old is a high-class horse in his own right, as he proved once again when lifting the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on his only previous start this term.

With Paul Nicholls deciding against running Tingle Creek runner-up Hitman, the field is completed by Dan Skelton’s outsider Amoola Gold.

The nine-year-old has won at Ascot twice before, but has plenty to find on official ratings with his three rivals.

Retired jockey Barry Geraghty was on board Moscow Flyer for his memorable battles with Azertyuiop and Well Chief, as well as riding the incomparable Sprinter Sacre, so knows a thing or two about two-mile chasers.

Moscow Flyer (centre) winning the Queen Mother from Well Chief (left) and Azertyuiop in 2005
Moscow Flyer (centre) winning the Queen Mother from Well Chief (left) and Azertyuiop in 2005 (David Jones/PA)

However, he is finding it hard to split the big two.

“I thought Shishkin was better than ever at Kempton but Energumene…we haven’t seen the best of either horse yet,” he said.

“I think this is the best match up we’ve seen since Moscow and Azertyuiop all those years ago.

“There’s only four runners, but with Kim Bailey’s horse who won it last year and Energumene running they won’t be messing about.

“It will be brilliant race and I can’t wait to watch it. It will be a proper race, a real proper one.”

Galopin Des Champs features among Festival contenders

The exciting Galopin Des Champs tops 47 entries for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins’ six-year-old put up a scintillating display on his debut over fences at Leopardstown over Christmas when making all the running to win unchallenged by 22 lengths.

That performance took him to the head of the ante-post market for the three-mile title at a best-priced 6-4.

Galopin Des Champs won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at last year’s Festival and took the Grade One Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April.

Second favourite at around 4-1 is the Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame, who took his unbeaten record over fences to three in the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

Like a lot of Festival hopefuls, Galopin Des Champs has at least one other option. His is the Turners Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles.

Bob Olinger is a shade of odds-on with some bookmakers for that race after his emphatic success in the Kildare Novice Chase at Punchestown on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge, winner of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2021, is among 44 entries with 23 from Ireland.

Venetia Williams has a leading contender in L’Homme Presse, who maintained his 100 per cent record over the bigger obstacles in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. He too holds an entry in the Brown Advisory.

Though L’Homme Presse has yet to race beyond two miles and five furlongs, Andy Edwards, who owns the gelding in partnership with Peter and Patricia Pink under the DFA Racing banner, believes the gelding could contest either race, with the ground key to a decision.

He said: “What race we run in will be ground dependent. If it came up soft he would go for the shorter race and if it came up quick he would go for the longer option.

“You have got to have options as you don’t want to go down a one-way street as you can’t turn back. He has got the pace to run in the Turners, but he has got the stamina to run in the Brown Advisory.

“I was at Venetia’s yard yesterday and I spoke to Charlie Deutsch (jockey) and he was very open minded. There is a long way to go and you know how many bad luck stories there are of horses not getting to Cheltenham.”

Ferny Hollow is the headline entry for the Sporting Life Arkle Novices' Chase
Ferny Hollow is the headline entry for the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase (Niall Carson/PA)

The Mullins-trained Ferny Hollow is the stand-out name in the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase on the back of his Grade One triumph at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.

Half of the 24 entries are based in Ireland with nine from the Mullins camp. As well as Ferny Hollow, they include Blue Lord, Haute En Couleurs and Saint Sam.

Edwardstone, trained by Alan King, looks like leading the home defence after he completed a hat-trick over fences in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton following a Grade One success in the Henry VIII at Sandown.

The Irish have a strong presence in the National Hunt Novices’ Chase with their 21 entries, from a total of 48, including Gordon Elliott’s pair of Run Wild Fred and Fury Road, plus Willie Mullins’ Stattler and Capodanno.

Dysart Dynamo blows Punchestown rivals away

Dysart Dynamo galloped his rivals into submission – and fired a warning shot to Constitution Hill and Jonbon in the process – as he maintained his unbeaten record in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

Willie Mullins’ charge won both his bumper outings last term and got off to a good start over obstacles when triumphing by 19 lengths at Cork in December.

He was sent off the 4-9 favourite for this Grade Two contest and Paul Townend was quick to assume the lead, with Dysart Dynamo quickly building up a healthy advantage over the chasing Gringo D’aubrelle and Guily Billy.

The field was well strung out by halfway and Dysart Dynamo just kept up his relentless gallop, with a slightly awkward landing at the penultimate obstacle barely checking his momentum as Townend allowed him to cruise home by 19 lengths from Gringo D’aubrelle.

Mullins has won the two-mile affair with some giants of the jumping game in the past, with Vautour, Douvan and Min landing the prize between 2014 and 2016, and the bookmakers feel Dysart Dynamo holds similar potential, chopping him in the markets for both the Supreme and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival.

Paddy Power offer 7-2 from 12s for the Supreme – behind only the Nicky Henderson-trained Constitution Hill and Jonbon – while he is the 4-1 favourite for the longer Ballymore in March. Coral go 4-1 about both races.

Townend said: “We went a proper gallop and he jumped brilliant. He’s exciting and it was a very good performance.

“He’s a good one and nicer people couldn’t have a good one like him. They love their horses and have a proper one now.”

Dysart Dynamo came home in splendid isolation
Dysart Dynamo came home in splendid isolation (Donall Farmer/PA)

Mullins’ assistant David Casey expects Dysart Dynamo to head to Cheltenham, although definite plans have yet to be decided.

He said: “He was very impressive and we see that at home with him. He has a huge engine and you would have to be delighted with him.

“I don’t know what the plan is, but you would imagine he will go straight to Cheltenham now.

“Paul said he did everything right for him and he had plenty left at the end.”

Whiskey Lullaby made it a double for Mullins and Townend
Whiskey Lullaby made it a double for Mullins and Townend (Donall Farmer/PA)

Mullins and Townend made it a double with Whiskey Lullaby in the Sporting Life Beginners Chase, with the 13-8 favourite hanging on by three-quarters of a length from Difficult Decision.

The Closutton team had to settle for second in the first division of the 15% Off Festival Tickets Maiden Hurdle as Goven could not hold the renewed challenge of Hiaou, the 11-8 market leader.

His trainer Gordon Elliott has a Cheltenham Festival run in mind for the Jack Kennedy-ridden winner.

Hiaou (far side) just edged victory
Hiaou (far side) just edged victory (Donall Farmer/PA)

He said: “He did everything wrong and Jack said he needed a better gallop. The one thing I like about him is he’s gutsy and he couldn’t pull him up after the line.

“He’s still a big, weak horse and I’d say we could step him out in trip. He’ll have a few more runs this year and he could be on the Cheltenham team.”

The second division went to Supreme Jet (5-2 favourite) while Must Be Obeyed (12-1) stayed on strongly to land the Punchestown Gift Vouchers Mares Handicap Hurdle for Tom Gibney and Darragh O’Keeffe.

Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter in the mix for Stayers’ Hurdle rematch

Last year’s winner Flooring Porter and his recent Leopardstown conqueror Klassical Dream are among 33 entries for the Paddy Powers Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Flooring Porter made every yard of the running to claim Festival glory last March for Gavin Cromwell and Danny Mullins.

He had to make do with the runner-up spot behind the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream in last month’s Christmas Hurdle and a rematch is likely to be on the cards in the Cotswolds.

Cromwell could also saddle Darver Star, while Closutton handler Mullins has seven contenders in total, with Asterion Forlonge and Melon both given the option of switching back to the smaller obstacles.

Asterion Forlonge fell at the final fence when seemingly booked for second behind stablemate Tornado Flyer in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Nicky Henderson has entered the JP McManus-owned pair of Buveur D’Air and Champ.

Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air has been off the track since finishing fourth in the Aintree Hurdle last spring, while Champ successfully reverted to hurdles in the Long Walk at Ascot last month.

Champ has the option of returning to fences for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Henderson planning to make a decision on his Festival target nearer the time.

He said: “Champ has a Gold Cup and a Stayers’ Hurdle entry. It is a very difficult one to juggle and one we haven’t got to at this particular moment.

“No doubt, the most straightforward is the hurdles route, but on the other hand he has won an RSA.

“You can forget about the Gold Cup last year. He had a problem but we’ve ironed that out. The balls are up in the air.

“Ante-post markets have to be respected, but I can’t make decisions just to help things on that score.

“He is in both and they are both mega prizes. The Gold Cup is the blue riband, but the Stayers’ Hurdle isn’t bad either.”

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air (Steven Paston/PA)

Of Buveur D’Air, who has also been entered for the Champion Hurdle, he added: “We’ve put him in the Stayers’ Hurdle as well as his run over two-and-a-half at Aintree was a staggeringly good run.

“He tanked through the race and he got there too soon as his lead horse went over at the last on the far side.

“That left him with no cover and he tanked off. He was having such good fun. He showed us that day there is all sorts of life left in him.”

Thyme Hill, who was just under two lengths behind Champ when second in the Long Walk, is a likely runner for Philip Hobbs.

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park and the Rebecca Curtis-trained Lisnagar Oscar, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019 and 2020 respectively, also feature.

Willie Mullins is responsible for eight of 28 initial entries for the Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle.

Ireland’s perennial champion trainer has saddled nine previous winners of the Grade One contest, with six of those victories provided by the brilliant Quevega.

Mullins appears intent on adding to his tally, with recent Relkeel Hurdle winner Stormy Ireland and Burning Victory, a former winner of the Triumph Hurdle, two of his leading hopes.

Telmesomethinggirl won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival and could return for Henry de Bromhead, with Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala and Paul Hennessy’s Heaven Help Us other major players for Ireland.

Naas victor Impulsive Dancer joins Mullins team after private sale

Impulsive Dancer has been sold privately out of Richard O’Brien’s Limerick stable and has joined Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins.

The four-year-old gelding has been bought by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede after winning his only start, a bumper at Naas, earlier this month.

“Anthony Bromley bought him on behalf of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. The horse left this morning,” said O’Brien.

“It’s always mixed emotions when a horse of his calibre leaves the yard, but this is the business we’re in.

“He’s gone to a good home and it will be interesting to see how his career develops.”

Impulsive Dancer created a good impression when comfortably beating Douglas Dc by eight lengths after making all the running in an eight-runner contest over two miles.

“He was quite impressive and it will be very interesting to see where he can get himself to,” said O’Brien.

“He has a bit of an unusual profile with his pedigree and everything like that but it was very taking what he did on debut, so hopefully he can really show that he can build on it.”

Saint Sam impresses with victorious chasing debut

High-class hurdler Saint Sam made a successful start to his career over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old was placed in a number of top juvenile races last season, including a runner-up finish in the Boodles at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Making his chasing debut and first competitive appearance since May, Saint Sam was the 11-10 favourite in the hands of Paul Townend and readily accounted for Thedevilscoachman by nine lengths.

Townend said: “He’s a good old spin. He ran into fair opposition last year over hurdles and gave a lot of weight away in the Fred Winter (Boodles).

“He has jumped well at home and we let him at it there. They didn’t leave me alone or anything, but he’s won nicely in the end.

“He had a good leap at the last and it was only then that he was getting going.

“He might go a bit higher over fences the way he jumps. He’s going to have stiffer tasks ahead of him but I think, on what he showed there, he can go to the next grade.”

Gavin Cromwell and Luke Dempsey combined to land the opening Fairyhouse January Jumps Hurdle with 4-1 shot White Pepper before Red As Rust caused a 25-1 upset in the Fairyhouse Mares Maiden Hurdle.

Nigel Slevin’s charge held a narrow lead when the challenging Brooklynn Glory fell at the last, allowing her to coast home by 12 lengths from 6-4 favourite Banntown Girl under Conor Orr.

“She ran a really good race here last year in a bumper, but we kind of over-raced her then and ran her back too quick,” said Slevin.

“We went jumping this season, she had a problem in Listowel but came back and ran well in Thurles. She was fourth there and the form has worked out, so we were hopeful today.

“She’s a grand mare. I don’t know where we go now, we’ll plod along with her and see.”

Gordon Elliott’s Wall Of Fame was a 6-1 winner of the Fairyhouse Easter Early Bird Handicap Hurdle under Jordan Gainford, while Farceur Du Large landed odds of 13-2 for Noel Meade and Eoin Walsh in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Rated Novice Chase.

The Mullins-trained Grivei (5-6) was a warm order for the concluding Racing Again January 15th Flat Race, but was denied close home by Liam Burke’s 18-1 shot Heliko Conti and Finny Maguire.

Burke said: “He got murdered everywhere and had nowhere to go. He’s a fair horse to pick up the way he did.

“He ran well in Gowran in a winners-of-one hurdle when he was only a short-head behind Willie’s horse (Dark Voyager) who is rated 130. We were too far out of it then, if we had rode a different race we might have frightened them.

“Obviously we’ll keep him a novice (hurdler) for next year. We’ll run in a winner’s race somewhere or else run in a good hurdle somewhere.

“He’s a decent horse, he has a great attitude and nothing fazes him. When you go for him he finds, I don’t often have one like that.”

Cash Back floors stablemate Classic Getaway at Clonmel

Classic Getaway was upstaged by stable companion Cash Back in the Munster Hurdle at Clonmel.

A runaway winner on his only start in the point-to-point field, Classic Getaway was snapped up for £570,000 by bloodstock agent Tom Malone and trainer Gordon Elliott on behalf of Cheveley Park Stud.

After leaving Elliott to join Willie Mullins, the six-year-old made a successful debut under rules with a 15-length verdict in a Tipperary bumper last May and was the 5-6 favourite on his return to action.

Partnered by Paul Townend, Classic Getaway tracked the Danny Mullins-ridden Cash Back (8-1) during the early stages before taking over with a circuit to run.

The market leader looked to be in command in front rounding the home turn, but his stablemate was back alongside after jumping the second flight from home and was six lengths clear at the line.

The winning rider said: “He was a 140-rated hurdler going into this so I was a bit surprised he was discounted in the betting and thought he’d have a good chance.

“He had a nice comeback run in Cork and it is nice to see him in the winner’s enclosure again.

“It was getting tactical going down the hill the final time and I was going well and nobody else was going to get involved. I wouldn’t discount the second horse (Classic Getaway) yet as it was still a very good run for a horse first time over hurdles. He’ll improve plenty from that as well.”

He added: “Cash Back has always had the engine, was placed in a Grade One novice chase and had his jumping issues but that was a confidence booster today.”

Closutton trainer Mullins was completing a double on the card following the taking earlier success of the JP McManus-owned Dinoblue in the Kilsheelan Mares Maiden Hurdle.

The previously-unraced daughter of Doctor Dino could hardly have been more impressive in scoring by 15 lengths in the hands of Mark Walsh as the even-money favourite.

Mullins also saddled the second and third home in La Prima Donna and Mi Lighthouse respectively.

“She is a lovely mare and did it very easily,” Walsh said.

“She was very good and going by the stands Jack Foley’s horse (Glenbeg Express) was hanging out and my one wanted to go on.

“She wasn’t keen, but she has a long stride and glided along the ground on the back straight. She jumped brilliant and was very professional the whole way.

“The ability is there definitely and I couldn’t fault her on anything to be honest.”

Classic Getaway makes hurdles bow at Clonmel

Expensive purchase Classic Getaway makes his eagerly-awaited debut over jumps in the Munster Hurdle at Clonmel on Thursday.

The six-year-old, a £570,000 purchase by Cheveley Park Stud, is pitched against four rivals who have all had experience over hurdles.

He has had the one outing so far for trainer Willie Mullins, winning an 11-runner bumper at Tipperary by 15 lengths last May.

“It’s quite a positive entry and I think Willie’s very happy with him and we’ll see where we go from there,” said Cheveley Park’s managing director Chris Richardson.

“I believe he’s been schooling well and Willie is happy with him at this point.

“It’s an interesting race with interesting entries, but Willie’s horses have been running promisingly first time out and they seem to be fit. We’ll see what happens.”

Mullins is also responsible for Cash Back, who is at the other end of the career spectrum at the age of 10.

A hurdles winner in March 2019, Cash Back was second in the Grade One Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown in February 2020 and reverts to the smaller obstacles after finishing fourth to stablemate Energumene in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork last month.

Gordon Elliott’s Rodaniche, Joseph O’Brien’s Uhtred and the Liam Burke-trained Gordon Dai Dai make up the quintet.

While Classic Getaway is set to reappear, Cheveley Park’s Grangeclare West, also housed at the Mullins stable, is out for the season after suffering a pelvis injury.

“Unfortunately he’s had a stress fracture to the pelvis which is not life threatening or overly-serious, but obviously it’s pushed him and his season back until well after Cheltenham. He’ll be out for the season, I’m afraid.”

Grangeclare West, who cost £430,000, won a Punchestown bumper on his rules debut in May.

Blue Lord makes light work of Naas assignment

Blue Lord outclassed his two rivals to make it two from two over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase at Naas.

Runner-up to Bob Olinger in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle on this card 12 months ago, the seven-year-old went on to be placed in two other Grade Ones at Leopardstown and Punchestown.

He also looked booked for second behind Appreciate It in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham until falling at the final flight.

Having made an impressive start to his chasing career at Fairyhouse three weeks ago, Blue Lord was the 1-4 favourite to follow up in a race won by stablemate Energumene last season – and the result was scarcely in doubt.

While several obstacles were omitted due to low sun, the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old jumped well and readily coasted 20 lengths clear of Lifetime Ambition in the home straight under Paul Townend.

Coral trimmed Blue Lord’s odds for the Sporting Life-sponsored Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham to 8-1 from 10-1, with stable companion Ferny Hollow the favourite following his Grade One victory at Leopardstown a week ago.

Mullins said: “That looks a nice improvement on what he did the first day and I’d say he’s improving all the time.

“He galloped all the way to the line with Paul and looks an Arkle horse.”

Bronn (right) on his way to victory
Bronn (right) on his way to victory (Donall Farmer/PA)

Mullins, Townend and Blue Lord’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede doubled up later in the afternoon, with even-money favourite Bronn striking gold in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle.

The winner of a Ballinrobe bumper back in April for Stuart Crawford, the son of Notnowcato made a successful start for his new connections with a battling victory over Killer Mode.

The race was not without incident, with eventual third Flame Bearer produced to challenge on the far side of the track between the final two flights by Jack Doyle and getting into a barging match with the winner.

“To me he (Doyle) had no business going up the inside. To do that manoeuvre you are supposed to be clear of the other horse to come back out,” said Mullins.

“I don’t agree with having no rails, but jockeys nowadays seem to want it that way. If there was a rail there wouldn’t have been a problem.

“Bronn is an out and out stayer. He was very green in front and the horse in front of him in the early stages of the race was green as well. It’s hard for a maiden hurdler to be following a horse like that.

“He needs to go out in trip. He gallops and is a strong stayer.”

Jeremys Flame was a clear-cut winner of the opening race at Naas
Jeremys Flame was a clear-cut winner of the opening race at Naas (Donall Farmer/PA)

Jeremys Flame (15-8) opened her account over fences at the eighth attempt in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase.

Gavin Cromwell’s charge was not winning out of turn in the two-mile-three-furlong contest, having been placed on each of her three previous outings this season.

Runner-up to the high-class Concertista in a Grade Two at Cork on her latest outing, Jeremys Flame went one better with an eight-length verdict over Dolcita, with 5-4 favourite Roseys Hollow back in third.

“That was very straightforward,” said winning jockey Keith Donoghue.

“She has plenty of experience over fences now and she had a good run the last day in Cork. It’s good to get a win with her and it’s onwards and upwards.”

Impulsive Dancer in winning action under Eoin O’Brien
Impulsive Dancer in winning action under Eoin O’Brien (Donall Farmer/AP)

Impulsive Dancer (15-2) looked a useful prospect in taking the bumper, seeing off Gordon Elliott’s 13-8 favourite Douglas Dc by eight lengths.

Trainer Richard O’Brien said: “We had been away to a few different places with him. We bought him as a yearling and were hoping he’d do something on the Flat, but he didn’t really start to show anything until October/November time and we said we’d wait for this race.

“That’s a good performance and he’s finished out great. The Sheahan family own him and are good supporters of mine.

“He’s in the shop window and we’ll see what happens.”

Mullins assembling formidable Champion Bumper squad

The pecking order of Willie Mullins’ Champion Bumper horses may still yet to be determined, but the Closutton trainer’s battalion is certainly taking its usual formidable shape.

Mullins has won the Cheltenham Champion Bumper a record 11 times since 1996, including the last two renewals with Ferny Hollow and Sir Gerhard.

And with four bumper winners in as many days over the Christmas period, hopes are high that at least three of them will line up in the Weatherbys-sponsored championship event at the Prestbury Park track on Wednesday, March 11.

Progression is anticipated from Facile Vega, who made a winning debut at Leopardstown on Sunday, and both Embassy Gardens and Redemption Day, who did the same on Monday and Tuesday, over the same course and distance.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “The Nice Guy (winner on Wednesday) will go jumping. The other three could all be Champion Bumper horses.”

Embassy Gardens, a son of Shantou, is owned by Sean and Bernardine Mulryan and is a general 20-1 chance for the Champion Bumper after his nose success.

“Obviously Embassy Gardens will probably need to improve, but of the three, I think he is the one who will improve the most,” added Mullins.

The Tim O’Driscoll-owned Redemption Day was installed as the 6-1 third-favourite for the Champion Bumper by Paddy Power following his four-and-a-half-length triumph.

Yet arguably the most visually impressive of the Mullins yard’s bumper quartet of winners was Facile Vega, owned by the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, who ran out an impressive six-length winner.

The son of Walk In The Park is out of six-time Mares’ Hurdle winner Quevega and is the 4-1 second-favourite for Cheltenham with Paddy Power, behind the Gordon Elliott-trained American Mike (11-4).

Mullins said: “Redemption Day is probably the quickest of them and Facile Vega is taller and probably has the most scope of them, so we have all different shapes and sizes.

“There are some tough decisions to make, but it is good position to be in.”

Stormy Ireland makes all for Relkeel rewards

Stormy Ireland capped a fine festive period for Willie and Danny Mullins when winning the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Less than a week after combining to land the King George VI Chase with outsider Tornado Flyer, they returned to plunder another big prize.

The diminutive mare had only run once this season when proving a disappointment behind Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

However, she was back to her terrier-like best on this occasion with an all-the-way success.

In her younger days she had a habit of tearing off in front and it was a case of seeing if she could hang on, but these days she is far more tractable.

Never more than five lengths clear, she looked a siting duck turning into the straight as Brewin’upastorm and McFabulous loomed up, with Guard Your Dreams and Dans Le Vent also on the premises.

Mullins had kept a bit up his sleeve, however, and kicked again, seeing off everything bar the favourite Brewin’upastorm.

Aidan Coleman appeared to be travelling marginally the better on the run to the final flight but he met it all wrong and came down, just as he had two years ago when looking set to win a Grade Two novice hurdle at the track.

That left Stormy Ireland (4-1) clear to beat Paul Nicholls’ McFabulous by two and a half lengths.

Danny Mullins said: “I’m delighted to have an association with this horse all because Paul (Townend) had a date with Al Boum Photo at Tramore.

“I was able to build the race as I saw fit. She likes to burn early but today they couldn’t get to me.

“It was 50-50 coming to the last but my gut feeling was that I was starting to get on top.

“She is a right tough little mare. She’s not the biggest but she has a huge heart.

“To have the pressure and be able to deliver as a jockey and to get it right is one of the greatest feelings imaginable. But I am just a small cog in the wheel.”

Olly Murphy was philosophical about Brewin’upastorm’s late departure.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree that he was coming to win his race and he looked as good as ever today,” he said.

“We’re not going home with any prize money but my horse seems OK and my jockey walked away, which is the main thing.”

Business as usual for Al Boum Photo

Al Boum Photo kicked off his Cheltenham Gold Cup preparations with a fourth successive victory in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.

Willie Mullins’ charge landed the Festival feature in 2019 and 2020, but he had to settle for third last year as Minella Indo scuppered his bid to join Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate, and Cottage Rake as a three-times winner of the race.

Al Boum Photo went on to finish second behind Clan Des Obeaux at Punchestown in April and after Mullins opted to sidestep a couple of earlier options this term, the 10-year-old made his reappearance in this Grade Three heat for a fourth year running.

Just four horses started the race – all of them trained by Mullins – with Al Boum Photo sent off the 1-6 favourite in the hands of Paul Townend.

Acapella Bourgeois, who finished second in this race for the last two years, set out to make the gallop with Al Boum Photo sitting on his heels until he jumped into the lead at the eighth fence.

As his stablemate quickly dropped away and was pulled up, Al Boum Photo galloped away in front and while Townend had to shake the reins a couple of fences from home as Burrows Saint tried to move upsides, the winner ultimately had his stablemate well covered.

After clearing the last, Townend just had to keep him up to his work for a four-length verdict.

Mullins said: “He fluffed one fence but did everything else right. Paul said he was just a bit idle in front.

“I’d like to get another run into him but we’ll have to see (how he is).

“Burrows Saint ran a cracker and I thought he was going to be a danger, but when Paul pressed the button it was all over.

“Brahma Bull ran well for a horse that would probably hate that ground. Acapella Bourgeois was disappointing so we’ll have to see what we do with him.”

Coral clipped Al Boum Photo to 12-1 from 14s for the Gold Cup, while he is unchanged at 14-1 with Paddy Power for a third Festival win.

El Fabiolo gave Mullins and Townend a first win on the card
El Fabiolo gave Mullins and Townend a first win on the card (Alan Magee/PA)

Mullins and Townend were completing a double after the victory of El Fabiolo in the opening David Flynn Construction Maiden Hurdle.

Sent off the 2-7 favourite, El Fabiolo came home 13 lengths clear on what was his debut for Mullins and first run in Ireland having previously been trained in France.

Mullins said: “He’s a nice recruit for (owners) Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. He shows me plenty at home and Paul said he was going easy at all stages.

“He does everything easy at home and showed me the same here.”

When asked how he would compare with previous maiden hurdle winners for the yard at this track like Laurina and Saint Roi, he added: “He’s as good as any of them.”