Cheltenham Festival News

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival: Home team left shaking by Mullins juggernaut

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Tue 9 Feb 2021

The 2021 Willie Mullins Dublin Racing Festival will long live in the memory, even if a couple of other trainers had the audacity to pinch a race or two off him.

Mullins had said in the build-up, via Zoom, that he would settle for one winner at the two-day extravaganza. He must have been on Mute when adding the words “every half-hour or so”.

His nine winners over the course of Saturday and Sunday exhausted superlatives. Gaillard Du Mesnil, Chacun Pour Soi, Energumene, Kilcruit, Appreciate It, Monkfish, Kemboy and Grangee took it in turns to wow us in the Grade One and Grade Two contests. For good measure, he also scooped the staying handicap hurdle with 40-1 chance Maze Runner.

Mullins gives his verdict on his four day one winners at Leopardstown

If you had listened closely enough, you might have heard the jaws of British trainers collectively hitting stable floors. As a show of force before next month’s Cheltenham Festival this was about as intimidating as it could get.

“It’s a magical time. Everything has just come right. It’s like fantasy racing,” Mullins said as he reflected on his haul before adding: “This Festival is a tremendous initiative by HRI and Leopardstown. I’m not sure any two-day meeting in the British Isles has ever attracted the calibre of horse here this weekend.”

Remarkably, the master of Closutton trains half the ante-post Cheltenham Festival favourites. And then there’s a whole raft of other smart individuals in his B and C Teams. For instance, Benie Des Dieux and Enurgumene are not among his market leaders.

How on earth are the home defences going to prevent him swamping them at the biggest meeting of them all? And even if they do, will they have the extra reserves required to fend off a second and third wave from such as Elliott, De Bromhead and O’Brien?

Fantasy racing? The stark reality for the home team is that there are 19 non-handicaps at Cheltenham and the British only have two clear favourites - Shishkin in the The Sporting Life Arkle Chase and Paisley Park in the Paddy Powers Stayers’ Hurdle.

Mullins talks about his five winners on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival

And don't imagine the nine handicaps represent safe territory for the home team. Last year, there were ten and honours ended even.

Honeysuckle has usurped Epatante as the Unibet Champion Hurdle favourite in several books, while Appreciate It, Concertista, Monkfish, Chacun Pour Soi, Kilcruit and Envoi Allen are all no bigger than 7-4 for their respective races.

By contrast, there are just six British-trained runners quoted at under 7-1 for all 28 races at the meeting. They are Shishkin, Epatante, Royale Pagaille, Bravemansgame, Paisley Park and Thyme Hill. And one of those, Royale Pagaille, 11-2 for the National Hunt Chase, seems more likely to take his chance in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

They may as well give the Paddy Power Prestbury Cup to Ireland now. It’s not a question of if they will win it, but by what margin? Sky Bet make them 1-3 to repeat their victory of last year, when the final score was 17-10 in their favour.

Mullins has been top trainer at Cheltenham six times in the past eight years and has a record 72 winners at the meeting to his name. Elliott got the better of him in 2017 and 2018, with Nicky Henderson’s victory in 2012 becoming a fading memory.

Barring misfortune, Mullins will unleash the strongest squad he has ever had. British trainers may want to look away now: below are just his dozen runners quoted at between Evens and 5-1.

CHACUN POI SOIR

Race: Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Odds: 10-11

 Chacun Pour Soi after his latest breeze (Focusonracing)
Chacun Pour Soi after his latest breeze (Focusonracing)

Again stamped himself as the best in the two-mile chasing division with another decisive success in the Dublin Chase on Saturday. One niggle is that he has yet to run at Cheltenham.

MONKFISH

Race: Festival Novices’ Chase Odds: Evens

Game winner of the Albert Bartlett last year and flawless in three starts over fences. He was imperious when winning the Flogas at Leopardstown on Sunday.

KILCRUIT

Race: 6-4 for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper Odds: 6-4

Won in breath-taking fashion at Leopardstown on Saturday under a motionless Patrick Mullins. One who clips into the “could be anything” category.

APPRECIATE IT

Race: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Odds: 7-4

Last season’s Champion Bumper runner-up is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, including twice in Grade One company.

CONCERTISTA

Race: Close brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle Odds:7-4

She won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by 12 lengths at the Festival last year and has impressed in victory at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown this campaign

BENIE DES DIEUX

Race: Undecided: Odds: --

 Benie Des Dieux- has unfinished business at Cheltenham (Focusonracing)
Benie Des Dieux- has unfinished business at Cheltenham (Focusonracing)

Her Festival target has yet to be decided but it’s safe to assume she will be a short price for whichever target is selected. Her only defeats in ten starts for Mullins have been the 2019 Mares’ Hurdle. – fell at the last with victory at her mercy – and in last year’s renewal when second to Honeysuckle.

ENERGUMENE

Race: Sporting Life Arkle Trophy Chase Odds: 11-4

Has set the pulse racing with his all-the-way wins over fences at Gowran, Naas and Leopardstown this season. Won the Irish Arkle by ten lengths on Saturday.

AL BOUM PHOTO

Race: Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Odds: 3-1.

He’s won the past two renewals of the chasing’s blue riband and had the same prep as in previous seasons. Still only a nine-year-old.

BILLAWAY

Race: St James's Place Festival Hunters' Chase Odds: 100-30

He was runner-up in last year’s renewal and is firmly on course. To try and go one better after wins at Down Royal and Naas on his past two starts.

GAILLARD DU MESNIL

Race: Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Odds: 7-2

 Gaillard Du Mesnil in full flight at Leopardstown (Inpho Photography)
Gaillard Du Mesnil in full flight at Leopardstown (Inpho Photography)

The young grey took his form to another level when winning the opening Grade One at Leopardstown on Saturday. He’s also impressed at the same track over Christmas.

ELIMAY

Race: Mrs Paddy Power Chase Odds: 4-1

Few will have better credentials after her latest effort, when a three-length runner-up to Allaho (gave only 2lb) in the Grade Two Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.

ALLAHO

Race: Ryanair Chase Odds: 5-1

Last but not least, Allaho himself. Last year’s RSA Chase third got back to winning ways in the Grade Two Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles and this looks his right trip.

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