Mullins was a special guest on The Road To Cheltenham on Thursday evening and gave updates on numerous stars trained by his father, Willie, at Closutton.
He spoke of his admiration for the Henry De Bromhead-trained A Plus Tard when reviewing that horse’s dramatic Savills Chase victory at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Mullins Jr rode Melon, who finished a close third in the Grade One contest, so is better placed than most to assess its merit. His impression was that Melon and stablemate Kemboy, who finished second, got first run on the winner, who clawed them back in the final stages.
“I rode Melon (previously untried over three miles) like he stayed and watching the replay wasn’t how it felt riding him. I think if we’d winged the second-last we still might have won,” Mullins said.
“My read on the race is that everyone got caught up following Allaho after Minella Indo fell, and that Allaho hasn’t been going or travelling so they’ve been dragged out of the race. A Plus Tard had to come and get us, as opposed to Kemboy and Melon falling in a hole.
Watch a full replay of the Savills Chase
“I think he’s probably going to be the biggest danger to Al Boum Photo. He was one of those horses that I took out of Christmas.”
Melon is also entered in the Gold Cup but Mullins Jr believes the Ryanair Chase, over 2m 5f a day earlier, will be a better fit for a luckless horse who has finished runner-up in four Grade One contests at the Festival.
The bookmakers concur, as Melon is no bigger than 12-1 for the Ryanair but is dismissed as a 33-1 chance for the Gold Cup.
“To me, Melon’s biggest asset over fences is his jumping,” Mullins said. “He makes an awful lot of ground in the air. The ground he made up down the back straight in Leopardstown was in in the air – I wasn’t sending him on between fences.
“If you are trying to conserve that over 3m 2f, you’d possibly be giving away his biggest asset, whereas in the Ryanair you see a lot of horses get in a rhythm. There are so many jumps in Cheltenham that if you are in a rhythm out in front jumping well, then it’s a hard for a horse to catch you. That’s not the case at Leopardstown, where there are only two fences in the last half-mile.
“We will have to see what Willie does, but I think the Ryanair will utilise his strengths best.”
Al Boum Photo made his annual return at Tramore on New Year’s Day and pulled clear in the closing stages. In the past two years he has gone on to Cheltenham without another run and that again seems likely for the general 7-2 ante-post favourite, who will become only the fifth horse in history to have won at least three Gold Cups if again successful in March.
Watch how Al Boum Photo made a winning return
“He’s come out of the race fantastic,” Mullins Jr said of the nine-year-old. “Like a lot of our horses who ran at Christmas, they are coming out bucking and kicking.
“It was a true-run race and they went a strong gallop on heavy ground. He didn’t lose much weight and he’s come out of it very well, so we were pleasantly surprised.”
However, a tilt at next month’s Irish Gold Cup seems unlikely.
“You know Willie, he’ll get an entry,” Mullins said. “He was meant to run it the first year and then didn’t because of the ground. Then, when he won the Gold Cup we said we wouldn’t change the preparation as we’d been trying 20 years and had never got it right.
“I’d imagine it’s doubtful that Willie will change what has worked.”
Two other impressive Grade One winners for the yard over the festive season were Sharjah, who won the Matheson Hurdle for a third time, and Appreciate It. The former is now a top-priced 8-1 to go one better than last year in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, while the latter is 3-1 favourite with the sponsors for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Mullins and Sharjah scooped another Matheseon Hurdle
Mulins Jr has long been the regular rider of Sharjah and said: “I’m definitely looking forward to a rematch with Epatante [at Cheltenham], but first we have to have a rematch with Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
“He was electric in Leopardstown. He has his off-days and that’s probably why he goes under the radar. I somehow got him beat in an amateur handicap at Galway this year but on his day he’s as good as anything around. In a smaller [Champion Hurdle] field with a better gallop [than last year], I’d like to think that brings him more into it.”
Asked about Appreciate It, who thumped the opposition in the Paddy Power Future Champions’ Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown, he said: “Appreciate It showing what he did over two miles was a nice surprise, as he probably is more of a stayer. The ground was very slow that day and they did go a strong gallop, but they are conditions you might get in the Supreme Novices’ as well.
“Ballyadam bombed out, so was it really a Grade One race after that? Maybe not, but he couldn’t do any more than he did.”
Mullins revealed that Shewearsitwell, ante-post favourite for the mares’ novices’ hurdle at The Festival, “is probably not going to make Cheltenham” after a setback and added it was unlikely that two greats of the sport in Faugheen or Douvan would be supplemented for the meeting.
Confirmation from Patrick Mullins on #RoadToCheltenham that Shewearsitwell will probably not now make the #CheltenhamFestival - but it's clear they think plenty of her... latest news on #Faugheen and #Douvan too. pic.twitter.com/UdyarCHnPU— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 7, 2021
Neither have run this campaign and their names did not feature when entries for the Betway Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase or Magners Gold Cup were revealed this week.
Mullins Jr said: “They’ve both had setbacks. Faugheen is in the yard and is in training but Cheltenham, with his profile, is going to be tough. If it comes about, then great, but I suppose Willie thought that at the moment it’s probably unlikely.
“Douvan is in pre-training and is coming back from another setback. At this stage it’s looking unlikely [he will run at Cheltenham].”
There was a time when Douvan was invincible and he won his first 14 races for the Mullins yard, including twice at The Festival. However, he has been plagued by problems since being beaten at 2-9 in the 2017 Champion Chase, making the track just three times since.
“I’ve been very lucky to sit on some very good horses and I just think he’s a different species,” Mullins Jr said. “His race record does not really reflect how good a horse he was.”
Select any odd to add a bet