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Willie Mullins Stable Tour: The inside track on my strong team

Thu 4 Nov 2021

Willie Mullins wants to get Al Boum Photo back on the track earlier this season as he plots a route for the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero back to Prestbury Park in March.

Al Boum Photo finally triumphed for the Cheltenham Festival's most successful trainer in its marquee race back in 2019 and then successfully defended his crown 12 months later.

 Al Boum Photo with Paul Townend and Willie Mullins (Photo: Caroline Norris/HRI)
Al Boum Photo with Paul Townend and Willie Mullins (Photo: Caroline Norris/HRI)

On both occasions he warmed up for his Festival trip with a solitary previous appearance in a light campaign – winning on New Year’s Day at Tramore – so it was no surprise Mullins followed the same path again last season.

However, Al Boum Photo had to make do with an honourable third behind Minella Indo and A Plus Tard in his bid for a Gold Cup hat-trick and Mullins is planning a busier schedule this time.

He said: “I definitely think we’ll take a different route.

“Last year we got caught a little bit on the hop because of Covid and the horses having long breaks.

“I think it will benefit him now, at his age and everything, to have more runs and be more battle-hardened for the spring time.”

Al Boum Photo has already been entered for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, while the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase on December 5 has been mooted as a potential target.

“I’ll try and get him out as soon as I can, definitely by Christmas,” Mullins added.

“I’ll probably go to Tramore, but I’ll get a run or two into him before that, I think.”

Al Boum Photo is just one of an array of stars the champion trainer is preparing for battle.

Mullins is still a few weeks away from unleashing his big guns, but is pleased with how his string is progressing on the Closutton gallops.

 Willie Mullins gives the latest on some of his stars ahead of the BARONERACING.COM Winter Festival at Fairyhouse (Photo: INPHO photography)
Willie Mullins gives the latest on some of his stars ahead of the BARONERACING.COM Winter Festival at Fairyhouse (Photo: INPHO photography)

He said: “This is actually the best time of year here – because I haven’t made bits of anything yet! All the horses look great, and they’re starting to do faster work.

“I’m delighted with what I’ve seen the last few mornings. The horses that were a bit sticky over their first few bits of work are clearing out and getting the hang of being on the gallop again.

“It’s just coming along lovely, I think.”

Other established names Mullins will go to war with this term include the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi, the jaw-dropping Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Energumene, who will step into open company after an unbeaten novice season over fences.

Of the latter, the trainer said: “He seems fine. He just did a canter this morning, because he actually had a stone bruise the other day, and he’ll probably work on Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to him coming out and building on what he showed us last year.”

 Willie Mullins gives a bullish update on Ferny Hollow (Credit: Healy Racing)
Willie Mullins gives a bullish update on Ferny Hollow (Credit: Healy Racing)

A formidable bunch of prospective novice chasers include 24-length Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It, and the long-absent Ferny Hollow.

The six-year-old got the better of Appreciate It in the 2020 Champion Bumper and, while he has been off the track since beating the top-class Bob Olinger on his sole start over hurdles at Gowran Park 12 months ago, Mullins reports him in rude health.

He said: “Ferny Hollow is working out of his skin. He worked this morning and is in great form.

“He looks so strong, and I’m very happy with him. When he’s ready, we’ll find a race for him.

“He pulled muscles or ligaments or something in his hind end the day he took on Bob Olinger in Gowran, and it’s just taken all this time to come right.

“There doesn’t seem to be any bother with him now. He’s jumping well and galloping well.”

Mullins also houses the first two from last season’s Champion Bumper in Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit, who will both be expected to take high rank in the novice hurdling division.

“Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard both worked this morning, and I’m very happy with them,” he said.

“We know they jump well, because they’ve been schooled plenty.

“I’m not worried in the jumping stakes with either of them, and they’re in great form.”

Klassical Dream is part of a strong Willie Mullins team up against Honeysuckle in this month’s Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, the highlight of the BARONERACING.COM Fairyhouse Winter Festival.

Honeysuckle will be a hot favourite to follow in the hoofprints of two other brilliant mares in Solerina and Apple’s Jade by becoming a three-time winner of the Group One feature on Sunday 28 November.

But Mullins, who has previously won the Hatton’s Grace with Hurricane Fly (2010), Zaidpour (2012) and Arctic Fire (2015), is keen to ensure Henry de Bromhead’s superstar does not have it all her own way.

Injuries have restricted Klassical Dream to just a handful of starts since claiming Cheltenham Festival glory in the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

However, he proved his ability remains very much intact when making a spectacular return from 487 days on the sidelines in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April.

Patrick Mullins reflects on a stunning success for Klassical Dream after a long absence at the Punchestown Festival

Mullins said on Thursday: “Klassical Dream is in good form and worked nicely this morning.

“It was eye-opening what he did in Punchestown. He’d been working well at home before that, but I found it hard to believe he could put in that sort of run first time out against Grade One horses.

“I spent a good bit of time debating whether to go jumping fences. But with my team at home, we were looking at his soundness record and we just felt it might be easier to keep him sound over hurdles.

“The Hatton’s Grace is a great starting point. The horses that win it nearly always go on to Christmas and Cheltenham and Punchestown, so it’s a great indicator.

“A lot will depend how he goes over the next few weeks, whether he’s ready for Fairyhouse.”

Klassical Dream is one of four Hatton’s Grace entries for the champion trainer, with Stormy Ireland, Saldier and Burning Victory also in contention.

Stormy Ireland won at Fairyhouse and Punchestown in the spring, having returned to Closutton following a spell in Britain with Paul Nicholls.

“She’s a funny little mare. Ruth Dudfield rides her out all the time and Ruth tells me that when she’s an absolute little tyke, that’s when she’s best,” Mullins added.

“When she’s nearly unmanageable on the gallop, that’s when she seems to be at her best, and she’s in that sort of form at the moment.

“She loves Fairyhouse. She won her three-year-old maiden hurdle there by 58 lengths, which was an extraordinary performance.”

Saldier is race-fit after winning the Galway Hurdle and a Grade Three at Tipperary, while last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Burning Victory was last seen finishing second in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.

 Saldier lands the Galway Hurdle under Patrick Mullins in the silks of Rich and Susannah Ricci (Photo: Focusonracing)
Saldier lands the Galway Hurdle under Patrick Mullins in the silks of Rich and Susannah Ricci (Photo: Focusonracing)

Mullins said: “When Saldier got that fall in Naas (in 2018), he broke his jaw and his eye socket, and one side of his face collapsed.

“I think it’s just taken him all that time to get his confidence back jumping again. Now he’s got it back, hopefully he can improve.

“I think the two and a half miles of the Hatton’s Grace would be right up his street.

“I like the idea of going two-and-a-half with Burning Victory. Looking at her rating of 143, she’s probably not really entitled to go there with a winning chance and we have to improve her jumping.”

Mullins has high hopes for Arctic Warrior among novices

Mullins is also set to be well represented in the two other Grade Ones on the same Fairyhouse card – the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and the Drinmore Novice Chase.

His potential contenders for the Royal Bond include Farout and Arctic Warrior, who would both need to bounce back from short-priced defeats.

 Willie Mullins ahead of the Fairyhouse BARONERACING.COM Winter Festival (Credit: INPHO photography)
Willie Mullins ahead of the Fairyhouse BARONERACING.COM Winter Festival (Credit: INPHO photography)

Mullins said: “Farout has jumped very well apart from the last day for some reason, when he jumped appallingly in Listowel. He still finished second, but was well beaten because of his jumping.

“I’m hoping whatever went wrong that day doesn’t go wrong again – because if he keeps his jumping together, he’s going to be involved coming to the second-last anyhow.

“Arctic Warrior could be anything. He certainly shows me a lot at home – and if everything goes right for him, he’s a horse that will run a very big race.”

In the Drinmore, Mullins has a couple of lesser lights in Bleu Berry and Robinnia, but feels both could make their presence felt.

He added: “Bleu Berry is good. I think if things had been different he might have won the last day, and then you might be looking at him in a different light.

“I think he has the ability and the fitness from his few runs, which puts him in here with a good chance.

“It’s the same with Robinnia. I thought she was unlucky in Galway when she fell and ran very well again the other day. Very little improvement puts her in the picture, I think.

“While there’s very good winter horses from last season in it, our two might just have the little edge of fitness and experience going into it."

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