Willie Mullins at Cheltenham

Can You Clean Up with Willie Mullins’ Horses at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival?









British horse racing will soon turn its attention to the Cheltenham Festival, with the four-day national hunt showpiece getting underway on March 16th. The festival hosts fourteen Grade 1 races, and, as such, there is rarely an individual event that takes all the headlines. Even the prestigious Gold Cup can be eclipsed by other stories. But while there is a sense of equitability throughout the festival’s history, one individual tends to tower over the more recent history – Willie Mullins.

Mullins is, without a doubt, the best jumps trainer of the 21st century. He has dominated the festival over the last decade, training a total of 72 winners. Even in his more subdued years, such as 2016 and 2017, he has managed to pull out several big wins. Mullins had seven winners at the 2020 festival – that’s a quarter of the 28 races. His record haul was eight wins in 2015. There is a chance he might beat that in 2021, and punters should take the opportunity to capitalize.

Why such confidence? Well, putting aside Mullins’ supreme record at Cheltenham for the moment, there is the fact that his stable looks in top form. If you look back at the recent Dublin Festival, which acts as a kind of warm-up event for Cheltenham.  Mullins’ runners looked imperious in almost every race, gobbling up elite Grade 1 wins and offering the trainer every reason to be confident ahead of next month’s Cheltenham Festival. Racing TV went as far as calling Mullins’ operation a “juggernaut”, suggesting that the ‘home team’ (British trainers) were “left shaken” by recent performances. The Irish Times called his haul at the Dublin Festival a “chilling signal of intent”.

Below we have a look at some his big chances:

Elite races

Mullins has the favorites for the Champion Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup. Chacun Pour Soi is 4/6 for the former and looks to be the biggest lock of the festival. His performance last weekend in the Dublin Chase, where he didn’t even need to get out of second gear to hammer a quality field, has set him up nicely for the Champion Chase. Barring catastrophe, Chacun Pour Soi wins the Champion Chase. As for the Gold Cup, Mullins has two-time winner, Al Boum Photo, in peak condition. The 3/1 favorite is lightly raced over the last couple of years, and connections will have been buoyed by the struggles of potential rivals.

Mighty Mares

Mullins has Concertista as the 7/4 favorite for the Grade 1 Mares Hurdle, and that looks locked-in given main rival Honeysuckle is being aimed elsewhere. As for the Mares Novices’ Hurdle, it’s a little more open. Gauloise (8/1) is Mullins’ main hope. But this list of Mares Novices’ recent winners and predictions will tell you that no trainer in the British Isles is better than Mullins at bringing novice mares’ to championship level. He has trained every winner since it was first run in 2016, and you’d back him to win again in 2021. In the Mares’ Chase, which is a new event at Cheltenham, Mullins has the two favorites, Elimay and Benie Des Dieux. Perhaps wait to race day to see what Mullins’ intentions are with the latter, but it would be a shock if he didn’t train the winner.

Starting Off with a Bang

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle opens every Cheltenham Festival, and Mullins has won it more times than any other trainer. He hasn’t been just as dominant in this one in recent years, but Appreciate It (another star of that recent Dublin Festival) looks a great bet as the 11/4 favorite. On Day 2, we will also see the excellent Gaillard du Mesnil as 3/1 favorite for the opening race, the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Monkfish arguably joins Chacun Poir Soi as one of the most certain winners of the festival, and he will go in for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (formerly RSA) later in the day.

Outside Picks

Mullins is not only adept at turning the screw with his big favorites, he can also pull a few surprises out of the hat. Some runners that could potentially deliver a shock include and some betting value: Sharjah (14/1, Champion Hurdle), Kilcruit (9/1, Champion Bumper), Energumene (5/2, the Arkle) and Roksana (14/1, Stayers’ Hurdle).