Tommy Lyons

Feather your nest on the first two days

Irish Examiner - Racing - - FRONT PAGE - Tommy Lyons

God be with the days when we trav­elled to the Cheltenham Fes­ti­val with just one great hope which, if sunk, cast a long shadow across the meet­ing for Ir­ish pun­ters. Things have changed dra­mat­i­cally over the past cou­ple of decades, par­tic­u­larly so in the last six or seven years, with the emer­gence of Wil­lie Mullins as a peren­nial lead­ing force at the meet­ing.

And, how he has spoilt us, of­ten mak­ing the cost of the most en­joy­able four days in Na­tional Hunt rac­ing that much more man­age­able by pro­vid­ing the win­ner of the Fes­ti­val opener, the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle. Cham­pagne Fever, Vau­tour and Dou­van cov­ered many an ex­pense in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and, had we al­lowed our­selves lis­ten to the screams from the home team, we may have re­alised his bid for a fourth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory in the race, with Min, would be scup­pered by an equine ma­chine, in the shape of the home team’s Al­tior.

The truth re­mains that, for the clear ma­jor­ity of suc­cess­ful pun­ters, the lion’s share of the prof­its will be picked up on the first two days of the Fes­ti­val, but that shouldn’t mean the punt­ing week must start with the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle.

This year’s re­newal looks one of the most open for some years and, while Mullins re­mains un­flinch­ingly pos­i­tive about the chances of Melon, the Pre­view Night cir­cuit would sug­gest there is a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion amongst the most re­spected judges in the sta­ble.

Lest we for­get, there also re­mains un­cer­tainty as to which of four pos­si­ble run­ners Ruby Walsh will ride. That de­ci­sion, in it­self, will have a tremen­dous in­flu­ence on the mar­ket.

A good start may be half the bat­tle, and an open­ing bet hard to re­sist, but a bad start can be a to­tal dis­as­ter. Who re­mem­bers the pain of Youl­n­ev­er­wal­ka­lone’s de­feat? Or those of Car­di­nal Hill and Joe Mac?

But it’s no time to panic for fol­low­ers of the Wil­lie Mullins sta­ble. This sea­son may not have gone to plan, but this week is nei­ther the time nor the place to think about a chang­ing of the guard in Ir­ish na­tional hunt rac­ing.

The Clo­sut­ton mae­stro ad­mits he has had more than his fair share of good for­tune in pre­vi­ous years, but he has also had more than his share of bad luck this term. As pun­ters,weshould re­main con­fi­dent he will, once more, de­liver for us on the big­gest stage.

One of the most in­trigu­ing sub-plots of the fes­ti­val will be the re­spec­tive re­sults of Mullins and Gor­don El­liott. The lat­ter is threat­en­ing to wrest the Ir­ish train­ers’ ti­tle from Mullins, who has won it 10 times in to­tal, but whether he can make the same im­pact as Mullins at the fes­ti­val re­mains to be seen.

True to say he has one up on the champ, in­so­far as he has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Mullins’ dom­i­nance of the fes­ti­val in re­cent years has been quite re­mark­able, and his record eight win­ners in 2015, fol­lowed by seven more in 2016, are tar­gets few can dream of reach­ing.

In the chal­lenge for the trainer’s ti­tle at home, El­liott en­joys a tremen­dous nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage, but that will be turned on its head this week, with Mullins ex­pected to have up to 10 more run­ners than his ti­tle ri­val at the fes­ti­val.

El­liott, who is ut­terly de­ter­mined to be crowned cham­pion trainer at home, has a great team around him, and has de­vel­oped a yard which should en­sure he is a po­tent force as long as that drive re­mains.

But what Mullins has achieved in man­ag­ing his team of horses to de­liver at the high­est level at this fes­ti­val, and, on re­turn home, for Fairy­house and, in par­tic­u­lar, at Punchestown, re­quires a touch of bril­liance which few pos­sess. El­liott may be of the same mould, but this week is not the time to switch al­le­giance. Mullins will de­liver at Cheltenham.

If not Melon, it could be Dou­van, Vroum Vroum Mag, Let’s Dance, Li­mini, Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux, Bac­ardys, Carter McKay, or Djakadam — there’s a Mullins banker for ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence. Don’t be hasty.

Choose yours care­fully.

We should re­main con­fi­dent he will, once more, de­liver for us on the big­gest stage

Djakadam, with Ruby Walsh up, jump the last ahead of Out­lander, Davy Rus­sell up, on their way to win­ning the John Durkan Memo­rial Chase at Punchestown. Pic­ture: Cody Glenn/Sports­file

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