Ir­ish scene

Toney Keenan cel­e­brates the won­der that is Wil­lie Mullins

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Coney­gree and the Brad­stocks were the story of the Fes­ti­val but from an Ir­ish per­spec­tive it was all about Wil­lie Mullins and his record-break­ing eight win­ners. Though other Ir­ish train­ers had de­cent meet­ings – Gor­don El­liott had a win­ner and five placed horses, many of the Noel Meade horses ran well in de­feat – the words hege­mony and dom­i­na­tion spring to mind. The record of the Mullins favourites is par­tic­u­larly eye-catch­ing with form fig­ures of:111F31173P and he won two of the races were he had the beaten mar­ket leader. The rest of the jol­lies ran:8023PRO717322710734 and even al­low­ing that many of those were in hand­i­caps the Mullins record is strik­ing.

Many of the Mullins hot­pots were the wrong price in form terms, much shorter than they should have been on what they achieved. For ev­ery Un De Sceaux and An­nie Power that mer­ited short odds based on how far clear they were of their op­po­nents, there were two bankers that looked very tightly priced. Dou­van was rated 155 but had three op­po­nents within 6lbs of him, Faugh­een was a 169 horse but three of his ri­vals were on at least 167. The 156-rated Don Poli faced four 150-plus ri­vals in the RSA while Vau­tour was only the fourth best horse on rat­ings in the JLT. In the Al­bert Bartlett, Black Her­cules on 146 was against twelve other novice hur­dlers raced 140 or more and Djakadam clearly had lots to find on the rat­ings in the Gold Cup.

Yet of this group of six un­der­priced horses, four won, an­other ran sec­ond and only one dis­ap­pointed. As a punter I’m hard-wired to take such horses on, es­pe­cially when you are get­ting a quar­ter the odds in con­di­tions races along with price boosts but they just kept win­ning, far more than the law of av­er­ages said they should. It re­minded me of the Der­mot Weld horses at Gal­way, con­stantly over­bet but al­ways win­ning, but it is one thing to sweep the boards in an Ir­ish mid-sum­mer meet­ing when many of the big flat yards aren’t try­ing that hard, quite an­other to do it in the cru­cible of the Fes­ti­val.

It was as if Mullins or those con­nected to the sta­ble just sim­ple knew more than the gen­eral public and while his horses ap­peared anti-value, they were win­ning. I’m not sug­gest­ing that th­ese horses were work­ing against each other as part of their prepa­ra­tion as no trainer wants to run the race in the weeks lead­ing up to the real event but such is the depth of tal­ent in the yard, Mullins is able to gauge what he has on his hands ac­cu­rately and he also has so many very good but not great horses that he can run against po­ten­tial ri­vals to see where he stands. It re­minded me of the trainer’s re­ac­tion when less-fan­cied sta­ble­mates beat both Tell Us More and Alvi­sio Ville in Grade 1 novice hur­dles in the lead-up to the meet­ing and Mullins seemed at a loss af­ter­wards to ex­plain what had hap­pened; in fact he spent more time talk­ing about the beaten horses than the vic­tors.What he had seen on the gal­lops had clearly de­ceived him in th­ese cases but at Chel­tenham ev­ery­thing came right in that re­gard.

Nor was this peak­ing of his best horses a sur­prise. Rich Ricci com­mented in a pre-Chel­tenham in­ter­view that they had planned to aim his horses around the spring fes­ti­vals rather than the big races dur­ing the sea­son and in­deed his colours won only one Grade 1 prior to Chel­tenham this sea­son, Faugh­een in the Christ­mas Hur­dle. It’s only log­i­cal to ex­pect this to con­tinue into the Ain­tree, Fairy­house and es­pe­cially Punchestown meet­ings that could mean lots of short­priced win­ners that are never the most in­ter­est­ing punting ma­te­rial.

This is not the say the meet­ing didn’t present chal­lenges for Mullins. His bumper horses – he ran six in the Cham­pion Bumper – were roundly dis­ap­point­ing, the best of them fin­ish­ing tenth, and they will likely need to im­prove to fig­ure in the best novice hur­dles next year.That said, he could al­ways raid France for some top prospects. A greater con­cern may be get­ting all his good novice chasers to progress to open com­pany. As yet, he is with­out a win­ner of the Cham­pion Chase or Gold Cup – Paul Ni­cholls has won those races nine times – and there will be no ex­cuses ac­cepted next year with Vau­tour, Don Poli, Un De Sceaux and Djakadam in train­ing at Clo­sut­ton.

Aside from Mullins, one of fea­tures of the meet­ing for Ir­ish horses was our dom­i­nance of the hand­i­cap hur­dles. Leav­ing aside the Fred Win­ter and the Pertemps which are unique races, the for­mer con­fined to ju­ve­niles and Ire­land had a poor crop, the lat­ter re­quir­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion, our record in the con­ven­tional races was amaz­ing. From nine of the twenty-five run­ners in the Coral Cup, we had sec­ond and fourth where we had the first six in the County Hur­dle from half the twenty-four strong field. The Martin Pipe was sim­i­lar with the first four from six of the twenty-one run­ners.

To my eye, this could be a hand­i­cap­ping is­sue and while it’s great to have

the chance to back Ir­ish horses at de­cent prices in such races, it is un­likely to con­tinue as the Ir­ish run­ners looked let in very lightly; they surely couldn’t be that far clear of the home team. Ir­ish train­ers moan about their horses be­ing badly treated in the UK but the op­po­site is true of hand­i­cap hur­dlers even when they are raised by the English hand­i­cap­per. Of­ten­times, the Ir­ish horses just look to have achieved far more for their mark than the English op­po­si­tion. Take an an­i­mal like Sort It Out, the County Hur­dle run­ner-up. He was rated 134 in the UK, the same as Ire­land, but he had won three good hand­i­caps at home, much bet­ter races than the English horses he faced run­ning off sim­i­lar marks. Even though he never trav­elled in the race, his abil­ity rel­a­tive to this mark al­lowed him to fin­ish sec­ond. This may well be ad­dressed at the hand­i­cap weights next year.

On the sub­ject of punting, we face a much-changed bet­ting land­scape at the Fes­ti­val. I’ve writ­ten be­fore about an­tepost punting be­ing dead but while this may not ap­ply to other races dur­ing the year, it cer­tainly does at the Fes­ti­val

Mullins has so many very good but not great horses that he can run against ri­vals to see where he stands

Wil­lie Mullins

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