We’ve had a lot of fantastic days at Cheltenham … so we can cope with the bad ones!
Jockey Patrick Mullins gives us a tour of dad Willie’s famous stables and a glimpse of the equine beauty parade chasing Festival history
RACEMAIL columnist LIZZIE KELLY joins the workforce at the all-powerful Willie Mullins stable, which houses 12 favourites for the 28-race Cheltenham Festival and where Mullins has trained a record 88 Festival winners. A 60-runner squad is headed by Boodles Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs and some are predicting Mullins will beat his record 10 wins of last year. Lizzie catches up with Mullins’ son and assistant Patrick, who will also be riding some of his father’s best hopes.
FIFTY horses are gathering on the gallops at Closutton, the Mullins’ stable in County Carlow, and everywhere you look you seem to spot a runner who could win at next week’s Festival. On one side of me is the talented Brandy Love, who will run in the Grade One Mares’ Hurdle or the Coral Cup, and on the other is Sir Gerhard, already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, who has a clutch of entries offering a chance of a third.
As Patrick Mullins shouts instructions, I have been entrusted with Embassy Gardens, second favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle after a 35-length win at Thurles in January.
In most stables, the tall gelding would be the star of the show. In this equine beauty parade, he is just another promising youngster, but he seems to float above the stables’ deep woodchip gallop, making hard work seem easy.
We will find out how good Embassy Gardens is a week on Friday, but by the time he lines up the Mullins stable could be nearing a double-figure tally of winners. Expectations are huge.
Patrick said: ‘You kind of get used to it. We go over to Cheltenham with lots of favourites and people expect us to win lots of races. But we have had weeks when we had no winners on the Tuesday or Wednesday, and have gone into Thursday thinking, “Jesus, are we going to blow out?”
‘If you have 12 or 13 favourites, you are hoping that at least four or five might win but we have had a lot of good days so we are well prepped to take the bad days.’
The headline acts for the Mullins team are Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs, defending Queen Mother Champion Chaser Energumene and Irish Champion Hurdle winner State Man.
Ominously, there seems to be even more strength in depth than when the stable won 10 of the 28 races last year. Patrick reckons that is down to the battalion of big- spending owners his father has recruited, plus the suspension served in 2021 by closest Irish-based rival Gordon Elliott.
He said: ‘The big thing last season, rolling into this year, was Gordon lost a lot of owners and ground with his suspension. We took the ground he lost.
‘There are plenty of good trainers who can train a racehorse and win the right races. But Willie is able to get the owners who are not afraid to bring the pressure and buy expensive horses because out of 10 or 20 you buy, only one might win at Cheltenham.’
Galopin Des Champs, who won
WATCH PATRICK MULLINS GIVE YOU HIS TOP TIP FOR THE FESTIVAL +MORE BRILLIANT PICTURES
the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the 2021 Festival, looked like he had the stamina for the Gold Cup when winning last month’s Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
He will try to join the stable’s previous Gold Cup winner — dual scorer Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020 — on the honours board and Patrick believes an already talented horse has learned from his last-fence fall at the 2022 Festival, when he seemed to have the two- and- a- half mile Turners Novices’ Chase in the bag.
Similarities have been drawn with the great Paul Nichollstrained dual Gold Cup winner Kauto Star, who had a special mix of speed and stamina.
Patrick said: ‘The fall at Cheltenham last year made a man of Galopin Des Champs. Up until then he was too exuberant — he attacked fences that he shouldn’t have done.
‘Since he had the fall he has settled and can pop his fences. He is not afraid of them but it made him realise he is mortal! He is quicker than Al Boum Photo, who was a real stayer. I am not sure he is as quick as Kauto Star but he has got the rest of it.’
Patrick will be the supporting act to Galopin Des Champs when he rides his dad’s Irish Gold Cup runner-up Stattler. ‘We went a half-stride too slow in that race,’ said Patrick, who also has a big chance on Gaillard Du Mesnil in the National Hunt Chase.
‘Stattler got caught for toe after the second last-fence but stayed on great. He reminds me of 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River and worse horses which have won Gold Cups.’