Willie Mullins prepares for Cheltenham Festival [PICTURES]

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  • Irish trainer Willie Mullins could send over a whopping 50 runners for next week’s Cheltenham Festival (10-13 March) so H&H decided to pay him a visit. Here’s what goes on behind the scenes at a busy National Hunt yard in the run-up to the big event.

    1. Third lot of the morning is led by the 11-year-old stable superstar Hurricane Fly, ridden by Paul Townend. He and Faugheen (pictured behind) both line up in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle.

    1 Hurricane Fly leads Faugheen

    2. Willie Mullins’ training base in Co. Carlow is home to nearly 160 racehorses.

    2 yard

    3. The great mare Annie Power limbers up before heading out on to the gallops. She has entries in the World Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle but looks likely to line-up for the latter, having recovered from a pre-stress fracture in her hindquarters in December. “Everything has gone fine since,” says Willie.

    3 Annie Power

    4. There’s an organised chaos on the gallops as dozens of horses enjoy a morning spin.

    4 gallops

    5. “The Fly” has won a staggering 22 Grade One races. He’s bidding to make it a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle wins, having taken the title in 2011 and 2013.

    5 Hurricane Fly

    6. Willie Mullins, with a little help from his dog, oversees proceedings as several strings are put through their paces.

    6 Mullins

    7. The six-year-old Valseur Lido has entries in both the RSA Chase and the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham for prolific owners the Gigginstown House Stud.

    7 Valseur Lido

    8. Willie’s son Patrick Mullins is an astute jockey.

    8 Patrick Mullins
    9. The five-year-old Alvisio Ville, owned by JP McManus, has only raced twice over hurdles but looks a nice type for either the Supreme Novices’ on Tuesday or the Neptune on Wednesday.

    9 Alvissio Ville

    10. Boston Bob is looked after by Qasim Raza, who has high hopes to lead his charge in to the winner’s enclosure at the Festival – he’s entered in the Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase.

    10 Boston Bob

    11. “We’re looking forward to Cheltenham as much as we’re dreading it,” says an anxious Willie Mullins, who could beat Nicky Henderson’s all-time training record of seven Festival winners in one year.

    11 String
    12. “It’s going to be the race of the Festival if Hurricane Fly can win,” says Willie Mullins.

    12 Hurricane Fly
    13. Clondaw Warrior watches over proceedings

    13 Clondaw Warrior
    14. One of several bright, airy indoor barns at the Co. Carlow stables.

    14 Stables
    15. Petite Parisienne enjoys a burst of speed. The four-year-old heads for the Triumph Hurdle on Friday.

    15 Pettite Parisienne
    16. After a work-out, all the horses enjoy a splash through the stream before returning to their stables.

    16 water

    17. Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen is looked after by John Codd. “He’s so straightforward and he knows me and I know him,” says John. “I’ve always thought he was good, he’s had the potential from the start.”

    17 Faugheen
    18. Florida Pearl, one of the greatest chasers of all time, was once resident in the Willie Mullins yard. He died aged 20 in 2012 but his legend lives on.

    18 Florida Pearl
    19. Hurricane Fly enjoys a spot of relaxation in the field after his morning’s work is done.

    19 Fly
    20. Ballycasey has several Cheltenham entries including the Ryanair Chase, plus some of the handicap races. “I think he’s better than he was the other day [at Ascot] and we don’t have much for him at home other than Irish National,” says Willie.

    20 Ballycasey
    21. It’s all about lists in the Mullins household!

    21 lists
    22. Djakadam could be a dark horse for the Gold Cup on Friday. “The extra two furlongs will be a help,” says Willie. “He made a novice mistake at Cheltenham last year but hopefully the experience he’s shown will be enough. I don’t think jumping will be an issue. At Gowran Park recently he had top weight and to me that’s a Gold Cup performance.”

    22 Djakadam
    23. Hurricane Fly is a huge favourite with the crowds – and even attracts some fanmail…

    23 Fly
    24. Gitane Du Berlais will be sitting out the Festival after a recent win in France, but the five-year-old mare is one-to-watch for future years.

    24 Gitane Du Berlais

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, out today (Thursday 5 March, 2015), with H&H‘s Cheltenham Festival preview including the full interview with Willie Mullins, tips from the experts and form guide

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