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.
2. Willie Mullins’ training base in Co. Carlow is home to nearly 160 racehorses.
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.
4. There’s an organised chaos on the gallops as dozens of horses enjoy a morning spin.
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.
6. Willie Mullins, with a little help from his dog, oversees proceedings as several strings are put through their paces.
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.
8. Willie’s son Patrick Mullins is an astute jockey.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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