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Over the course of the last decade, Willie Mullins has become the one to beat at the Cheltenham Festival, and doing so is no easy task. The Irishman has won the Leading Trainer accolade seven times in the last 10 years. His seven victories at Prestbury Park last year were enough to see him take home the trophy again, but there was heartache for Gordon Elliott, who missed out on the award on the basis of Mullins having more placings.
It was a strange state of affairs in the Cotswolds last March. Elliott looked certain to land his third top trainer award of his career. However, a late comeback from Mullins, which included four wins on the final day, saw the 64-year-old retain his crown. Mullins is heavily expected to win the Leading Trainer award again this year, so why leave searching for the best Cheltenham tips for tomorrow, when you can sort out your selections today!
Anyway, with the Festival just around the corner, let’s take a look back at Mullins’ seven winners from last year, some of which will be on the hunt for more glory in the Cotswolds this year.
Ferny Hollow – Champion Bumper
It wasn’t until the final race of day two that Mullins landed his first victory at the 2020 Festival, and it’s fair to say that it came from a rather unlikely suitor. The bookies’ favourite was another of Mullins’ horses, Appreciate It, but he was beaten by his stablemate and 11/1 shot Ferny Hollow, who romped over the line two and half lengths clear of the market leader.
Min – Ryanair Chase
Min’s victory in the Ryanair Chase on day three felt like a long time coming. Year after year, the Rich Ricci-owned horse was overshadowed by the legend that is Altior. However, with Min diverted away from the path of the Nicky Henderson-trained horse, who later pulled out of the Queen Mother through injury, in the build-up to the meeting, he finally had his day in the Ryanair Chase. But it wasn’t easy. He had to fight off the challenges of Saint Calvados and in the end, he won by just a neck. Min is the early favourite to defend his Ryanair Chase crown, and here’s hoping he can get another Festival victory under his belt.
Concertista – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Concertista landed Mullins his second victory of day three in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The seven-year-old was denied of winning the Grade 2 race by a short neck in 2019 as a 66/1 shot, but she bounced back last year. This time at a much shorter 9/2, Concertista won easily, beating her nearest competitor, Dolcita, by some 12 lengths. With two more victories since then, Concertista looks nailed on to take the step up and win the Mares’ Hurdle.
Burning Victory – Triumph Hurdle
Burning Victory got the ball rolling on a fantastic final day of the Festival for Mullins. Amazingly, the 12/1 shot had only joined Mullins’ yard two months prior to the meeting, and it was just her second outing for the Irish trainer, after winning a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse in February. At the final Hurdle, Burning Victory was around 10 lengths behind the leader, but with favourite Goshen unseating his rider, jockey Paul Townend kicked on and the pair went on to beat Aspire Tower by almost three lengths.
Saint Roi – County Handicap Hurdle
It was back-to-back victories for Mullins on the day as Saint Roi claimed the Grade 3 County Handicap Hurdle. The six-year-old was challenged by Aramon and Embittered at the final hurdle, but once moved up a gear by Barry Geraghty, he left his competition behind and romped home four and a half lengths clear. The Champion Hurdle is on the cards for Saint Roi this year, but fellow JP McManus-owned horse Epatante is much more fancied.
Monkfish – Spa Novices’ Hurdle
The wins just wouldn’t stop for Mullins, and Monkfish made it a hattrick of successive victories in the Spa Novices’ Hurdle. It was an incredibly tight finish with Latest Exhibition, Fury Road, Thyme Hill and Monkfish charging towards home as one, but it was the Mullins-trained horse who narrowly got his neck over the line first. Monkfish is expected to step up to the challenge of the Festival Novices’ Chase this year and is tipped to be a Gold Cup winner in the future.
Al Boum Photo – Gold Cup
After the dramatic finish in the Spa Novices’ Hurdle, Mullins would have been hoping for a much more straight forward affair in the Gold Cup. But that was wishful thinking, as the Festival showpiece went down to the wire. Santini came within a whisker of ending Al Boum Photo’s defence of the Gold Cup, and had the track have been a yard longer, the Henderson-trained horse probably would have won. Instead, Al Boum Photo held on by a neck, and he’s the favourite to win the race again this year in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting.