Ireland’s champion National Hunt Willie Mullins is the winning-most trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, with 61 successes.
He has won the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at five of the last eight Festivals (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016) and sent out a joint record of eight winners across the four days in 2015. He was runner-up to fellow Irish trainer Gordon Elliott in both 2017 and 2018, with six and seven winners respectively.
Mullins’ squad for the four days in 2019 once again boasts significant strength in depth with established stars such as Faugheen and Min being joined by a talented team of novice hurdlers and chasers.
Classy mare Laurina has emerged as the Closutton’s handler leading candidate for the feature on day race one the £450,000 Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Unbeaten in five starts for Mullins, Laurina recorded a facile 18-length win in the Grade 2 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival before going on to Grade 1 success at Fairyhouse.
Laurina has been restricted to just two runs this term due to unsuitable ground conditions. Winner of a two-runner Listed race at Sandown Park in January, the six-year-old daughter of Spanish Moon completed her preparation for the two-mile hurdling championship when justifying odds-on favouritism in the Listed Quevega Mares Hurdle over two miles and four furlongs at Punchestown under Ruby Walsh.
Laurina, who bids to emulate another Mullins-trained mare Annie Power in winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle, is joined in this year’s renewal by dual Grade 1 winner Sharjah and Melon who finished a neck second to Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, but has failed to win in three starts since.
Discussing the differences between Annie Power and Laurina, Mullins said:
“They are very different mares. Both are big, but they differ in terms of their temperament. Laurina last year was on the excitable side – she doesn’t like anyone in her box, whilst Annie Power, you could let a five-year-old in her box and you would be safe.”
Discussing his other Champion Hurdle contenders, Mullins commented:
“Melon looks good. I am very happy with him. We have been trying to work out what went wrong with him so far this season and we have our own reasons and we are trying to change those for Cheltenham.
“Sharjah has been a nice surprise this season and has improved beyond all recognition – he has got his confidence back and is a really good horse. We’ve been delighted to see him win two Grade 1s this season and we are very pleased with him.”
The £450,000 Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle is off at 3.30pm on Tuesday.