by Harvey Mayson, 19.02.2022
Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, taking his tally to 78 last year. He also edged out Henry de Bromhead on countback of placed horses to secure his eighth Trainers’ Title at the meeting. With less than a month to the start of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, bookmakers rate Mullins odds-on favourite at 4-9 to become leading trainer at the meeting for the ninth time in the last twelve years. We have taken a closer look at his fire power ahead of this year’s meeting to see whether he could even eclipse his record 8 victories at the 2015 meeting.
The opening day has the potential to be a very good one for the stable but there are no certainties at Cheltenham. Mullins has a very strong team of novices and is yet to finalise plans but Dysart Dynamo looks almost certain to contest the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He could be joined by any or all of Sir Gerhard, Kilcruit and State Man.
Dysart Dynamo routed a decent field in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown in January. Sir Gerhard beat Kilcruit in last season’s Champion Bumper and has taken to hurdling better than his stable companion. Whatever Mullins elects to run, he knows he has a fight on his hands from the Nicky Henderson-trained duo of Constitution Hill and Jonbon.
Irish Arkle winner Blue Lord faces a rematch with Gordon Elliott’s Riviere d’Etel in the Arkle Trophy. Once again, Mullins has an embarrassment of riches with Haut En Couleurs, Saint Sam and Ciel De Neige all possible runners. The one to beat is Alan King’s Edwardstone who displaced Blue Lord as favourite after his recent win at Warwick.
Mullins is not without a chance in the Champion Hurdle 2022 when he saddles Supreme Hurdle winner Appreciate It. Reigning champion Honeysuckle has extended her unbeaten record to 14 races and is the shortest priced favourite of the week. Mullins also has chances later in the day with Stormy Ireland (Mares Hurdle) and Stattler (National Hunt Chase).
Facile Vega the day 2 banker bet for Mullins
Mullins also has choices to make on day 2 of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, starting with the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Sir Gerhard is favourite here but could yet make the switch to the Supreme. Galopin Des Champs has been favourite for the Festival Novices’ Chase for some time but also has the option of the shorter Turners Novices’ Chase. If he runs in the Festival Chase, he will clash with the impressive Bravemansgame.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the race that nobody wants to miss with the rematch between Shishkin and Energumene. Mullins trains the latter but has made no secret of the fact that he rates Chacun Pour Soi the best two-mile chaser in his yard. He faded on the run-in when hot favourite last season but was a brilliant winner at the recent Dublin Festival at Leopardstown.
Mullins won’t be finished for the day until the closing Champion Bumper with Facile Vega a very short-priced favourite. The form is difficult to assess and he also has worthy contenders in Redemption Day and Jamess Gate. He has won the race an incredible eleven times.
Allaho the star performer in Ryanair Chase on day 3
The highlight of the third day of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival will be Allaho defending his Ryanair Chase crown. He put in some mighty leaps under Rachael Blackmore last season and has won both races this season. Allaho is so good over two and a half miles that Mullins has resisted the temptation to go up or down in trip.
Klassical Dream had looked the likely favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle but he ran well below his best last time. His previous victory over Flooring Porter put him right in the picture here and the race looks wide open. If Galopin Des Champs runs in the Turners Novices’ Chase he will face Bob Olinger which would be a race to savour.
The stable will be disappointed if they don’t collect the Mares Novices Hurdle with either Allegorie de Vassy or Brandy Love, first and second in the Grade 3 Solerina Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse. The runner-up jumped continuously out to her left that day and forfeited many lengths so it would be no surprise if she turned the form around at Cheltenham.
Al Boum Photo has good each-way chance in Gold Cup
After the pressure of last season’s ultimately unsuccessful hat-trick bid, Mullins will be happy that expectations are low for dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo. He ran a fine race in defeat behind Minella Indo and A Plus Tard last season and has followed his familiar path to the festival. He won comfortably on New Year’s Day at Tramore and there is no reason why he shouldn’t finish in the money.
Mullins could kick off the final day with a win in the Triumph Hurdle where Vauban clashes with old rival Pied Piper. He looked a shade unlucky when beaten by that horse on his debut and there is plenty of confidence behind him. Billaway will try to make it third time lucky in the Hunters Chase after twice finishing runner-up in that race. Concertista and Elimay clash in the Mares Chase where their biggest threat appears to be the Elliott-trained Grand National entry Mount Ida.
The stable will also be strongly represented in the handicaps throughout the festival meeting so there is every chance they will pick up another winner or two. Certainly a couple of winners each day looks achievable which puts Mullins right on course to equal his best Cheltenham Festival score of eight. Gordon Elliott matched that figure in 2018 but, with the Mullins team looking as strong as ever, there must be a possibility he could claim the record outright in 2022.