Willie Mullins is bookies’ favourite to be top Cheltenham 2018 trainer — here’s what HE thinks of his challengers

When Willie Mullins describes the 2017-18 season as “a funny winter”, he means ‘peculiar’ not ‘ha-ha’.

There’s the usual blend of youth and experience in the Closutton raiding party — but the burden rests heavy on the young shoulders.

Former greats Faugheen and Douvan no longer bear the aura of invincibility, so its vital the new wave of talent, spearheaded by Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Getabird and Arkle jolly Footpad, comes to the fore.

Twelve months ago, a turbulent Cheltenham Festival saw Mullins surrender the trainers’ title to rival Gordon Elliott.

The bookies rate him the favourite to get it back — and there’s also the small matter of the Gold Cup, in which a four-pronged attack bids to deliver Mullins, six times the runner-up, steeplechasing’s ultimate prize for the first time.


Two from two over hurdles, Getabird won at Punchestown in December and followed up in a Grade 2 event at the same track in January.

Getabird won on debut over hurdles, above, and maintained his 100% record in January
(Image: PA Wire)

Sharjah fell at the last at Leopardstown over Christmas before finishing seventh to Samcro in south Dublin last month.

MULLINS SAYS: He’s not as flashy at home as the likes of Douvan, but he was very good in Punchestown — he picked the Supreme for himself by winning so nicely — and he’s improving all the time.

I think the ground was why Sharjah ran badly the last day. At home when the ground is soft, he’s not able to put one leg in front of the other. But when it dries out, he’s a different horse.

NEWSBOY’S VERDICT: Ireland’s champion trainer has captured the Festival curtain-raiser five times — and has an excellent chance of a sixth victory.

Getabird dismissed market rival Mengli Khan in the style of a promising novice last time, but Sharjah hasn’t had the rub of the green and shouldn’t be underestimated.

ODDS: 11-8

FOOTPAD — ARKLE, Tuesday (2.10)

Fourth in last year’s Champion Hurdle, he is unbeaten in three novice chases this winter, beating Petit Mouchoir by five lengths in the Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown last time.

MULLINS SAYS: He has a beautiful method of jumping — he was good enough to run in a Champion Hurdle, but jumping has catapulted him to the top. The first day he jumped fences he showed me that he was electric over them.

Superb jumper Footpad could be a Gold Cup horse one day, says Mullins
(Image: PA Wire)

He is just a natural. He takes it wherever he meets it — he stands back, he’s very quick and he has no fear.

He could be a Gold Cup horse one day — when you jump like that, you can go any trip.

NEWSBOY’S VERDICT: Proved shy of top class over hurdles but hard to fault what he’s achieved as a novice chaser — hence his place at the head of the Arkle betting.

His jumping has proved a trump card in the rookie grade, and only his Cheltenham Festival record — he was third in the Triumph Hurdle before his 2017 Champion Hurdle defeat — tempers enthusiasm.

ODDS: 11-8


Brilliant 2015 Champion Hurdler was electric after 665 days off the track in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, before pulling up at 2-11 in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.

The 9-10 favourite for Leopardstown’s Irish Champion Hurdle, he finished second to Supasundae, with Melon fifth.

Yorkhill beat just one home over fences at Leopardstown last month, while Wicklow Brave is unraced since running 10th in the Melbourne Cup.

Faugheen adorns a building in Dublin city centre ahead of Cheltenham 2018
(Image: PA Wire)

MULLINS SAYS: It was great when Faugheen won the Morgiana and the last day he ran way better than at Christmas, but he’ll have to up his game. The cheekpieces are there to give him a bit of drive and maybe revitalise him.

He fires round Cheltenham, so we’re hoping when he gets back there that can reignite him as well.

Yorkhill didn’t want to jump at that speed over fences and I think that’s enough reason to put him back over hurdles. Melon didn’t run well the last day but Wicklow Brave is in good shape.

NEWSBOY’S VERDICT: Explosive on his return, abject next time — Faugheen was somewhere between the two extremes on his latest start.

Hard to escape the conclusion this once great hurdler is now very much on the downgrade, or that he, or his stablemates, will struggle to cope with incumbent Buveur D’Air, who still has more to offer.

ODDS: 11-2

DOUVAN — CHAMPION CHASE, Wednesday (3.30)

Unraced since defeat at 2-9 in last year’s Champion Chase, Douvan is back in the picture for the Wednesday feature, despite earlier being ruled out for the season.

Min, disqualified at the top level at Leopardstown over Christmas, won by an easy 12 lengths at the same venue last time.

Douvan hasn’t raced since Cheltenham 2017 — and it was felt his season was over
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)

MULLINS SAYS: It’s not that long ago we were told we couldn’t train Douvan for the year, but within a week or 10 days he was sound and he’s doing everything right at the moment. I just hope I can get him back to the sort of form he was in back in November.

To me, Min is unbeaten this year! He’s doing all the right things — whether he’s good enough, I don’t know. Altior beat him in the Supreme two years ago, and I guess it would be hard to turn that form around.

NEWSBOY’S VERDICT: Douvan’s in-out Champion Chase saga this winter — allied to his flop in the race 12 months ago — mean he comes here with questions to answer, and both he and Min look up against it as they bid to inflict a first defeat over obstacles on hot favourite Altior.

ODDS: 9-2


The reigning title-holder — he beat Sub Lieutenant in the Ryanair 12 months ago before being beaten by Fox Norton at Punchestown — is unbeaten in two starts this winter.

The 4-6 favourite for the Hilly Way Chase over two miles at Cork in December, Un De Sceaux relished the bottomless ground and made all the running to beat Top Gamble by 25 lengths.

Sent off at 4-9 for Ascot’s top-level Clarence House Chase in January, the 10-year-old and Paul Townend had seven lengths to spare over Speredek, becoming the first horse to win the Grade 1 three times.

Un De Sceaux is unbeaten this winter and favourite to retain his Ryanair crown
(Image: Getty)

MULLINS SAYS: He’s had only two runs and, between his races, he’s been doing so well and putting on condition. He is always strong in his work in the mornings — he just keeps galloping, puts his head down and gets on with the job. Every day he goes out, he wants to be racing. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s so hard on himself.

He’s been amazing this year. He had everything in his favour in Cork, but at Ascot we thought there might be a couple of front-runners, so Paul said he was happy to let them go. To win that race three years running is great. He’s racing a lot more relaxed these days, which means we can ride him differently.

He jumps around Cheltenham well and the trip isn’t a problem — there are no stamina doubts. He’s the ultimate iron horse and everything is going well with him.

NEWSBOY’S VERDICT: He’s now 10 years old, but there are no signs that this remarkable horse is slowing down.

Soft ground is clearly a plus for Un De Sceaux when racing over two miles, but the going was good when he won the Ryanair over an additional five furlongs 12 months ago.

There are plenty of ifs and buts about those behind him in the market, so he rates a worthy favourite for a second Ryanair — and third Festival triumph in all.

ODDS: 5-4


Returned from 714-day absence — the result of a ligament injury and a cracked pelvis — to score over hurdles at Punchestown in December and led when falling at the final fence of the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, in which Djakadam came third, last time.

Total Recall landed a Munster National gamble on his stable debut and followed that with victories at Newbury and Leopardstown. Bachasson has won Listed chases at Thurles and Tramore this winter.

Killultagh Vic has to dust himself off after this fall when leading last month’s Irish Gold Cup
(Image: PA Wire)

MULLINS SAYS: I’m very happy with Killultagh Vic. The last day, I wouldn’t have been betting against him jumping the last. It looked like he hit it, threw his legs out to the left and unbalanced himself, but he’s schooled well since.

He won a three-mile hurdle against Thistlecrack — there’s no stamina concern.

Total Recall is a very relaxed horse — he jumps very economically — so I think that would suit him around Cheltenham. Our aim has been the Grand National, but he deserves to have a crack at the Gold Cup.

Djakadam has been disappointing this year, but this could be an open Gold Cup. It looks a tough race for Bachasson, though.

NEWSBOY’S VERDICT: Killultagh Vic would likely have won at Leopardstown had he stayed on all fours, but still needs to improve to give his trainer a first Gold Cup — a comment that also applies to Total Recall.

Djakadam has three Gold Cup defeats on his record, so makes limited appeal.

ODDS: 8-1

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