The men looking to be the key names this March are Walsh and Mullins. Needless to say they are seen as some what of the dream team heading to this years festival. If all goes well they will turn up to jumping HQ with a hatful of, not just potential winners, but saddle a whopping nine current favourites. With just the twenty seven races in total over the four days they occupy the head of the betting in a huge 33% of the races. There’s no doubt that they have the majority of this years superstars but I want to look at just how worthy these favourites are and if Walsh and Mullins are as good as we made to believe.
It cannot be questioned that they are a team that have turned out an abundance of Cheltenham talent over the years and they could yet have a fantastic four days but surely all their talent can’t pick up the win? Can they?
With four of these favourites racing on the first day Tuesday could be one of their most successful twenty four hours they have ever had.
The first they saddle is Douvan who enters the Supreme Novices Hurdle. A race the Walsh and Mullins combination have been successful in over the past two years with Champagne Fever and Vautour. The horse is the idea of many punters festival banker and with three wins to its name it’d be very difficult to dismiss. In my own opinion only L’Ami Serge can give it a good run for its money but if we go off the teams previous successes then Douvan seems a relatively obvious choice to kick start day one.
It may be surprising however that of the four favourites the yard saddle on day one it is the biggest price of the lot.
Moving on through Tuesday’s entries and we come to odds on favourite for The Arkle, Un De Sceaux. A horse that many, including myself, grumbled about with the decision to go chasing as opposed to staying over hurdles. A theory I felt vindicated in when the horse fell a few starts back however a formidable and mouth dropping performance to beat Clarcam and Gilgamboa last time out firmly put me in my place and is by far the best horse from Ireland to enter this. However Cheltenham is a very different proposition that the races it’s tackled previously. It’s also worth noting that Willie Mullins has only ever saddled three Grade 1 chase winners at the festival. (Florida Pearl in 1998, Rule Supreme in 2004 and Cooldine in 2008) The horse is being talked about as something “special” and people are already backing the horse for the 2016 Queen Mother Chase. This special tag is one that has been given to many a Mullins horse over the last four or so years with many of them flopping. Could this be a hit or miss we do not know but at an odds on price is it a viable betting option for punters?
We then come to the showpiece race on day one as they line up for The Champion Hurdle. Faugheen is the one with a mountain of expectation in what is seen by some as a less than vintage renewal of the race. The horse hasn’t done much wrong by winning all nine of its starts including a win at The Festival last year. Ruby Walsh will have a very difficult decision to make as to wether or not he follows his heart and rides Hurricane Fly or his head and sticks with the favourite. If Ruby was to stick with his previous Champion Hurdle mount it must have an impact on Faugheen’s chances and it is a relatively distinct possibility. It also has to be noted that nineteen of the last twenty Champion Hurdle winners had a run the same year, however Faugheen hasn’t raced since December. Is he the horse that’s going to buck this trend?
We end the Mullins charge with a race the team has farmed for fun by winning it the last six years on the trot with wonder mare and superstar Quevega. Clearly the team know what they’re doing when it comes to this race but is Annie Power in the same league as the formidable Lady of Cheltenham? With Quevega now retired you can see that the class of entries this year seems a step up on previous years now that they don’t have such a formidable horse to tackle this time around. It’s also worth noting that Annie Power has only won at Cheltenham once and that was a three runner race in November 2013. The horse seems to have been aimed at so many different races and some feel it should’ve headed to The Champion Hurdle last year as opposed to The World Hurdle where it was turned over. For such a lovely horse in my opinion it seems to have been messed about quite a bit in terms of trip, races etc. The horse has plenty of questions to ask with it not being seen on the race course since May last year: How fit is the horse, how will it cope back at race conditions and is Cheltenham too much of a test for a horse first time out? These questions are just a few of what seem many and without an answer to any of them until she struts her stuff on race day can it be seen as a fair price with some bookmakers paying as short as 4/5?
Of the remaining favourites that Mullins leads to Gloucestershire there’s only really one other superstar and that is Vautour. A winner at last years festival it has course form but second year novices have a hard time at the festival. As mentioned earlier Mullins hasn’t won many Grade 1 chases over the biggest four days in National Hunt racing and with a defeat to Clarcam who is no slouch, it shows the horse has its frailties and may be there for the taking.
I write this article, not as a bitter Englishman looking at the festival and sighing at the thought of an Irish whitewash after all with a name like Rory Kilkenny Paddock it’s safe to say my routes flow over the Irish Sea. I write it because I wonder wether or not racing fans are being conned into favourites that may not deserve their short priced odds. I actually have backed one of Mullins’s big favourites ante post so I am not dead set against their chances but is there really any value with their more fancied horses or do the names Walsh and Mullins automatically strike fear into the hearts of bookmakers and therefore the price they’re willing to pay out?
If I had to back any of the teams runners I’d be happy to stick with their charges in the Champion Bumper, a race they have an excellent record in and with horses that are likely to be each-way value.
What are your thoughts on the stables entries this year and are you with them or against them in March?
Current Race Favourites and Best Prices:
Supreme Novices Hurdle – Douvan (7/4)
Arkle – Un De Sceaux (8/13)
Champion Hurdle – Faugheen (5/4)
Mares Hurdle – Annie Power (Evens)
Neptune Novices Hurdle – Nichols Canyon (6/1)
Champion Bumper – Bordini & An Quart De Tour (10/1)
JLT Novices Chase – Vautour (5/2)
Albert Bartlet – Black Hercules (13/2)
written by Rory Paddock