Every year for the last decade or so, Willie Mullins has been the man to beat in the race for the Leading Trainer accolade at the Cheltenham Festival. Only Nicky Henderson (2012) and Irish counterpart Gordon Elliott (2017 and 2018) have managed to do so.
The Closutton handler’s stranglehold on jumps racing’s top meeting is now getting to the point where he is nigh on impossible to beat, with his four successive wins since 2019 testament to that. Last year’s Festival was record-breaking, as Mullins landed a never-before-seen 10 winners over the course of the four days — and he looks more than capable of something similar this March.
The ante-post markets are fluctuating as the meeting approaches, but at the time of writing the 88-time Festival winner has no less than 10 favourites across the board — while 19 of his 50+ contingent are represented in the top three of the betting for Cheltenham’s 14 Grade 1s.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that Mullins is as short as 2/13 in the Cheltenham betting to be crowned the Top Trainer for a fifth-straight year and a landmark 10th time in his glittering career. That said, let’s take a look at some of his leading chances as he looks to edge closer to an historic century.
El Fabiolo – Arkle Challenge Trophy
This race is by no means a certainty for the Mullins-trained El Fabiolo, as he is set to face stiff competition in the form of Jonbon. But the six-year-old has leapfrogged his Seven Barrows rival in the ante-post market for the Arkle following his victory in the Irish edition at Leopardstown earlier this month and Jonbon’s less than convincing victory in the Grade 2 Kingmaker at Warwick.
Energumene – Queen Mother Champion Chase
The Champion Chase, day two’s feature, is another tough race to call — with defending champion Energumene and Edwardstone beaten by Editeur Du Gite, who is now the third favourite for this year, over course and distance in the Clarence House Chase last month.
Energumen was third that day, which resulted in him drifting and losing favouritism to Edwardstone. But with the Alan King-trained horse suffering a setback recently, Mullins’ nine-year-old has shortened back to 13/8 and is being backed to return to form.
Lossiemouth – Triumph Hurdle
One of four heavy favourites from Mullins’ yard to be beaten at the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month, that second-place finish to stablemate Gala Marceau after being hampered in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle hasn’t done too much to effect Lossiemouth’s chances in the Triumph Hurdle.
It was one of a string of rides from Paul Townend that annoyed Mullins, as he pushed the four-year-old very hard to recover after being impeded. There were fears that he might have taken too much out of Lossiemouth that day, but she’s still 7/4 to win the Triumph. Closutton stablemates Blood Destiny, unbeaten over hurdles this season, and the aforementioned Gala Marceau make up the top three.
Galopin Des Champs
Where better to round things off than with the Gold Cup? The race is the showpiece of the entire jumps racing season let alone the Festival, and Mullins looks set to be on the cusp of a hattrick triumph in the pinnacle thanks to Galopin Des Champs. The seven-year-old is five for six over hurdles, with his only blemish coming via that devasting fall after the last in the Turners when well clear of Bob Olinger last year, and he’s added the Irish Gold Cup to his résumé with an eight-length victory at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He’s miles clear of the rest of the Gold Cup market at short odds of 6/4, with Irish Gold Cup second and stablemate Stattler coming in at 7/1. Facile Vega is another to consider, as he’s currently the 5/2 favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while It’s For Me is the 7/2 market leader for the Champion Bumper.