Why Willie Mullins needs that Golden Festival climax

Willie Mullins will travel to Cheltenham this week knowing there is one thing he really needs to put right — to finally win the Gold Cup.
Why Willie Mullins needs that Golden Festival climax

On no less five occasions, Mullins has made the lonely trek to the runner-up berth, the latest arriving when his Djakadam was second to Coneygree a year ago.

Finally, getting this monkey off his back will surely be foremost in his mind, as he tries again to set the record straight.

Some of the great names in racing have never won the Gold Cup, the likes of Peter Scudamore, Charlie Swan and Paul Carberry as jockeys.

But the most glaring of all is the legendary Martin Pipe.

He revolutionised the way National Hunt horses were trained in Britain and won just about every big race, with the exception of the Gold Cup.

In flat racing Dermot Weld has been an innovator and trail-blazer.

He is the only northern hemisphere trainer to ever win the Melbourne Cup, with Vintage Drop and Media Puzzle, he’s won the Belmont Stakes in America with Go And Go, all five Irish classics and many major races in Britain, France and further afield.

But the fact he has never yet landed an Epsom Derby continues to leave him with unfinished business.

It is very much a similar story with Mullins, who will celebrate his 60th birthday on September 15.

Unless he manages to add the one that really matters to his already magnificent record, he will surely always feel a sense of what might have been.

Mind you, two years ago, it could have been so different for Mullins and owners, Andrea and Graham Wylie, who showed extraordinary sportsmanship after their On His Own had finished second behind Lord Windermere in the Gold Cup.

On His Own was carried across the track by Lord Windermere on the run in and, with only a short head separating the pair, many observers were convinced the placings would be reversed.

The stewards, in their wisdom, allowed the result to stand and then Mullins and the Wylies refused to appeal the verdict subsequently, on the basis it simply would not be the same winning a Gold Cup in such a manner.

And that is one of the main reasons why Cheltenham will erupt come Friday should Mullins head directly to the number one berth, rather than having to turn left, as usual, on entering the enclosure that will be reserved for the principals when the race is over.

This time around he has three serious arrows to throw at the target in Vautour, Djakadam and Don Poli.

Every punter worth his salt knows that if Vautour ran in the Ryanair Chase he would be a virtual certainty and go off a short priced favourite.

But contests such as the Ryanair, at the four-day, 28-race, bloated festival, have become literally a dime a dozen.

That’s an exaggeration, obviously, the point being that the Ryanair, like many other races through the week, is simply of limited importance.

Mullins’ decision to leave the Ryanair behind, in an effort to win the Gold Cup, is perfectly understandable and clearly the way to go.

The million-dollar question regarding Vautour is will he stay the punishing three miles, two and a half furlongs? Those last two and a half furlongs, up the final hill, have been the undoing of many a good horse.

No one knows whether he will or not and that very much includes Mullins. There is only one sure way to find out and we will be a lot wiser in four days-time.

Djakadam and Don Poli offer real back up.

Djakadam was second 12 months ago, when only a six-year-old, but fell at the tenth on his prep run at Cheltenham in late January and that was less than ideal.

Don Poli stays forever and has won on both his previous visits to the festival. But the big question against him is whether he will have the tactical speed to play a major part.

This Gold Cup, of course, is far from being a Mullins benefit, with the Irish challenge greatly reinforced by Gordon Elliott’s Don Cossack, the highest rated chaser in training. Add in the rejuvenated Cue Card, and plenty of others, and what it all amounts to is a Gold Cup of real depth, even if last year’s winner, Coneygree, is missing through injury.

From an Irish point of view this week is very much about Mullins, strongly supported by Elliott, with a number of others set for minor roles.

Mullins has trained 41 festival winners, since first getting on the scoresheet with Tourist Attraction in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995.

He only had one success in each of the next two years and there was no indication of the avalanche of winners that was to follow.

But Rich Ricci coming on board as an owner, together with the likes of the Wylies, Michael Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud and J P McManus, has seen the strength of the Mullins team grow to astonishing proportions.

Indeed, since 2007 Mullins has never failed to have a winner at the festival, more often than not a lot more than just one. Last year was his best to date, winning a record eight races.

On this occasion he is set to have as many as 60 runners, which is mind boggling.

Horses, staff, food and water all have to be organised for what is an away game and a serious logistical challenge. And there is also the little matter of maybe another 100 horses having to be looked after at home on top of that.

In any case the Mullins team will have to travel without some of its biggest players, especially Faugheen and Arctic Fire, who both miss tomorrow’s Champion Hurdle.

But he will still be able to call on his powerful Gold Cup candidates, as well as Min, Douvan, Annie Power, Nichols Canyon, Vroum Vroum Mag, A Toi Phil, Un De Sceaux, Black Hercules, Limini and so many more.

How many winners will Mullins have?

It would be easy to get carried away, but strong and all as his army undoubtedly is if he can get near last year’s eight then that will represent some achievement.

WILLIE’S WINNERS

1) Tourist Attraction, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 1995

2) Wither Or Which, Champion Bumper, 1996

3) Florida Pearl, Champion Bumper, 1997

4) Florida Pearl, RSA Chase, 1998

5) Alexander Banquet, Champion Bumper, 1998

6) Joe Cullen, Champion Bumper, 2000

7) Scolardy, Triumph Hurdle, 2002

8) Rule Supreme, RSA Chase, 2004

9) Missed That, Champion Bumper, 2005

10) Ebaziyan, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2007

11) Fiveforthree, Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle 2008

12) Cousin Vinny, Champion Bumper, 2008

13) Mikael D’Haguenet, Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle, 2009

14) Cooldine, RSA Chase, 2009

15) Quevega, Mares’ Hurdle, 2009

16) Thousand Stars, County Hurdle, 2010

17) Quevega, Mares’ Hurdle, 2010

18) Final Approach, County Hurdle, 2011

19) Sir Des Champs, Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle, 2011

20) Quevega, Mares’ Hurdle, 2011

21) Hurricane Fly, Champion Hurdle, 2011

22) Sir Des Champs, Jewson Novices’ Chase, 2012

23) Quevega, Mares’ Hurdle, 2012

24) Champagne Fever, Champion Bumper, 2012

25) Briar Hill, Champion Bumper, 2013

26) Back In Focus, National Hunt Chase, 2013

27) Quevega, Mares’ Hurdle, 2013

28) Hurricane Fly, Champion Hurdle, 2013

29) Champagne Fever, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2013

30) Vautour, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2014

31) Quevega, Mares’ Hurdle, 2014

32) Faugheen, Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, 2014

33) Don Poli, Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, 2014

34) Douvan, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2015

35) Un De Sceaux, Arkle, 2015

36) Faugheen, Champion Hurdle, 2015

37) Glens Melody, Mares’ Hurdle, 2015

38) Don Poli, RSA Chase, 2015

39) Vautour, JLT Novices’ Chase, 2015

40) Wicklow Brave, County Hurdle, 2015

41) Killultagh Vic, Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, 2015

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