PAT KEANE: It’s Willie Mullins versus the rest of Ireland!

Last Monday the Racing Post produced a pullout detailing the ammunition currently residing at Willie Mullins’ Co Carlow base.

It ran to no less than eight pages and must have made for chilling reading for every other National Hunt trainer on this island.

Ireland is a small country, we don’t have a massive number of courses that can facilitate the game in the winter and the amount of racing that takes place over those months isn’t exactly huge.

So there is no doubt Mullins is going to be faced with an enormous task through the campaign attempting to slot in horses wherever he can. A quick glance at the guide the Post offered us tells us about horses such as Champagne Fever, Annie Power, Boston Bob, Briar Hill, Hurricane Fly, Pont Alexandre, Sir Des Champs, Shaneshill, Vautour, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux.

What you find is one tends to leave out those that would be regarded as very much stars in another yard, but are not premier division in Carlow. Then you had a section devoted to what were termed “new recruits”, as well as a plethora of un-raced, at least on the track, bumper horses.

It all made for great reading and left little doubt that this is a season, which promises to be even more pronounced than normal, where it will be Willie Mullins versus the rest of Ireland.

He seems to have hundreds of horses and that, you’d imagine, is not a total exaggeration. How Mullins will campaign them is going to be fascinating. Travelling to Britain will surely have to play a major part, otherwise there simply will not be enough targets for the mountain of horses to aim at.

But, even with that in mind, clashes between high-class Mullins horses here at home are surely inevitable and that, of course, will be no bad thing. He is now just beginning to unwrap his winter charges and, on the little we know so far, they are shaping as if needing the initial outing. Certainly, that was how his Boston Bob performed in last Saturday’s Champion Chase at Down Royal.

His jumping was quite superb and Boston Bob travelled like a dream through the contest.

But from about half a mile out, Ruby Walsh’s body language told us he sensed his partner had no more to give and didn’t beat him up when it was obvious they were not going to get anywhere near the impressive winner, Road To Riches.

The Friday at Down Royal saw Mullins’ Arctic Fire range up to swamp Little King Robin in a Grade 2 hurdle, but again a lack of fitness seemed to take its toll and the mare ran away from him in the closing stages.

As we move deeper into the season, though, the Mullins army will get fitter and fitter and it won’t be very long before they start to go in at the first time of asking-on a regular basis.

Here are two sure-fire winners, we hope, and they both ran in the same race, Velvet Maker and Minella Berry.

They were second and third respectively behind Rock The World at Down Royal and you just felt their turn would not be too long delayed.

Velvet Maker was trying to give the relatively experienced Rock The World 8lbs and was having a first outing since taking third behind Vautour and First Lieutenant at Navan in early December.

He was far too free for his own good and, obviously, will have to settle much better if his undoubted potential is to be realised. Minella Berry is even more interesting. He went north, from John Kiely’s yard, on the back of one outing in a point-to-point, scoring at Kilworth last March. He looks a fair sort in the making.

Is Don Cossack finally ready to reach the heights that were expected of him as a bumper horse? There is no doubt he had been largely disappointing over fences. He’s done well enough, yes, it’s just so much faith was placed in him that every little failure, or perceived failure, was magnified.

He made his reappearance at Punchestown last month and was impressive, in an ordinary contest. Trying to concede Paul Nicholls’ Wonderful Charm 2lbs at Down Royal a week ago, however, was an altogether different proposition. I gather that Wonderful Charm arrived carrying maximum stable confidence, but Don Cossack didn’t just beat him, he kicked his rival out of the way, to the tune of eight and a half lengths. It is far too early to be getting carried away, but the early signs are highly encouraging as far as this giant is concerned.

Aidan O’Brien’s talented mare Chicquita has a history of hanging badly left and one day at Saint-Cloud actually ran through the hedge, with a race at her mercy.

She was in action in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita last weekend and when coming into shot, on Saturday night, one of the American commentators was moved to say: “There’s Chicquita, she’s bananas.”


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