The Trainers’ Championship in Britain is going down the wire, but it would be some achievement from Willie Mullins were he to win it, considering he’s based in Ireland.
Paul Nicholls closed the gap a little yesterday, and both have plenty of runners at Ayr today, so there’s still plenty to play for.
While Willie’s in a great position, more than £130,000 ahead, there’s still plenty of money to be won.
Today’s Champion Hurdle and Scottish National could have a significant bearing on who claims the title, and on plans for the remaining days of the season.
Willie has horses entered in Perth for Wednesday and Thursday, and is talking about running Un De Sceaux in the Celebration Chase next Saturday afternoon at Sandown, where a rematch with Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre could be on the cards.
A lot depends on what way the money goes today.
He’s taking it very seriously, trying to cover many bases at this stage, but when you get this close you have to give it a good go.
This season has shown once again that you need the best horses to be champion.
At this point, Willie seems to have a lot of the good horses and must be favourite to win the title, but these things go in swings and roundabouts, and who knows what way the situation will be in three or four years’ time.
But Willie must also keep an eye on Punchestown, and it looks as though he is going to be running a lot of horses there.
I was in the yard during the week, and all the big names are still being ridden out — Yorkhill, Vautour, Annie Power, Douvan and Bellshill, amongst others.
Getting back to today’s action, Willie runs Measureofmydreams in the Scottish National. It’s a typically competitive renewal of the race, but he goes there with strong claims.
He finished third in the four-mile chase at Cheltenham on his last start, and that form was shown in a positive light when runner-up Native River won the Grade One Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree last week.
Prior to that, he won the Ten Up at Navan, although he would have been second had Black Hercules not tipped up at the last. Either way it’s good form, as Black Hercules went on to win the JLT Chase in impressive fashion.
Measureofmydreams’ form has been rock-solid all year, he handles the bit better ground, and is proven over the trip.
He is only a novice, but they have a good record in this race, and 11-3 is a nice weight to have. I think he has a good chance.
Of course, in a 30-runner chase over four miles you’re going to need a bit of good fortune, but with a little bit of luck in running he should go well.
Heathfield is probably the one they all have to beat. I thought he won well over hurdles at Navan last time and that should have put him spot-on for this. He’s a great jumper of fences, will go on the ground, will love the trip and I think he will run a huge race.
Cause Of Causes is one of the leading fancies, but 11-12 is plenty of weight to be carrying in a race like this.
Willie runs two — Ivan Grozny and Clondaw Warrior — in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, and they’re joint top weight with 11-10 to carry.
Ivan Grozny is 11lbs well-in as he got a 16lbs penalty for his easy win at Aintree last week, but only has to carry a mandatory 5lbs this time.
Looking back to last week’s race, we always thought he had the ability to produce a performance like that, but he had become frustrating. Can he back it up today? Who knows? Maybe he can, in which case he will be the one to beat.
The ground would want to be as dry as it is for Clondaw Warrior. He’s not the biggest horse in the world and so I would have a concern whether or not he is as good carrying 11-10 as he is with 10-7.
Willie runs Arbre De Vie in the two-mile-five handicap hurdle and he, too, has to carry top weight. But he’s a big, strong horse and should be well able to carry it. He ran okay in the Coral Cup on only his second start of the season, is still lightly raced and should have improvement in him. It’s a competitive-looking race, but I can see him running well.
Of my own injury, all I can say is that it is coming on well. I had a small procedure last Monday and it has healed up really well, but I won’t know more until next weekend when I go back to see the specialist.
I’m probably asking a lot, but am still hopeful of returning for Punchestown.
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