Parked alongside the main road into the Cheltenham track, tucked in behind the burger vans, the touts and the gamut of punters filing expectantly by, are the scores of horse boxes that have congregated from all corners of the UK, Ireland and further afield.
They all tell their own stories: smaller, older vehicles overshadowed by supersleek behemoths. Mullins has four of the latter stationed here: The sheer size of them in their dark green livery making their own imposing statement long before the prized occupants in the back get their chance.
The precious stock started arriving last Saturday. More will join them as the week stretches on.
Twenty of his arsenal — a number most trainers would say constitutes a bulging yard — were walked around the parade ring and schooled in the paddock on Monday.
“As long as Cheltenham has room to take them, we will keep sending them,” Mullins said.
Somehow, the quality outdoes that quantity.
A record eight winners last year, with half of them banked on the Tuesday, raised his tally of winners at the festival to 41 and only Closutton could lose the likes of Faugheen and Arctic Fire and still intimidate the rest with their abundance of class.
Mullins had sought to dam the rising tide of expectation prior to yesterday’s off.
So had Ruby Walsh.
It seemed like caution well-timed when Min finished a distant second to Altior in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but then normal service resumed.
Douvan in the Arkle, Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle, Vroum Vroum Mag in the Mares’ Hurdle: not quite the quartet of historic opening day victories that kickstarted last year’s record haul, but not a day’s work to be sniffed at either.
Amidst it all was something even more remarkable: A statement from Mullins that stood out like a jockey at a basketball match.
“We often think Douvan is the best horse we have ever had,” said Mullins.
Ask Walsh: This isn’t a man who jumps up and down about his horses.
Quite the statement so, especially when you think back over the winners he has saddled at Cheltenham alone. Florida Pearl. Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Faugheen…
On it goes.
Mullins wasn’t alone in that assessment. Consenting opinions were considerable, before and after the Arkle.
Mullins’ son Patrick was entrusted with the ride on Douvan in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown last December when Walsh was otherwise engaged at Kempton and Paul Townend stood himself down injured. He described the six-year old yesterday morning as a different breed.
“It’s like explaining colours to Stevie Wonder,” the younger Mullins said when asked of the ride.
You get used to these superlatives when you spend long enough around the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham.
Mere minutes, sometimes only seconds, pass after the finish by the time microphones are thrust under the noses of jockeys, trainers and owners so emotions are raw.
Yet rarely have so many salivated so much about a horse like they did with Douvan yesterday.
A huge horse, but athletic. Nimble. Intelligent. Huge ability. Knows where his forefeet are at all times.
“He is everything you would want going chasing,” said Willie Mullins.
His performance wasn’t perfect. Douvan cut it a tad fine at the last, but he still hadseven lengths to spare on Henry De Bromhead’s Sizing John, a horse whose slim chances of besting him for the first time in four attempts were supposed to have been aided by the drying ground.
It was a performance that opens up a dizzying future. Dizzying because that future is so uncertain, the options so many and varied. The racing world is his to conquer.
He could eventually go the Gold Cup route and Mullins suggested that Douvan would have started favourite in this year’s Champion Hurdle had he been entered in it. No-one disagreed.
“An absolute machine,” said the course commentator.
“He just seems to have everything,” said Rich Ricci, husband of the owner Susannah Ricci who enjoyed a frankly ridiculously successful day given Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag also came home wearing those distinct pink colours.
“Hopefully he can stay healthy.” “He is a monster. He was so easy, wasn’t he? He could be really, really special.
“He’s such a big horse, but what an athlete. Willie said he is the best he has ever had and he is certainly the best we have ever had. We’re very, very lucky.”
The brightest star in the most glittering of galaxies.
Quite the feat, that.