TELL them Willie Boy Mullins is here to launch the 2020 Cheltenham festival on a winning note just as he did 12 months ago.
In what is an intriguing renewal of the Supreme Novices Hurdle (1.30), it sees the two market leaders in the ownershp of Cork-born property tycoon and former on-course bookmaker Joe Donnelly.
Nicky Henderson has the 11/4 favourite in Sheskin who is unbeaten over hurdles since falling on his debut. Since that, he has recorded two easy wins which mark him out as a bit special.
However, it is the grey Asterion Forlonge who is the selection to give Mullins his seventh triumph in this race and his fourth in seven years.
The Closutton maestro was first successful with Tourist Attraction back in 1995 and includes the likes of Vatour (2014), Douvan (20015) and Klassical Dream 12 months ago in his list, so he knows exactly what is needed.
Two other Mullins runners are Elixir D’Ainay and unraced Berkshire Royal but it’s Asterion who is the star in the making and the mount of Irish champion elect Paul Townend, now that Ruby Walsh has retired.
Successful in three, the selection was most impressive in taking a Grade 1 event at Leopardstown and can start the Mullins 2020 campaign on a winning note.
Mullins and Townend have a shout with Cash Back in the Arkle (2.10) but the latter has a bit to find with Notebook, a strong Irish challenger from Henry de Bromhead’s yard and ridden by the redoubtable Rachael Blackmore.
However, another Irish fancy and the choice, is Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’Oudairies who was second to Notebook in the Racing Post Novice Chase on Boxing Day at the Leopardstown Christmas festival.
But the pace of the race didn’t suit Fakir and Mark Walsh lost his irons at a crucial stage before going down by a length and a half. D’Oudairies is taken to reverse that result.
After dotting up in the Red Mills Trial, Cilaos Emery was supplemented for the Champion Hurdle at a cost of £25,000. That’s an indication of what Mullins thinks of his chances as Cilaos will have to finish in the first three to get that that supplementary money back.
However, it is a big leap of faith and a better prospect at odds of 12/1 is Gavin Cromwell’s Darver Star who made Honeysuckle pull out all the stops in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Honeysucke has been switched from this race to the Mares’ Hurdle and she would have been a market leader in the Champion and that being the case, Darver Star is too big in the odds to be ignored.
Henry de Bromhead is very bullish and rightly so, about the chances of Honeysuckle in the Mares race over the extra half mile. The only problem is the presence of the Mullins mare Benie Des Dieux who had the race at her mercy last year until coming down at the final flight.
Benie has not been beaten in a completed race and she too, would have been a major contender in the Champion if Mullins had gone that way. But then he knows that this is the easier option and she has only one to beat. She is rated the best mare Willie has ever had and is appropriately named as Benie Des Dieux means ‘blessed by the gods.’
Mullins should make it a day to remember with Carefully Selected in the finale (5.30), the Amateur Novice Chase.
Unbeaten in three chases, Selected made several mistakes before winning easily over 3m at Navan. The extra five furlongs here should be ideal for one with plenty of stamina.
1.30: Asterion Forlonge; 2.10: Fakir D’Oudairies; 2.50: Mister Malarkey; 3.30: Darver Star (each-way); 4.10:Benie Des Dieux; 4.50: Trainwreck; 5.30: Carefully Selected.