Trainer Mullins poised clean up again at Cheltenham National Hunt Festival

EMBASSY Gardens, Lossiemouth, Ballyburn, State Man, Jasmin De Vaux, Fact To File, Dinoblue, Jade De Grugy, High Class Hero, El Fabiolo, Gallopin Des Champs and Sa Majeste have two things in common. These dozen horses are ante-post favourites for their respective races at next week’s Cheltenham National Hunt Festival and all are trained by Willie Mullins.

For years, punters have been startled by the staggering domination of the Irish jumps’ scene by Mullins, but now that attitude is prevalent cross-channel as the Co Carlow based handler continues to rewrite the record books at National Hunt’s most prestigious meeting of the season. At the last two festivals alone, Mullins trained 16 of the 56 winners.

With a career festival haul of 94, Ireland’s champion trainer has made the Cheltenham feats of legendary stables like Tom Dreaper, Fulke Walwyn, Fred Winter, Martin Pipe and Fred Rimell appear distinctly ordinary. And such is the depth of Mullins’ raiding party next week, his stranglehold on the meeting is bound to continue.

Apart from all those market leaders, Mullins will be saddling a string of other fancied horses in the Cotswolds, leading to some predictions that the yard will surpass its record-breaking haul of ten winners at the 2022 festival. And remember, Cheltenham had built its legend on being the most competitive arena in the Sport of Kings.

Instead, Mullins is turning Cheltenham into a one-horse town and his stable has probably never been more dominant in the lead-up to the big four-day meeting. In January alone, he turned out a massive 40 winners and of the 73 entries for the eight Grade Ones at the recent Dublin Festival, he accounted for almost 60 per cent of them.

Yet, it was inconceivable that Ireland’s champion NH trainer for the last 16 years would nab the four Grade Ones on each day of the meeting. Granted, Mullins has unprecedented firepower at his disposal, but surely at least one of those flagship races would be landed by another stable. It proved wishful thinking.

In fact, Mullins’ stranglehold on jumps racing is stronger than ever and cross-channel owners and trainers must be resigned to slim pickings at Cheltenham given the sheer depth of the raiding party from Closutton – approximately 80 in number. It’s not a healthy scenario and that’s why we have so many odds-on favourites going to the post next week.

Pictured: Kings Hill and Jack Gilligan clear the last on their way to winning a maiden hurdle at Thurles last month. Trained in Craughwell by Paul Gilligan, the five-year-old is bound for The Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

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