Mullins set for bumper year
Willie Mullins' success on the world stage has been rewarded with a high-profile French recruit for the new season.
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An unprecedented win with Blackstairmountain earlier this year in Japan's premier jumps contest, the Nakayama Grand Jump, brought with it a winner's prize equivalent to £465,000.
That was swiftly followed by a victory for Dikali in the Grade One Juvenile Hurdle at Auteuil two months later, the latest in a long line of success for Mullins in France, who has won the Grade One Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil on no less than four occasions.
These successful exploits across the Channel have not gone unnoticed in French racing circles and indeed Mullins has broken new ground in attracting the French Triple Grade One winner Rubi Ball to his Closutton base.
"Rubi Ball is an interesting horse that came to us from France. We might find a conditions race for him because he hasn't won for a while so he could actually slot into a conditions chase, which would be a nice start," he told sportinglife.com.
"He's good and strong. The form book suggests he goes on heavy ground although he lost his form in Auteuil on very heavy ground and then he better form at Pau, where the ground wouldn't be as heavy. We'll see, we'll have to learn about him and if we find a nice conditions race that will help us.
"Even though he has a lot of miles on the clock, he's quite young in our terms and he could be a horse to look forward to. He seemed to go off the boil a bit last year and connections thought that maybe a change of training quarters might do him good.
"He owes no one anything so it will all be a bonus, what he will do over here. It's great to get French owners to have horses here in Ireland, its broadening the spectrum of steeplechasing, internationalising it. Very few French people would consider having a horse over here so it's an honour."
Another French-bred, Un De Sceaux, won by six lengths on his Irish debut at Punchestown before announcing himself as a hurdler to follow by slamming Moscow Mannon by 13 lengths at the same track in April.
"Un De Sceaux was a relatively unheralded horse that didn't come with a huge reputation, but he had some nice form. His two runs in Ireland showed that he could be a horse with tremendous potential. I'd be trying to find a second season novice hurdle for him to start off in.
"I have him entered in the Morgiana and who knows what will happen when November comes around but we will probably go for an easier option. However he has shown tremendous form at Punchestown, where the Morgiana is run, so we'll see."
The way Annie Power has been running, connections could consider changing her first name to 'Too Much' as she is unbeaten in seven starts, winning by an average margin of 16 lengths.
"Annie Power is another that has shown huge potential. She is seven from seven and we really don't know just how good she is. She's another one that I'd be trying to start off in a second season race rather than take on the big guns but she is entered in the Morgiana. We'll see how we go, she has come in well from grass and I'm looking forward to her," Mullins added.
Ruby Walsh took the ride on the unbeaten Briar Hill in the Cheltenham bumper last season but despite that star combination, the horse was allowed to go off a 25/1 shot.
He belied those odds to run out one of the most impressive winners of the race in recent years, in the process giving the trainer a record eighth winner of the race - an achievement all the more astonishing when you consider there have only been 21 renewals.
"Briar Hill is a very understated horse. He doesn't show off and has never really advertised his ability at home. He is closely related to Boston Bob and even though his first bumper appeared very ordinary on paper, he couldn't have won it an easier than the way he did. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we decided to go to Cheltenham because we didn't know how good he was" the trainer said.
"When he got to the big stage, he really blossomed and he showed us a lot more than he ever did in his life so he has to be a horse we are looking forward to coming out over hurdles. With his pedigree, it would point to him going over a trip of two and a half miles plus. We know he likes Cheltenham and he has form there now, so we would like to point him towards the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett."
His previous winner of the champion bumper, Champagne Fever went on to record a second successive Festival success in last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle and he promises to prove an exciting recruit to the chasing ranks this season.
"Champagne Fever will go jumping. He did very well at the end of his bumper career and also last year, before we went hurdling, he showed he was a natural jumper. However I felt he would need the experience of a year over hurdles to teach him how to race. We learned an awful lot about him too, last season. He looks a natural to go chasing over the minimum trip," said Mullins.
One of the big talking horses in Ireland last season was Faugheen, who was the subject of support for the champion bumper at Cheltenham prior to setting foot on the racecourse.
As it transpired, he didn't run at Cheltenham but when he did make his debut in May, he proved worth the wait, displaying an amazing turn of foot to rout his rivals.
"Faugheen put in a great performance to win his only bumper start at Punchestown by 22 lengths so if he can transform that form to hurdle races, I'll be looking forward to him as one of the better staying novice hurdlers," his trainer beamed.
Mullins also has as small but select Flat team which have amassed ten domestic winners this year from just 44 runs. He is no stranger to big race success in that sphere either, having won the Ebor at York with Sesenta before landing the Ascot Stakes and the Queen Alexandra with Simenon at the 2012 Royal meeting.
The same combination returned to this year's June showpiece where Simenon went down by a neck in the Group One Ascot Gold Cup.
He will hopefully become a second representative for Mullins in the Emirates Melbourne Cup, ten years on from Holy Orders.
"Simenon is doing everything right in Australia. We were very pleased how he took his quarantine in Newmarket and again in Australia," he said.
"He travelled really well and was doing some nice work before he ran in the Herbert Power. We were very happy with that run. He met a bit of trouble in running which wasn't any advantage to us but he finished well and has come out of the race sound.
"He's done two bits of work since, he second of which was Thursday and they have both gone well. At the moment, fingers crossed, everything is going to plan."
Mullins also mentioned a dark horse to follow, an Irish-bred son of Beneficial who finished third of 15 in a €50,000 hurdle at Auteuil in France, on his only start to-date.
"We bought a nice horse for Archie O'Leary of Florida Pearl and Cooldine fame called Abbyssial. He's a big chasing type, a three-year old by Beneficial that has been placed over hurdles in the spring in France.
"His real potential will be as a big chaser but I'm hoping when the ground gets heavy that he will show us good form over hurdles as well.
"We have a real nice team of horses to go to war with this year and if we can keep virus free and keep sickness out of the yard - and even though they are going to be a bit late coming on stream, as normal - we are really looking forward to them," Mullins concluded.