Matt Brocklebank looks at a handful of Willie Mullins’ novice hurdlers who should be worth following for the remainder of the season.
It seems highly unusual that Willie Mullins doesn't have a leading contender for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Ireland's champion trainer has won the Festival opener six times, including with Klassical Dream 12 months ago, but it's his title rival Gordon Elliott who dominates the antepost lists this time around with the likes of Envoi Allen, Abacadabras, Andy Dufresne and Easywork all potentially still in line at this stage.
The Mullins-trained, JP McManus-owned Unexcepted and Elixir D'ainay have had their bubbles burst to some extent but, in the same silks, perhaps Janidil is hiding in plain sight.
He's going a slightly unconventional route, for this yard at least, but was clearly gifted a dream handicap mark after winning his maiden at Tipperary on October 7. That came on the back of a fine second to Notebook on his only public appearance last season.
So as a second-season novice he's got a bit of experience and conditioning under his belt and has evidently been putting that to good use, winning valuable handicap pots at Down Royal and Fairyhouse in November and December respectively.
He's shot up from an Irish rating of 125 to 144 so his entry in the Grade One Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 2 looks warranted. He's also been put in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury the following weekend and, given that race's rich history of unearthing top-notch novices, the thus far unheralded Janidil could be much more of a household name come the spring.
Most of Mullins' entries at the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) have multiple entries but, along with Janidil, Yukon Lil has just the one option of the two-miler on the Sunday.
A well-bred daughter of Flemensfirth, she's been extensively campaigned in mares' bumpers over the past couple of years and rewarded connections with a couple of wins including a Listed race at Gowran in October 2018.
This season she wasted no time in scoring over hurdles, bolting up in a maiden at Naas in mid-December, after which Paul Townend seemed pretty impressed before suggesting she'll need more practice over hurdles.
To that end we are unlikely to see her thrown straight into the Grade One at Leopardstown and she is presumably going to be kept apart from the same stable's very bright prospect Dolcita, but she did bolt up at Naas and her proven versatility when it comes to underfoot conditions will obviously stand her in good stead moving forward.
Of all the horses featured here it's Lord Royal who really gets the juices flowing.
There was plenty of juice in the ground when he won a Clonmel maiden hurdle on January 9 but the French import has some notable good ground Flat form from his native land and it could be we're looking at a proper Albert Barlett Novices' Hurdle prospect here.
He relaxed, jumped with aplomb and galloped his rivals into submission to come 33 lengths clear of the runner-up in a bloodless performance.
The DRF Grade One over two and three-quarter miles could be an interesting next port of call for the strapping grey, especially if he goes up against Envoi Allen, but he's without question a horse who should be making his mark in good staying chases much further down the line.
Vis Ta Loi
Danny Mullins recently nominated Vis Ta Loi as a horse to keep tabs on in a recent appearance on the Final Furlong Podcast (other podcasts are available) and it's not hard to see why.
He runs in the same George Creighton silks carried by the great Hurricane Fly but is cut from a completely different cloth as he's all about stamina.
On the face of it he's had his limitations exposed since winning at Clonmel on his Irish debut in November but two sound efforts in Graded company have followed, including last time out when beaten less than two lengths into third behind the well-regarded Fury Road.
That Grade Two Limerick novice event has produced a bunch of high-class performers down the years, including a few subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners, and it's not always been a case of just focusing on the Limerick winner for the best clues.
Vis Ta Loi jumps brilliantly for a young and inexperienced horse and he looks like he'd stay the Albert Bartlett trip and more if Mullins decides on that path.
At the back of my mind, I'm keen to see his handicap mark when that becomes publicly available as we've seen super-strong staying novices go well in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle in recent seasons (yes, I'm talking you Don Poli) and it could be an interesting option that will surely at least come under consideration.
Jon Snow was being talked about as one of the most exciting Rich Ricci-Willie Mullins novice hurdlers back at the start of the season - and he could yet make an impression despite suffering a couple of defeats - but Monkfish looks to have picked up the baton.
He was second to Longhouse Poet at Punchestown in May on his only National Hunt Flat start and bumped into one again in Diol Ker at Fairyhouse on his hurdling debut.
Like plenty from the Mullins yard, though, Monkfish appeared to show the benefit of that first start of the season when readily going one better back at Fairyhouse on December 14.
He was 1/2 favourite but there was a lot to like about the way he went through the race and skipped over the final flight before galloping all the way to the line.
It's a fair way from there to a Grade One but the fourth from Fairyhouse has gone close since to enhance the form a bit and Monkfish should keep improving with experience.
The Punchestown Festival might well be the major end-game for him this season but he's earned a shot at something a bit better and may well book his place in the Cheltenham squad from Closutton.
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