Apologies for the lack of recent blogs but I got laid low by a stomach bug plus lack of computer access over Easter and a frankly underwhelming Craven meeting, so far anyway.
Wednesday April 19th 12noon I think that the bookmakers have made a massive error, not all of them but one in particular and that’s Paddy Power. They are the only bookmaker pricing up the Elliott v Mullins duel for the Irish Champion trainer’s title and they go Elliott 1/6, Mullins 4/1. That is no ‘typo’ they are honestly 4/1!
Three weeks ago I wrote two articles on this blog concerning the Champion trainers titles in England and more pertinently in Ireland. Since then we have had both the English and Irish Grand National meetings and although none of the protagonists won the main event either side of the Irish Sea Nicky Henderson did enough at Liverpool with the likes of Buveur D’Air and Might Bite for Ditcheat to concede the crown to Seven Barrows.
In Ireland it’s a completely different kettle of fish. The Jessica Harrington/Robbie Power Annus Mirabilis continued to roll on with the talented novice Our Duke hacking up in the Irish Grand National and is now already rated just one pound behind Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John. However Gordon Elliott saddled the second, fifth and sixth with Willie Mullins just having Haymount in seventh. That was a €107,500 swing to the young pretender. Yorkhill’s self inflicted defeat was another blow to Closutton but with a 1,2,4 in the valuable mares novice hurdle and somehow conjuring wins for Renneti, Diakali and Thomas Hobson in Tuesdays €59K handicap hurdle Mullins has made back most of the National swing.
So as of Wednesday April 19th 11.15am by my maths the totals are, Elliott €3,131,125 Mullins €2,825,416. The difference is €305,709. That’s not much bigger than when I wrote the two articles three weeks ago and Fairyhouse was expected to favour Elliott. Punchestown is Tuesday-Saturday next week and the last race at Punchestown is the last race of the season and in effect the finishing line. So I will summarise the two articles below.
Willie Mullins is going to blow Gordon Elliott out of the water at Punchestown.
I think they will both be saddling anything with four legs and a pulse with multiple entries in most races. I think stewarding of the five days could be a nightmare. Forget non-triers, the issues here will be riding to team orders, pacemakers, riding to get placed as opposed to trying to win and fading late. I can see some serious use of the whip even by Irish standards, jumping across opponents at the final fence because simply it will be winning at all costs!
Gordon Elliott has plenty of cards but Willie Mullins holds the aces. 4/1 is far too big!
Here are the two articles that hopefully can persuade you that Willie will!!
Kevin Blake said don’t do it! by 57simplesimonsays Friday March 30th 2.15pm
The Cheltenham festival may have come and gone for this season but there is plenty to look forward for all students of the National Hunt game. On both sides of the Irish Sea there are head to head contests to be Champion trainer and I don’t believe any of the four protagonists if they say “it’s just a bit of fun” as these guys win big races as a matter of routine but being Champion Trainer is important for them personally, their staff, their owners and all connected to the yard. Not much mileage in the advertising logo “Second best trainer 2017”!
So in the UK it’s Nicholls v Henderson with the big guns going for Aintree, Ayr and finally Sandown on the last day of the season. Personally I think the canny Team Ditcheat will just shade it as Paul Nicholls “wants” it whilst Nicky Henderson would “like” it to be Seven Barrows although I often under-estimate Henderson’s competitive streak!
Now the Irish contest is something different altogether. Willie Mullins v Gordon Elliott. So many sub plots and an undercurrent that could turn personal very quickly especially if a Mr M. O’Leary gets time on a microphone! It is the Irish contest I wish to concentrate on as I think there is some money to be made.
Let’s start off with some bold statements.
Victory in their respective home Grand Nationals will seal the deal. Just about certainly for Nicky Henderson if he breaks his duck in the race but he has just one runner in Cocktails at Dawn who is an upwards of 66/1 to do so. Definitely for Paul Nicholls and he has two live chances in the classy Saphir du Rheu (best priced 20/1) and last year’s Scottish National winner Vicente (solid 25/1). Failure of either to do so and I will be looking closely at the Ayr Scottish National three day programme, especially at who Nicky Henderson sends there.
If Willie Mullins wins at Fairyhouse I think it would be game over and he could be represented by Alechi Inois, Pleasant Company, Bachasson or Bellshill and maybe Haymount or Arbre de Vie. It would seem the first two are going to Aintree which for Alechi Inois is fine but from Willie Mullins point of view I would have thought he wanted Pleasant Company at Fairyhouse. He’s a bridle horse, he’s best going right handed, he needs some cut in the ground and he won last time out over 3m 1f at Fairyhouse. I can only presume Malcolm Denmark fancies a shot at Aintree for a piece of history and twice the money! That would leave the novices for the Irish National and he has mentioned Bellshill as “one for the race” but he may need him at Punchestown for the €100K 3m novice chase?
Gordon Elliott could saddle half the field courtesy of his Gigginstown battalions but even if he did win the Irish Grand National I am not convinced the Trainers championship would be over.
Willie Mullins is going to blow Gordon Elliott out of the water at Punchestown. Now this is the part that “Kevin Blake said don’t do it!” You have got to get inside Willie Mullins head.
Before you start looking at the horses it is important to look at the Punchestown Festival race programme. There are a total of 38 races including 12 Grade 1 contests. Four @ €250K, eight @ €100K plus two €100K bumpers and three €100K handicaps. There are no intermediate trip Championship chases, the 2m 4f race is a handicap, the same for the novices which makes Yorkhill a wild card with both he and Un de Sceaux supposedly dropping back in trip! There is no mares novice hurdle which means Closutton’s strong team in this division, Let’s Dance, Augusta Kate, Airlie Beach etc., could be taking on the geldings.
There are seven bumper races, two of which are €100K events and the Mare’s only event is worth just €50K which means the Cheltenham 1-2 of Fayonagh and Debuchet may go to Aintree for the valuable Grade 2 contest there. That makes this division wide open, Samcro and Poli Roi for Elliott and Getabird and Ballyward for Mullins, if he can get them fit, neither of which would surprise me. Indeed I expect both yards to pull some serious rabbits out of the hat when it comes to the bumpers.
So let’s look at the four big money Grade 1 races to start off with using current UK handicap marks to see where we stand.
Tuesday 5.30 Boylesports 2m Champion chase. No Douvan, out for the season. No Special Tiara, the Cheltenham winner, he’s going to Sandown to take on Altior! Gods Own OR165 will probably attempt to repeat the Aintree/Punchestown double of last season but surely WM will have him covered with Un de Sceaux OR171 on recent Tingle Creek form and all back runs. Indeed the only horse to beat Un de Sceaux over fences at two miles when he’s stood up is the mighty Sprinter Sacre!
Wednesday 5.30 Coral 3m 1f Punchestown Gold Cup chase. Jessica Harringtons Gold Cup winner Sizing John OR168 rightly dominates the market here. WM has Djakadam OR165 who will try to show that his mistake at Cheltenham’s second last cost him the race. Just like the Cheltenham version Djakadam has been runner up in the last two editions of this race. Gordon Elliott will be relying on two second season chasers in the shape of C&D Lexus chase winner Outlander OR168 and Empire of Dirt OR166 who will both have to take a giant step forward from their Cheltenham runs! Eddie O’Leary surprisingly suggests they may both go to Aintree for the Bowl. Looks a tasty race and if Coneygree OR166 or a Colin Tizzard inmate lined up that would add further spice.
Thursday 5.30 Ladbrokes 3m Champion Staying hurdle. WM would seem to be in the box seat here with his Cheltenham winner, Nicholls Canyon OR168 and strong back up in Shaneshill OR157 and Clondaw Warrior OR155. Snow Falcon would appear to be the biggest Irish danger but surely it will be any UK raiders to fear most. Lil Rockefeller OR168 was only beaten ¾ length at Cheltenham and with Aintree looking to be quick ground is a likely runner in Ireland. His last run was seven pounds better than anything before, can he repeat the dose? Cheltenham’s third was the financially calamitous Unowhatimeanharry OR166 who had been taking the division by storm up to that last run and if there was any real juice in the ground surely JP and Harry Fry would be tempted. Indeed the BHA handicapper put on his official blog, “With Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown still to come, the picture could change again and Unowhatimeanharry is probably worth another chance to enhance his reputation. While only marginally below his pre-race rating of 167 here, he simply did not pick up in the usual manner after travelling into the race as well as any. Connections suggested the faster ground may have been a factor but he still looked a horse that was improving before the Festival and he has probably not flattened out just yet.”
Will Warren Greatrex send last year’s Punchestown winner, One Track Mind OR158, and what shape is he in? You are not going to win this year’s renewal off OR147! There is of course another fly in the ointment in the shape of Pertemps Final handicap winner Presenting Percy OR159 who is improving at a rate of knots. WM may need to fire all his arrows here and if Limini is looking 100% for the Mares that could include rabbit number one, Vroum Vroum Mag OR152.
Friday 5.30 BetDaq 2m Champion hurdle. Here’s rabbit number two. The $64 million dollar question is “Will we finally see the reappearance of Annie Power”? Willie Mullins March 28 2017, 08:56 “Annie Power could run at Punchestown. We step up work in the next couple of weeks. Min is just OK, Annie is in better order.” So Annie Power is OR166 (plus 7lbs mare allowance), Willie also has Arctic Fire OR162, Footpad OR157 and Wicklow Brave OR155 (however looks destined for a Flat campaign) not to mention the other two mares with their 7lb allowances Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag both on OR152. The Elliott team should include Petit Mouchoir OR160 and possibly his best mare, Apples Jade OR154. Nicky Henderson is considering travelling over Brain Power OR162 after Cheltenham’s disappointment. If Annie Power misses the race it is wide open, if she turns up she is ten pounds plus well in!
I fully expect Un de Sceaux, Djakadam, Nicholls Canyon and yes, Annie Power, to turn up at Punchestown fit and ready to run the race of their life. The only one I would back now is Un de Sceaux and 4/5 is not my kind of price but I could see him going off south of 1/3 on the day.
“You can’t win anything with kids” by 57simplesimonsays Monday April 3rd 6pm
In Part I “Kevin Blake said don’t do it” I suggested that the Punchestown Festival this season will hold the key to who wears the crown as Irish Champion trainer this season and although Fairyhouse may well tip the scales further towards Gordon Elliott if he wins the valuable Irish National although Willie Mullins will fancy winning the RyanAir Gold Cup novice chase, as Jessica Harrington suggested this weekend his Yorkhill could line up, and the equably valuable G1 Mares novice hurdle with any number of his ten entries. Indeed I felt “Willie Mullins is going to blow Gordon Elliott out of the water at Punchestown.” There are five novice Championship G1 races, three hurdling and two chasing, each worth €100K+ and the 2m4f novice chase is a handicap for the same money. With the mares novice hurdle only worth €25K the Mullins top girls could well be taking the boys on instead. Mullins has a huge list of candidates to choose from and it’s real quality as well as quantity.
If we start looking at the 2m race, the G1 Herald novice hurdle on the Tuesday, it looks to be a straight rematch from the Supreme at Cheltenham where Elliott’s Labaik beat Mullin’s Melon? I would be quite confident in backing Melon right now. On only his second start he almost won a Championship race! With that run extra under his belt he could improve further as we now know he’s good enough and he’s got the Festival experience. Labaik on the other hand has all the ability in the world but with no cracking whip in Ireland will he condescend to start and more pertinently will he even be in the field? He goes to the Aintree pre National Sales, no doubt with a reserve in the £300K ball park, and there is every chance he could remain in Britain if he is on the Potts, Tinsdale/Drew, Brookhouse or McManus shopping list? Without him the Elliott cupboard looks a little bare!
Willie Mullins could run the mare Airlie Beach OR143(plus allowances) if she is anywhere near her 2016 form when she beat Saturnas and the boys in the G1 Royal Bond at Fairyhouse. Saturnas OR146 badly disappointed in the Deloitte and if he’s had the proverbial “visit to Lourdes” he could be a contender. The same goes for Rich Ricci’s early season hype horse, Senewalk.
In the 2m4f G1 Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice hurdle on Friday Willie Mullins will need to box clever as the first three home in the Neptune at Cheltenham were trained in the UK, Willoughby Court, Neon Wolf and Messire des Obeaux and his final selections could well depend if any of these three are going to line up.
Willoughby Court’s trainer Ben Pauling, who has a chasing career in mind for his rising star, said: “He could not be better. He has come out of it very well but he looks like he has had a race. There are no two ways about it as he is a little bit lighter than he was. He has just trotted and been walking since. I don’t think he will run again this season, but you can never say never. I think he’s a chaser all over as his jumping is what makes him the horse that he is.” Neon Wolf’s trainer Harry Fry suggested “Neon Wolf will be entered in the two-and-a-half mile novice hurdle (Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle) at Punchestown, and if he runs again it will be there, but it’s the last week in April and it will be ground dependent.” Alan King may make the running plans of Messire des Obeaux clearer in this week’s RP Weekender but the horses only entry at Aintree is in the Sefton over three miles.
If Neon Wolf runs, and I think he will, you will need to be a 152+ horse to win this race, if he doesn’t you may need to be only 145+. Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh have a whole barn of candidates to choose from but I will put forward four. This is the ideal trip for impressive Cheltenham Mares novice winner Let’s Dance and with her mares allowance she is an OR154 animal. If Willie sticks with the boys a case could be made for Bacardys, OR146, who was well backed to win the Neptune but nothing went right for him especially when Consul de Thaix fell in front of him. The other would be Neptune fifth Kemboy about whom in my Cheltenham Notebook I said “Kemboy travelled at least three wide with little or no cover but still had a good chance turning for home and as this was just his third run over hurdles, he won his maiden and then was second to Let’s Dance, a Festival winner, in a G2 and if Ruby was on board he could be good at Punchestown on the Friday in the G1 novices over 2m 4f.” Finally you have to add Bleu Berry who was impressive in winning the G2 2m novice hurdle at Fairyhouse at the weekend in the hands of Ruby Walsh. The trainer said afterwards “He’s improving with every run and he’ll probably head to Punchestown and go novice chasing next season. He could go out to two and a half miles (at Punchestown) but we’ll decide closer to the time when we see what we have.”
Gordon Elliott is going to have to have a good rummage around his barns to find a competitive candidate as the obvious pair of Brelade and Runfordave ran at Fairyhouse at the weekend where neither exactly covered themselves in glory, to my eyes both had “handicap” written all over them. He could drop the disappointment of the Alfred Bartlett, Death Duty OR149, back in trip health permitting? His Martin Pipe handicap hurdle at Cheltenham, Champagne Classic OR145, may be worth a go but the horse I would love to see entered is The Storyteller OR142. He was a heavily gambled 9/2 favourite for the Martin Pipe handicap hurdle on the Friday before Cheltenham but pulled a muscle on the gallops the following morning. If he is back to 100% I think he could be an OR150+ horse.
The aforementioned Death Duty OR149 could try to rebuild his reputation for Gordon Elliott in the G1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice hurdle over 3m on Festival Wednesday but Willie Mullins has the Alfred Bartlett winner in Penhill, OR153, who will likely have Henry de Bromheads runner up, Monalee OR148, to beat again. However an even bigger danger could be the comfortable Pertemps handicap winner, Presenting Percy OR159, who has seen his mark rise 44lbs since he won his maiden hurdle at Galway last October. Connections may be tempted to go for the Championship event instead with a horse in such good form before novice chasing next season.
Elliott is up against it in the novice hurdling division but with the support of Gigginstown Stud can he fare any better over the larger obstacles?
Just the two Championship races as the 2m 4f novice chase is a €100K handicap. The G1 Growise Champion 3m novice event is on the opening day, Tuesday and the market could be headed by horses who avoided Cheltenham such as Our Duke (Jessica Harrington) OR153 and Coney Island (Eddy Harty) OR152 and although Gigginstown could run two from Cheltenham in Alpha des Obeaux OR147, who bled for the second time, and Disko OR155 who surely has to step up to three miles neither are trained by Elliott.
The first Irish horse home in the RSA was Bellshill OR148 for Mullins and as the jungle drums suggest he may run in the Irish National if he comes here instead he has to be a serious player as his Cheltenham form is 003 whereas he is unbeaten in his two races at Punchestown. I am presuming that Nicky Henderson will be sending Might Bite OR161 and Whisper OR151 to Aintree and if they then came here three Championship races in six weeks is a big ask against what could be a real quality field especially on Good to Soft ground!
Elliott may have more success in the mid distance handicap with the likes of Jetstream Jack, mind you Mullins has some likely lads of his own in Great Field and Blazer. Final dec’s will be eagerly awaited!
For the 2m G1 Ryanair €115K Novice Steeplechase I expect Mullins the magician to put his hand deep into his hat and pull out a super fit, all cylinders firing Min OR160 who is going to totally stuff Irelands weakest division. If I was Kim Bailey I would send CharbelOR154 here instead of Aintree and on softer ground give it a real go! If those two plus Altior and Yorkhill missed the race Mullins could still win the race with Royal CaviarOR146. Could those three top Northern novice chasers, Waiting Patiently, Cloudy Dream and Forest Bihan be tempted? Geography suggests Aintree would be a more likely destination.
So once again I think Elliott is struggling, this time with the novices. The question is how many can Mullins win with his kids? In Melon, Penhill and Min he has three solid chances. Elliott is going to have to dominate the valuable bumpers and be lucky in the handicaps otherwise the crown will return to be worn once again by the King of Closutton, Willie Mullins.