Cheltenham Festival: Another Mullins monopoly is a safe bet when The Greatest Show on Turf returns
It was almost fitting that Willie Mullins celebrated the 4,000th birthday on Cheltenham Trials Day in January. Winner brought up his training career, ‘almost’ because although the breakthrough hit arrived that same afternoon, it actually came at Fairyhouse on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Any complaint would be futile, however, as Mullins has enjoyed more than his fair share of that Prestbury Park haul, 88 of them at the festival itself, more than any other coach in history.
With tomorrow’s premier jump race meeting scheduled to begin, this is the time that would normally be the time to weigh the contenders for the title of Top Coach, but it really doesn’t seem to make much sense. Mullins has won the award at eight of the last 10 festivals, including each of the last four, setting a new record of 10 winners over the four days in 2022. Needless to say, it’s the opposite of a worker price to top the chart again, and just a bit bigger than even money to get back into double digits.
And not without reason: in the graded races alone, the Closutton boss has six favorites and around a dozen other horses in second or third place in the bet, plus a mostly strong handicap squad.
If the quality available to Mullins is one thing, the depth is another, as was demonstrated at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival, Ireland’s most prestigious meeting this side of Cheltenham. There, the 66-year-old saddled an unprecedented eight of the 15 winners but appeared to leave Leopardstown in semi-frustration after seeing three of his favorite runners at odds. The catch? He still won all three races.
In recent seasons, the Mullins’ dominance has reached such a level that there are questions as to whether it’s good for the sport. After all, monopolies are rarely healthy.
While questions about the bigger picture are warranted, the notion that Mullins’ anticipated success might somehow make this year’s festival a bit boring seems far-fetched, and not just because when 20 horses head home in the Coral Cup, they’re still with them Chances are, few bettors tend to worry about who gets trained where.
Every sport needs its stars and in the context of Mullins at Cheltenham we are not talking about tens of consecutive titles for Bayern Munich or a Formula 1 team that cleans up at every Grand Prix: even last year’s record 10 winners (Owned , incidentally owned by nine different owners and ridden by four different jockeys) meant that 18 races were won by someone else.
Over the next four days there will be plenty of great stories Mullins has nothing to do with, perhaps as early as tomorrow’s feature race when Constitution Hill attempts to join the greats of the Champion Hurdle. On Friday night, however, if someone had more wins, it would be the surprise of the week.
https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/horse-racing/cheltenham-festival-2023-willie-mullins-b1066920.html Cheltenham Festival: Another Mullins monopoly is a safe bet when The Greatest Show on Turf returns