Willie Mullins Stable Visit
|Wednesday 19th February 2020|
Al Boum Photo Chasing a Slice of History in Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
Willie Mullins believes Al Boum Photo's light campaign is a positive as he gears up to defend his G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup crown at Cheltenham on Friday, 13 March, the final day of The Festival™ presented by Magners.
Al Boum Photo is bidding to become the first horse since the great Best Mate (2002, 2003 & 2004) to win back-to-back editions of Jumps racing's Blue Riband.
Al Boum Photo
The eight-year-old has followed the same path to this year's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, with his sole appearance resulting in a comfortable victory in the G3 Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year's Day.
Al Boum Photo will be joined in The Festival showpiece by Kemboy, who had his stablemate's measure in the G1 Punchestown Gold Cup last April. This season, Kemboy has twice met with defeat at Leopardstown, most recently when pushing Delta Work all the way in the G1 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup on 2 February.
Ireland's multiple champion Mullins is the all-time leading handler at The Festival, with 65 winners, and landed The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award for the sixth time in 2019.
Speaking from his Closutton stables in Co Carlow this morning, Mullins said: "Last season just worked out well for Al Boum Photo, going from Tramore to Cheltenham. I did not even enter him for the Dublin Racing Festival this year, just in case I was tempted to run him. I am probably a creature of habit and when something works, we go back, do it again and hope for the best.
"He is going to come into the race nice and fresh, off a nice confidence-boosting prep run. It can be very hard sometimes for Gold Cup winners to come back and win after their Gold Cup. He has done that, albeit in a G3 race, and that is a fair statistic compared to recent Gold Cup winners. Traditionally, they don't come back and win the following season or their form takes a huge drop. Some of them don't come back at all and at least he has done that.
"I don't think it is a tougher Gold Cup - I thought last year's race was very tough. I don't know if he is a better horse this year, as I have not pressed many buttons and he is not a horse who advertises himself at home. All I know he is on target from where we were last year and, with age and experience, he should improve. But statistically, Gold Cup winners find it very hard to come back and win. That is against him, but I think his preparation is probably a plus. He is going there in good order and in a good frame of mind. Normal improvement should come given his age and everything, and if that happens, he should have a fantastic chance.
"I have always been very happy with his jumping. Funnily enough, we thought that the day we bought him, even though he fell. That was in France and he fell at the fifth last or something. We had been following him since the time he was a three-year-old, but he was always too expensive.
"He will go for a gallop or school somewhere before Cheltenham. We were discussing that this morning. That will take place wherever we can get in. It will just be a quiet day away.
"Kemboy will obviously go for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. He fell at the first last year and I don't like it when a horse falls at a track, but I hope he will be better. He put in a nice round of jumping the other day and his two runs this season have been very good. He needed the run at Christmas and then his run in the Irish Gold Cup was fantastic. If he could get a top three of four finish in the Gold Cup, I would be delighted. I suppose on the last day of The Festival, he has a better chance of getting good ground, which would be a help for him all right."
Mullins provided updates on a galaxy of stars ahead of The Festival, including Betway Champion Chase hope Chacun Pour Soi and evergreen 12-year-old Faugheen.
Mullins said: "Chacun Pour Soi was much better the other day. He needed the run at Christmas. I think he is improving all the time and I am hoping that he is going to be a big player in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
"I thought Min around Leopardstown was the horse to beat the last day. Min probably did not jump as well as he needed to. We have always thought the world of Chacun Pour Soi, but they still have to go out and do it. That was the sort of performance we were hoping he had in his locker and he came out and did it.
"Now he needs to improve again, but I feel he can improve because he is only just catching up on experience. He has shown us from day one that he could be different class. The day that we first schooled him in Leopardstown really opened my eyes. I sent him there to follow the graded horses around and, within two fences, Danny [Mullins] and him were in front. He led them around and that was spectacular for a horse of his experience. He was just such a natural at it and he showed that at Leopardstown the other day.
"The Champion Chase is the race a lot of people want to watch in Cheltenham. It is a spectacular race. Everyone likes to knock off another achievement and it would be nice to put that one on our CV.
"Myself and Rich [Ricci, owner] have not spoken about where Faugheen runs. Rich actually texted me last night and said, 'I know it is your press morning tomorrow, do remember we have not spoken about our plans in Cheltenham for two particular horses!'. I think you can guess who the second one is, and that is the party line.
"I was delighted Faugheen was able to come back and win two G1s at Limerick and Leopardstown. He has been in great shape since and that is all I can say. I could not get over the reaction the in stands at Leopardstown from the time they turned in. It looked like he had a chance, then it looked like Easy Game was going to get up and beat him. I have to say I could not get over the reaction of the people. I am rarely moved on a raceourse but that to me was some reception. Florida Pearl got a great one for his fourth Irish Gold Cup and Hurricane Fly always had a great reception, but I thought Faugheen got the best reception I have ever seen. The people down at Limerick the day he won said the same. He is obviously a horse people have great affection for.
"I was disappointed in myself that I did not go chasing with him last season. I suppose people thought the Stayers' Hurdle was a nice target for him. He is just a horse I have always wanted to go chasing with before he retires. There is a lot of pressure bringing a horse of that age back, because if the worst happened and he got a bad injury, a lot of that was going to fall back on me. That was the risk I had to take, but I felt the horse was in great form, and he still is in great form. Nowadays, not many horses race past 12 years of age, but a 15-year-old won the other day at Navan. We still have Wither Or Which (winner of the 1996 Champion Bumper) out there at 29 years of age. It is a long life for them. I think there is a lot more life in horses than people give them credit for.
"Min will probably go for the Ryanair Chase. I have not discussed him with Rich either! But I suppose he would probably prefer to keep them apart. The trip should not be any bother to him. Duc des Genievres could go for the Ryanair as well. That would be my preference. Certainly in future, he will be going out in trip, possible further than two and a half miles.
"My connections are very keen to go for the Champion Chase with Un De Sceaux. We probably did not get the tactics right in the Ryanair Chase last year. We tried to restrain him whereas this time we will let him do his thing. He still retains a huge amount of ability at his age. I would like to see lots of rain for him, as I think soft ground is crucial. I think part of the plan could be that Patrick [Mullins] will ride him in Champion Chase.
"Cilaos Emery after his win at Gowran (G3 Red Mulls Trial Hurdle, 15 February) will be supplemented for the Unibet Champion Hurdle. The thinking is that he will have a better chance of being placed in a Champion Hurdle than he would in the Champion Chase. The Red Mills race came up, so we said let's see what he can do, and he did it. The prize money won there will go towards the funds for Cheltenham. He was not spectacular in winning in Gowran, but I loved what he did from the third last after making a complete mess of it. He put the race to bed in few strides, which was good enough for me and Luke [McMahon, owner] to make the decision to supplement. It is such an open Champion Hurdle. It has been hard to get horses to the race this year - that has been half the battle. When you see the injuries that have beset horses going for the Champion Hurdle, not just here but from other yards as well, it shows just how tough it is getting horses to Cheltenham.
"Sharjah will also run. His run the other day in Leopardstown was terrible. We don't know why he did it, although he missed the first hurdle down the back. He is usually an excellent jumper and hopefully he can put that behind him. I would prefer if the Champion Hurdle was run on the last day for him, as he wants drier ground. I would imagine Patrick will ride him.
"Benie Des Dieux is in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle. She was a very unlucky loser there last year. She is also in the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle. I would like to go back and get a bit of unfinished business done. You are guaranteed softer ground on the first day of The Festival and that is a big plus for her. She is a hell of a mare.
"I thought what she did in France last year [winning French Champion Hurdle] was probably completely missed by people over here. She beat their unbeaten mare De Bon Coeur and in France I don't think they could believe what she did at Auteuil. Had she stood up in Cheltenham last year, maybe things would be different, but then again maybe they would be the same because I am a creature of habit.
"I curtailed her chasing career because it is easier to win money and keep them sound over hurdles. She has not raced a lot and that is because I had soundness issues with her. It is all very well planning difficult races for her, but I have got her to a stage now where I can run her two or three times a year, and I would like to stay at that. If she ever went chasing again, she could line up in a Gold Cup any day of the week. Three miles and two furlongs would not be any trouble to her.
"Stormy Ireland has booked her ticket for the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle. Her win at Naas was very good and I was very pleased. We tend to let her do what she wants to do and that is the way she likes to run. She is a bit more relaxed now, but she does like to be there or thereabouts.
"Penhill ran very well in Navan [2nd in Boyne Hurdle] the other day. He came out of the race well. He normally comes out of his races a bit stiff. I had to get that run into him and I think he needed it. Paul (Townend, jockey) said he thought he was going to win at the second last and then he took a blow. That should put him right for the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle.
"I have managed to get more runs into him this season. As he has got older, he is taking a lot more training. He is holding on to his condition much more, which is a good thing, but means it is harder for me to get him ready. The run the other day should help put him in the right place, but he will need an away day as well I think.
"Bacardys will also run in the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle. He ran well in it a couple of years ago. I ran him back too quickly after he won at Navan in November.
"Cash Back is going for the Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase. He reminds of me of Un De Sceaux because he has that style of racing and training. He is a horse who gets on with it at home; he just loves to run and jump. This is the sort of weather I would like for him. If there is soft ground or heavy in the description, I will be very pleased. We like to think our horses can improve going into Cheltenham. Notebook will have had more experience than us. Our fella is gaining in experience whereas Notebook might have got all he is going to get. That is my hope. Cash Back's attitude is why he reminds me of Un De Sceaux. He has a great attitude to race. He has the never say die attitude.
"Melon will go for the Marsh Novices' Chase over two and a half. I think the last day [finished 4th over 2m] he showed us that he needs a trip. His jumping, while it's good, is not sharp enough for the Arkle. He has good form at The Festival without winning - two seconds in the Champion Hurdle and a second in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Perhaps we have been running him over the wrong trip the whole time! He may even be a three-mile horse because he seems to gallop all day. If he gets a clear round in the Marsh, I think he will go close.
"It is still up for grabs with Easy Game. He could go for the Marsh Novices' Chase or RSA Insurance Novices' Chase. I would like to go where the ground is going to be best with this fella. I think that will dictate where he goes. His improvement over fences is extraordinary. The day we bought him we were looking at him as a hurdle horse that could maybe go back on the Flat. I did not dream that he would ever jump a fence. Robbie Power was buzzing when he got off him last time - he said he is a complete natural and that he'd ride him anywhere over fences. He is a horse who has surprised me nicely.
"Allaho will probably go for the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase, that is the thinking anyway having spoken to Cheveley Park. He is light on experience, but he gallops and jumps.
"I was chatting to Ruby, Patrick and David Casey this morning and whilst we know he stays and gallops, he was quite keen. That is the only reason we may go back for the Marsh Novices' Chase. I remember with a horse called Black Hercules, we were thinking of the four miler, for which he was favourite, and then he ended up winning the Marsh. This fella could be a little like that, that is my only worry. A few of us just feel we should see how his final bits of work go before deciding. Minella Indo beat him twice last year but I am not sure we used the right tactics. I would let him use his stride and jumping.
"We picked the National Hunt Chase a long way out for Carefully Selected, well Patrick did anyway! He looks born and bred for it, and Patrick is looking forward to riding him. He gallops and jumps and, although he does not look fast, he has more speed than watching him suggests. The opposition jockeys would look at him in the parade ring and think 'he's a plodder'. He is not the handsomest brute in the place, but he has more speed than he appears to have.
"Tornado Flyer disappointed me a bit over two miles. I thought he could cut the mustard over two - he is closely related to Hurricane Fly. The last day he told me that he needs two and a half. He will go for the Marsh Novices' Chase I would imagine. Royal Rendezvous is owned by Randox Health who sponsor the Grand National. He could run here too.
"I spoke to Joe Donnelly [owner] about Asterion Forlonge and he said do whatever you want. At the moment, we feel the horse should go for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and that is where we are headed.
"I had been aiming this horse for the Albert Bartlett. I had two races marked out the first day he ran over hurdles, one in Cork and one in Naas. I decided to run Golden Spread in the three miler at Cork and this fella in the two miler at Naas, so when Golden Spread got beaten out of sight, I said: 'Jesus, not only have I run this horse in the wrong race, now I am going to get the other fella beaten.' I said to Paul on the day, just jump out and make it because this fella shows us no speed at home, and then he bolted in. I said after we would leave him in the two-mile race at Leopardstown, as on good ground that will tell us where to go in Cheltenham, and he answered that question.
"It is very sporting of Joe to run him and Shishkin in the Supreme, but that has always been Joe's attitude. He says do whatever you think you should do with the horses. I am sure he says the same to Nicky Henderson. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle is a great start to The Festival, and it should be the same this year. Berkshire Royal is still in there. I have not got a run into him, as he had stone bruise before Leopardstown. He did a bit of work yesterday and is in great shape. I think he is good enough but obviously he would lack huge experience. I ran Concertista first time out in the mares' novice last year and I could do the same with this fella, depending on how he works.
"We will keep Asterion Forlonge and The Big Getaway apart. Having spoken to my team this morning, we are pretty happy that The Big Getaway goes for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
"I was delighted with him last time and he is coming along nicely. You look at him and just think 'we will be talking about him next year,' because he looks a chaser everywhere. I hope he can run a good race in Cheltenham, although the Ballymore looks a bloody hot race.
"I would imagine Monkfish will go for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. His form got a boost yesterday. He was very green in his first run at Fairyhouse - he looked like he had never been on a racecourse before. We changed a few tactics next time and it worked. I think he is improving. He is a light-framed horse who does not take a lot of training. He is one for the future.
"Lord Royal was disappointing yesterday, but I am not losing faith in him. He could still pitch up here as well. I thought he looked very green yesterday.
"Aione has won two auction hurdles. If he travels, I imagine he will go for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, although he could stay at home for the Red Mills auction final. I am reliably informed that he is named after a river in Russia, although when I put it in Google Maps it came up as somewhere in Italy!
"Janidil is in all the handicaps and we will see what mark he gets, but I am thinking does he have a good profile for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle? He has lots of runs and his rating of 145 is good enough to be there. I like the fact we have run all season. Perhaps connections (J P McManus) have something better for the Albert Bartlett, but I would like to look at it. Mark Walsh loves him.
"Colreevy is still in a few of the novices' hurdles. Although we will have a few in the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle, realistically she has to go there. I think Dolcita is quite good and she will run here as well. She ran badly at Fairyhouse [finished third] and disappointed us, but I think there is way more to come from her. Lamarckise is still in the picture for this. She looks a nice type. She has been hard to train and I think it was her ability that got her through the other day, as Paul said she blew up five times. That is the expression he used anway. Whatever she does in Cheltenham, she will be a nice mare for the future.
"Appreciate It has done everything right on last couple of runs. He looks to have a big chance in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Although he is by Jeremy, he is a big chasing type. He gallops all day and has a huge cruising speed, which is probably what you need for Cheltenham. He would have to be one of our main hopes of the week. Ferny Hollow could also go here. He is entered at Fairyhouse this weekend, so we will see what happens there. Five Bar Brian had a good run in England, had a bit of trouble, and he ended up over here. He won the other day and I think there is a lot of improvement. I think connections would like to have a runner at The Festival. We will see how he is. To me, Eric Bloodaxe looked the best bumper horse in Ireland until his run the last day.
"Franco De Port will be entered in all the handicaps. I am trying to think which one he will get in to. I would say the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle could be the race. We decided to make the running on him at Limerick over Christmas and it was the wrong decision - it probably gutted him. He ran better behind Stormy Ireland at Naas and, given what he showed me before Limerick, we think he is a nice sort.
"Ciel De Neige ran a cracker the other day to be second in the Betfair Hurdle, perhaps a shade unlucky. He is in all the handicaps over in Cheltenham. He went up 3lb for Newbury.
"Billaway runs in the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase. I thought he was very impressive in Naas, and I love Naas as a track to trial any horse for Cheltenham. He is a young horse coming through the ranks and put away some half decent hunters. I think he has a big chance. "
Closutton, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow
Synopsis - Willie Mullins is the all-time leading trainer at The Festival™ presented by Magners, with 65 successes - one more than Nicky Henderson. He has won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at six of the last nine Festivals (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2019).
He sent out a record-breaking eight winners at The Festival in 2015, beating Nicky Henderson's seven achieved in 2012. This record was equalled by Gordon Elliott in 2018.
Mullins has built up a formidable team of horses at his Co Carlow base and has been Ireland's champion Jump trainer for the last 12 seasons and 13 times in all.
Born - September 15, 1956
Background - Six-time amateur champion rider in Ireland, Mullins both rode and trained Wither Or Which to win the 1996 Weatherbys Champion Bumper. He also partnered two other winners at The Festival, both in the National Hunt Chase, Hazy Dawn (1982) and Macks Friendly (1984).
He hails from one of Ireland's most famous racing families, one of five children of the late Paddy Mullins, the outstanding all-round trainer, whose most famous star was Dawn Run, winner of the 1984 Champion Hurdle and 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup (the only horse to win both races).
Willie started training in 1988, having been assistant to his father and Jim Bolger. He is married to Jackie, who is very involved in the training business, and their son Patrick has been Ireland's champion amateur rider the last 10 seasons. Patrick is the most successful amateur rider ever in Ireland, passing the 600-winner mark in 2019.
First Winner as a Trainer - Silver Batchelor, M & J Gleeson INH Flat Race, Thurles, February 18, 1988. He also rode the horse.