Four Willie Mullins-trained horses to watch at the Punchestown FestivalBy Angelica Malin
After talking up the possibility of taking on Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Dan Skelton for the British trainers’ championship by sending a good team to Aintree for the Grand National Festival after landing a record 10 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Mullins sent a rather timid team to Merseyside for the three-day event.
It was always likely that the nine-time Cheltenham Leading Trainer was going to save his big guns for the Punchestown Festival, and that is exactly what he has done.
So, as the entries for the 40 races that take place across the six-day meeting begin to trickle out, let’s take a look at four Mullins-trained horses to watch at what is often dubbed Ireland’s own version of Cheltenham.
Galopin Des Champs
The Turners Novices’ Chase was a race that managed to escape Mullins’ grasps at the Cheltenham Festival, as Galopin Des Champs agonisingly fell at the last fence in the two-mile, four-furlong race — gifting an out-of-sorts Bob Olinger, who was 12 lengths down and looked well beaten, a surprise victory for Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead.
Thankfully the six-year-old got up ok, with Mullins later claiming that there wasn’t a scratch on him after getting his foot caught in the reigns, and is set to reappear at Punchestown, with possible entries in both the two-mile Novice Steeplechase and the longer Champion Novice Steeplechase — which would be his first test of a trip over three miles.
After a thrilling encounter in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January, much was made of the battle between Energumene and Shishkin ahead of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Unfortunately, the day two feature never lived up to the hype as Nicky Henderson’s star chaser was pulled up by Nico de Boinville.
It wouldn’t have bothered Mullins though, as it meant Energumene could ease around the track in the wretched conditions and gift the Irish trainer his first triumph in the Queen Mother. There will be no Shishkin to compete with at Punchestown, but the likes of Melling Chase champion Fakir D’oudairies and Andy Dufresne could put up a fight in the Champion Steeplechase.
While Energumene won’t have Shishkin to worry about at the Punchestown Festival, he could have his own stablemate Allaho breathing down his neck in the Champion Steeplechase. The Cheveley Park Stud-owned horse is three for three this season after successfully defending his Ryanair Chase crown at Cheltenham — beating Janidil by a huge 14 lengths.
The eight-year-old also holds an entry in the Punchestown Gold Cup, which he is the 2/1 favourite to win in the betting on horse racing. He could up against Minella Indo, Clan Des Obeaux and Galvin in the showpiece race, making for a hugely competitive affair.
Another Cheveley Park Stud star and another Mullins-trained horse that is three for three this season, Sir Gerhard has made the transition from fences to hurdles look easy this campaign — winning a maiden and Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown before landing a victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The seven-year-old has two options at Punchestown. The first is dropping back down to two miles for the Stud Champion Novice Hurdle, the other is entering the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle — which would mean sticking to a similar trip as the Ballymore, the likely scenario. He could meet the exciting Dysart Dynamo, another of Mullins novices, in that race though.