Cheltenham: Conditions could be perfect for Willie Mullins’ assault

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Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins is already the standout 2/5 favourite to land this year’s Cheltenham Festival Top Trainer crown and the venerable saddler will have been heartened to hear the going has eased further following more rain in Gloucestershire.

Mullins set a personal-best of five festival victories last year to take his total to 29 successes at Prestbury Park and the trainer of stars such as Hurricane Fly and Quevega is difficult to oppose as he bids for a third leading trainer title in four years.

The former of the aforementioned pair is the 5/2 favourite to successfully defend his Champion Hurdle crown, while the latter is odds-on at 4/6 to win the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle for the sixth time in a row.

And even by his own admission, the depth of quality at his Closutton yard has Mullins pondering a Cheltenham assault that’s he described as “out-of-this-world stuff” in an interview with BBC Sport.

More rainfall could well help Mullins’ charge with Simon Claisse, clerk of the course at Cheltenham, recently giving his predictions on conditions for the festival.

He told The Guardian: “If I was giving an assessment for racing today I’d probably call it soft, good-to-soft in places.”

Mullins’ entrants certainly enjoyed the same going on last year’s opening day with Champagne Fever, Hurricane Fly and Quevega all making appearances in the winners’ enclosure.

But eager onlookers may have to wait until the Thursday to witness arguably the most intriguing of the Irishman’s prospective 40 runners.

All-conquering mare Annie Power is rated as a 9/4 chance for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, a race that now appears to be her likely target.

Having already won at Cheltenham as part of her perfect 10 from 10 sequence there will be plenty of excitement generated by her attempt to tackle 3m for the first time.

Soft ground will be no hindrance with Mullins no doubt hoping that conditions do not significantly change between now and when tape goes up for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to mark the start of proceedings.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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