Willie Mullins is yet to train a winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but based on his star-studded list of probable entries for 2016, this threatens to be the strongest team he will ever send to land the lucrative prize.
Mullins may not train defending champion Coneygree, but he is responsible for the current 4/1 favourite Vautour, last season’s runner-up Djakadam, March’s RSA Chase winner Don Poli and now Sir Des Champs, who returned from the best part of two years off the racecourse to land a Listed Race at Thurles.
Don Poli is regarded as the Mullins second string by the betting, as he is priced up at 8/1 to win the Gold Cup, which would represent a third successive Cheltenham Festival triumph.
However, at four times that price, it now looks a more sensible decision to back him to win the Grand National instead. The reason for this is an entry earlier this season.
The six-year-old is among the entries for the Becher Chase at Aintree in early December and this is far more a Grand National trial than a prep race for a horse that has the season ambition of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Based on distance, logic would dictate that an impressive winner of the RSA Chase would have the Gold Cup as his main target for the following season, with Denman, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere all completing this particular double since 2007.
But it is worth remembering that Don Poli seemed earmarked to run in the 4m National Hunt Chase at the last Festival, until a late switch in focus saw him rerouted to the RSA.
Stamina would appear no issue for the Grand National based on this plan and he would also get experience of the actual National fences if running in the Becher Chase.
The one caveat is that Mullins has a tendency to enter his horses in numerous races to keep his options open, which can be hugely frustrating to those who like to dabble in some of the ante-post markets.
Furthermore, Djakadam took a handicap route to the Gold Cup last year, rather than competing in the more familiar trials.
Even so, this decision doesn’t follow the typical Mullins strategy and given how many talented chasers he has in his arsenal, spreading them across the season’s big races would be a shrewd move.
Don Poli has more stamina than speed and this is an obvious benefit for the Grand National. If he does line up at Aintree in April, there is little chance that his current quote of 33/1 will still be available. In fact, he would probably be at least half this price.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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