Dan Skelton explains why Willie Mullins’s horses will have an advantage at the Cheltenham Festival
I seem to have poked a hornet’s nest with my comments that Willie Mullins’s winners at the Dublin Racing Festival were effectively benefitting from ‘freebies’ in their preparation for Cheltenham.
It’s hard to argue against my belief that it’s best to have an easy race en route to a big day, but the way it came across on the Nick Luck podcast has led to some misinterpretation.
It seems like I have upset some people when the only thing I was trying to point out is that it is better for a horse to not have a hard race. But we seem to have got into a debate about whether I was being disrespectful. That’s the last thing I want to be.
I know Willie has the best horses, that’s why they’re hard to beat and we’ve all got him to beat at the moment.
But by virtue of them being so good they enjoyed easy prep races. So not only were they looking hard to beat coming to Cheltenham anyway, not having hard races in their prep races surely only enhances their chances come March.
So while Shan Blue was having a hard race with Sporting John around Sandown last weekend, Monkfish was able to win his race in a canter at Leopardstown. Forget the fact that one is a short price for the Festival and the others bigger, who is enjoying the better prep?
That’s what I meant by a freebie. Monkfish, and others, are getting a better/easier prep race because they are so good.
I’m not saying their preparation is better because nobody takes them on. These were good Grade 1 races against Grade 1 horses but Willie’s horses were winning like they are Grade 1+ horses.
It’s no different to when Master Minded took on Voy Por Ustedes in his prep race for the Champion Chase in the Game Spirit and won without much difficulty. Everyone said ‘wow’ but Master Minded got an easy race that day because he was so much better. Even though he was beating the reigning champion.
It’s all very well people saying, ‘if it’s that easy, come and take them on’ (don’t forget I’m absolutely not saying it’s easy!) but the answer is ‘no’. My point is that it is so hard taking them on at Cheltenham, why would anybody face them more than they have to?
I get the prize-money argument for going, but to run at the Dublin Festival a UK horse has to travel over, race and come back five weeks before Cheltenham. It’s a massive task for the horse physically.
For Willie Mullins it’s an hour up the road, you win your race because you have the best horse, there is the bonus of it being a Grade 1 as well, which is great, and you’ve had the best prep for Cheltenham. You haven’t had to travel 1,000 miles and spend two nights away from your stable, which is what people suggest I do.
Say I took Allmankind and he beat Energumene and then I said he might not get to Cheltenham because of the massive effort that involved, people would complain the Arkle had been robbed. So on that point you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I am putting the case for the horse in all this.
Having an easier prep race is a massive advantage. I know the reality of how hard it is going to be at Cheltenham for many reasons and I was just pointing out that not having hard races is another advantage. I run horses whenever I can, some win, some get beat but I’m not in the habit of hiding them away through fear of defeat.
I know how hard it is to beat Willie Mullins because once a year at Cheltenham he gives us all a good hiding and I’ve nothing but huge respect for him, his team and his horses.
Regarding travelling to Ireland to take part in these races, I would also add I am an English trainer. I value races like the Kingmaker, the Reynoldstown, the Kingwell Hurdle. I want to win them if I have good enough horses. Why should I go out there to take on the monsters who are coming in March anyway!