Unprecedented fire-power spells huge season for Willie Mullins

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He may have been Champion Trainer in Ireland for the last seven years, but with the way the season is going, it could be an unprecedented campaign for Willie Mullins.

The fact that of the nine Cheltenham Festival races priced up by Ladbrokes, five are headed by a Mullins inmate, with another three second in their respective race market says it all.

And at the weekend, his two best novice hurdlers proved they were far from a flash in the pan.

Faugheen made a faultless step out of novice company to land a Grade 2 at Ascot, catapulting himself to the top of the Champion Hurdle market (2/1).

However even more impressive was the jumping display by Vautour as he enjoyed his first foray over fences, running out an untouched winner at Navan.

The manner of the victory was of such spectacular fashion that this year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner was introduced to the Arkle market as 4/1 favourite.

But even before the weekend just gone, things were looking rosy for the County Carlow trainer.

Champagne Fever looks to finally be putting things right over fences, and is being geared towards the King George, for which he is a (4/1) shot, while Don Poli  geared up for a season aimed at the RSA Chase (10/1) with a nice victory over some useful types at Gowran Park.

With the retirement of Quevega leaving a void in the team, the answer to the question about where Annie Power heads at the festival is a straightforward one.

The Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham now enjoys Grade 1 status, and it would be no surprise to see Mullins farm the race with a very special contender.

And it wouldn’t be National Hunt racing without a sea of French imports adding to the trainer’s tally.

Un De Sceaux (4/1 Arkle second-favourite) was a brilliant addition from the continent last season, and is indecently still unbeaten.

And with Kalkir and Allez Combieres favourites for the Triumph Hurdle and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle respectively without even setting foot on an Irish racecourse, he could be in for more success with his Gallic signings.

We couldn’t have a feature on the handler without a mention to his stable star of recent years. Seemingly down and out having failed to fire a couple of times last year, many were writing off Hurricane Fly.

But then came the Morgiana Hurdle, and ‘The Fly’ showed there was plenty of life left in him when seeing off Champion Hurdle incumbent Jezki. The 20-time Grade 1 winner could have a major part to play yet this season.

The stranglehold on the UK Trainers’ Championship by Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson may prove a tough one to break, but times could be changing.

Mullins has, in the last couple of years, sent far more charges across the Irish Sea, many resulting in wins.

Add in the fact that the title is decided on prize money, not race wins, and with so many fancied for the biggest races on the calendar, the 20/1 about an Irish invasion may look a huge price come the spring.

All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.