As we enter March, the excitement for horse racing’s most popular festival is already starting to build. The 2016 Cheltenham festival gets underway two weeks from today on March 15th.
But surely there can be no one as excited for this year’s festival as Willie Mullins, who last year had eight winners at the festival, four of which were ridden by Ruby Walsh.
This year the Irish trainer is set to break a Cheltenham record as he has assembled a team of 60 horses to send to the fixture, the biggest party ever assembled from one stable for the meeting.
Speaking in an interview to The Telegraph today, Mullins said “As stressful as it is, it’s fantastic and I hope we can have the winners to match the team, but there is always the worry that you will have a complete blowout. We go in hope, others go in expectation of us having four or more winners, but I would be very pleased with half as many as last year.”
He then added that if he only won the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, he would be delighted. However, it he is to reclaim the Champion Hurdle it will have to be done without one of his superstar horses, Faugheen.
Faugheen, who won the hurdle last year, will be unable to defend his crown at this year’s festival due to an injured suspensory. The Irish horse of the year 2015 was confirmed injured by Mullins on Twitter last week.
Ruby Walsh, who rode Faugheen to victory last year, was upset at the news and told At The Races “It’s like someone whipping the ace out of the pack and handing you the rest of the cards.”
The bookies now have another Mullins trained horse as favourite for the Champion Hurdle, Annie Power, who Mullins feared he may have lost during last year’s festival.
During last year’s Mare’s Hurdle Annie Power and Ruby Walsh looked set for victory but fell badly at the final fence. The race was still won by a Mullin’s trained horse, Glens Melody, but Annie Power avoiding serious injury meant more to Mullins. “That was some result for her to get up – it was the biggest moment of the meeting.”
According to the bookies, Mullins’ biggest hopes for major glory at this year’s festival are Douvan in the Arkle Chase and Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle on day one, Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase on day two and Vautour in the Gold Cup on day four.
By Conor Hawkins