Mullins readying older stars for return to Cheltenham
Ireland's champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins has provided an update on several of his top charges ahead of the Cheltenham Festival which begins in two weeks time.
Mullins, the leading Irish trainer at The Festival, has sent out 54 winners, which places him second on the all-time trainers' list behind Nicky Henderson (58).
He has won The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at five of the last seven Festivals (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016) and sent out a record-breaking eight winners in 2015.
While providing an update on some 40 of his horses that hold entries across the four days it was news of some of his older stars that grabbed the headlines, especially Douvan and the possibility of him appearing has caused excitement among punters and fans as Mullins gave a positive update on his well being and hopes of making it to Prestbury Park.
Mullins said: "He has been pleasing me and doing everything right. Not so long ago we were being told we could not train him for a year. It was a huge disappointment when it looked like he would miss the whole season but within a week or 10 days he was sound when we thought he should not have been sound.
"I remember the morning that he got the injury. He did a bit of work and I remember saying 'this is awesome,' but of course he was lame the next morning. I can't remember what he worked against but he flew. It was the fastest bit of work I had ever seen him do. I said to my team I do not want to see him do a piece of work like that again - save it for the racecourse!
Douvan could yet make the Cheltenham Festival
"I thought it was frightening and I said to myself if he reproduces that on the track, he will be very hard to beat. Whether he will ever get back to that, I don't know, but his work at the moment is certainly good enough. I just hope I can get him back to the level he was at in November. Unless we are happy with him, he won't go."
A two-time Cheltenham Festival winner, Douvan has not been seen on a racecourse since flopping in the 2017 Champion Chase after which is emerged he picked up a pelvis injury.
If he gets to this year's Festival he will line up in the same race where he will probably face stablemate Min, who was impressive in winning at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month.
Mullins said of the Rich Ricci owned gelding, "Everything has gone well and I could not see him going anywhere other than the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. He is unbeaten this season, even though he was disqualified, and he is doing all the right things. Altior beat him in the Supreme - it will be hard to turn him over I think."
Min of course is yet to win at the Festival having only competed in the Supreme in 2016 but as a seven-year-old he has plenty of time to put that right. Mullins does though have a number of returning Festival heroes including Un De Sceaux, Vroum Vroum Mag, Yorkhill, Let's Dance and Penhill. Un De Sceaux, winner of last year's Ryanair Chase will be looking for back to back victories in the race.
Mullins said of the 20 time winner from his 26 starts, "He has done tremendously well all season, although he has only had two runs. I think he is the ultimate iron horse. He is in great condition and we have plenty to work on still for Cheltenham, which is surprising because you see him there this morning - he could not wait to get going. He is always very strong in his work in the mornings."
Faugheen leads the string home at Willie Mullins' yard after work
Another former Festival hero Faugheen could be one of four runners in the Unibet Champion Hurdle alongside Melon, Wicklow Brave and Yorkhill.
Mullins said about Faugheen, the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner, "He is on course for the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Faugheen worked well enough to run the last day and ran a grand race (when second in the Irish Champion Hurdle). But he will have to up his game to try and win in Cheltenham. He might not need to be as good as he once was. I still think he is competitive.
"We had plenty of time to get better from Leopardstown to the middle of March and we haven't gone downhill at home. He is improving all the time. I would be delighted if he could come back to what he was but age is not on his side. He loves Cheltenham and hopefully that will reignite him a little bit."
Vroum Vroum Mag meanwhile is a surprise addition to the squad and will be aimed for the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, a race she won in 2016 while Yorkhill will be aimed at either the Unibet Champion Hurdle or the Ryanair Chase after flopping twice this season.
Last year's impressive Albert Bartlett winner Penhill will head to the SunBet Stayer's Hurdle while he could be joined by Let's Dance, winner of the Mares' Novice Hurdle last, although she also has the OLBG Mares' Hurdle as an option.