If there’s any virulent bug circulating around the Carlow-Kilkenny border in the next five weeks, it will be a great relief for everyone hoping for Irish success at Cheltenham should it skirt the Willie Mullins yard. Because if it doesn’t, then get ready for a real festival anti-climax.
There was plenty examination of how Ireland’s tally fell to five last year on the back of the record-breaking thirteen in 2011 but the answer was pretty straight-forward: the Mullins horses were not quite right. Not off-colour enough to stop them running well, but enough to take that crucial edge which often makes the difference between victory and defeat.
And if 2012 felt like Mullins was flying the Irish flag solo, then it feels even more like that in 2013. Because right now, and with a few notable exceptions, Mullins is the Irish challenge, in the graded events especially. Even a cursory look at the ante-post lists circulating like confetti indicates that.
Jezki might be favourite for the Supreme but Un Atout is there for Mullins whose Arvika Ligeonniere is the sole Irish name towards the front of the Arkle betting. Hurricane Fly is the only Irish hope in the Champion Hurdle, so it’s just as well he has a favourite’s chance, a comment that applies even more to Quevega.
Back In Focus is rated a favourite for the four mile National Hunt Chase in some lists on the Day Two opener. Pont Alexandre dominates the Neptune, and has Champagne Fever for support, along with Mouse Morris’s Rule The World. Boston Bob is currently the main Irish hope for the RSA.
Sizing Europe and Flemenstar are in the Queen Mum but everything looks to be playing for minor money behind Sprinter Sacre. There are plentiful Irish hopes in the bumper but Mullins has plenty of them and his record in that is unsurpassed. And for good measure, Abbey Lane is rated by bookmakers the top Irish hope for the Coral Cup.
Aupcharlie still has his chance in the Jewson and while Monksland will run for Noel Meade in the World Hurdle, it will be Quevega who will be the focus of most Irish interest if she runs.
And on Day Four, there’s Blood Cotil and Diakali for Mullins in the Triumph, Ballycasey in the Albert Bartlett, not to mention a certain Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup.
That’s mostly ignoring the handicaps over the week but Mullins is sure to be heavily represented in those too. So in effect, it really looks like being a case of ‘Mise Eire’ for Mullins.
No doubt that will be a sore point for some people, mostly his rivals, and it probably would be preferable for any number of reasons if there was a greater spread. But mostly there should be gratitude that the champion trainer has taken his operation to a level largely unprecedented in this country.
Because without Mullins it could be a very long week.
A conspicuously reasonable and decent individual has taken this corner aside and shared his opinion that I’m sometimes too vehement in condemning stewards who are faced with a desperately difficult job and are doing it out of a genuine love of the game.
And it is a desperately difficult job, on its own terms, and even more so when policing people who are either business acquaintances or friends, or both. This is a small country and it often pays to remain on-side with those who might hove into your commercial or social sights sometime soon.
My view is that that pressure should be removed from the equation and policing should be left to those who – theoretically at least – should not be conspicuously worried about what anyone thinks of them, and are backed up accordingly by the regulatory powers that be.
That might be an all-but impossible dream in Ireland, given the neglible role punters play in the whole game here, but at least we should be aiming high, which we most definitely are not doing at the moment.
The sky appeared to be the limit for Don Cossack after his maiden hurdle victory in November but expectations now look like they will have to be considerably lowered.
Gigginstown’s German bred ran well enough behind Mozoltov in the Moscow Flyer, certainly better than in the Navan Hurdle, but it was hardly the sparkling performance that might have been expected from a horse with such a reputation.
And who beat him – why a Mullins horse, of course.