Nobody has trained more Cheltenham Festival winners than Willie Mullins. The master Irish handler has saddled almost 65 of them since his first with Tourist Attraction in the 1995 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
As Cheltenham rolls around for another absorbing four days of National Hunt action with the 2020 Festival kicking off on Tuesday, March 10, let’s take a look at some of the most likely Mullins winners this year.
Benie Des Dieux
The first port of call has to be previous victors at the meeting, and Benie Des Dieux took the Mares’ Hurdle in 2018. She was on course to repeat that success last year but fell in front at the final flight. Benie Des Dieux has since won all three subsequent starts, however: the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil and Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on her return from a break.
As those last two races are over half-a-mile further than the Mares’ Hurdle, Mullins has a decision to make. Does he go down the Mares route with Benie Des Dieux again or instead take up her entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle?
According to the latest Cheltenham horse racing betting odds, she is 2.12 favorite on the Betfair Exchange to win the Mares’ Hurdle and 6.60 for the Stayers behind reigning champ Paisley Park. History shows Mullins loves the former race and has trained nine previous winners of it, including Benie Des Dieux, since it was added to the Festival in 2009.
Popular veteran Faugheen is a former Champion Hurdle winner and has two Cheltenham wins on his CV. Mullins decided to send him over steeplechase fences this season despite his advancing years and he clearly retains plenty of ability.
Faugheen won a clash of the generations with the much younger Samcro in the Grade 1 novice chase at Limerick over Christmas. The question now is what is his best trip as a mature horse over fences?
Mullins has entered Faugheen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, RSA Chase and National Hunt Chase. These races range in distance from two-and-a-half up to three-and-three-quarter miles. He is trading on the exchanges as the 9.00 favorite for the Marsh, better known for its previous sponsorship by JLT. Faugheen is a bigger price for the RSA and National Hunt Chase.
Al Boum Photo
Mullins had gone his entire training career without winning the Festival’s feature steeplechase, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, until last season. Al Boum Photo finally ended his hoodoo in the blue riband event and is on course for a repeat bid.
It is worth highlighting history is against him. No horse since 2004 has made a successful defense of the Gold Cup, but Al Boum Photo is lightly-raced over fences and came through the same prep run as he had last year with flying colors again.
Mullins holds a strong hand in the Gold Cup betting. Al Boum Photo is favorite on the exchanges at 5.70 – ahead of stable companion and Punchestown conqueror Kemboy.