Ten great winners at the Cheltenham Festival for Willie Mullins

By Sports Desk March 14, 2024

If anybody had said in the year 2000 that approaching the 2024 Cheltenham Festival a single trainer would be on the verge of saddling 100 winners at the meeting, it would have been seen as preposterous.

Nicky Henderson already had 20 to his credit and he now sits on a very respectable 73, but back then Willie Mullins only had six – and four of those had come in the Champion Bumper.

It is quite remarkable, then, that this year Mullins has brought up his century, after getting the required six to hit the magic number inside the first two days of the meeting.

Here, we take a look at 10 of the very best horses that appear on Mullins’ Cheltenham roll of honour:

Tourist Attraction (1995 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)

The very first Cheltenham Festival winner for Mullins. At a time when he was still an amateur rider himself, he entrusted Mark Dwyer with the mount on the mare who went off a 25-1 outsider. In beating subsequent Arkle winner Ventana Canyon, Mullins proved he was capable of mixing it with the very best. She only ran once more herself but went on to produce Pete The Feat, a prolific winner for Charlie Longsdon who went on to race until he was 15.

Cousin Vinny (2008 Champion Bumper)

By 2008, Mullins was a major player at the Festival and had begun to farm the Champion Bumper having won it five times in all. However, there is no doubt if you were to ask him which was his most memorable success in the race, he would nominate Cousin Vinny, as it was a first Festival winner for his then 18-year-old son, Patrick, who has gone on to break all records as an amateur jockey.

Quevega (Mares’ Hurdle 2009-2014)

There was not much to the diminutive mare who arrived from France in 2007 but once Mullins worked out the key to her, she created her own piece of Cheltenham history. While some disagreed with the way she was campaigned, as from 2010 onwards she made her seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham, there could be no doubting the execution of the plan. The extra races have undoubtedly helped Mullins rack up his incredible numbers and many would have preferred to have seen Quevega try her luck in the Champion Hurdle or more likely the Stayers’ given she won the Punchestown equivalent four times. Either way, just running in the same race six times is a notable achievement, never mind winning it.

Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle 2011 and 2013)

Another who created his own piece of history. Hurricane Fly, who came with a tall reputation as a Listed winner on the Flat in France, became the first horse to win the Champion Hurdle, lose it and then regain the crown. Injury meant he missed the first two Cheltenham Festivals he was eligible for, and given he beat that year’s Supreme winner, Go Native, by 10 lengths at Leopardstown in the Christmas of his novice season, you would have to think that is one that got away, and the year after that he came back from injury to win at Punchestown. His defeat in the 2012 Champion came on the fastest ground he encountered and the winner of 24 of 32 hurdle races certainly loved the mud.

Vautour (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2014, JLT Novices’ Chase 2015, Ryanair Chase 2016)

In terms of pure natural ability, Vautour has to be among the best Mullins has ever trained. The day he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by six lengths he looked impregnable and he would have taken all the beating in the Champion itself. Sent straight over fences, he recovered from a blip at Leopardstown to bolt up by 16 lengths in what is now the Turners. A horse who certainly saved his best for Cheltenham, he won the Ryanair with a display that took the breath away, even if it met a muted reception due to owner Rich Ricci stating at a Cheltenham preview evening the horse would run in the Gold Cup.

Faugheen (Neptune Novices’ Hurdle 2014, Champion Hurdle 2015)

One of Mullins’ most popular trainees, on his day he looked nigh on unbeatable. A very easy winner of what is now the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle, the following season he endured a very un-Mullins-like preparation for the Champion Hurdle by running at Ascot and Kempton first. His only run in Ireland that season came after he had already won the Champion, when he went to Punchestown and was even more impressive. Sadly, injury curtailed him after that and he did not run between January 2016 and November 2017. Never quite the same, he did win a Grade One novice chase at Limerick and it was to his credit that his final start came at Cheltenham when third in the 2020 edition of the Marsh (Turners) Novices’ Chase.

Douvan (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2015, Arkle 2016)

Oh what might have been. Super talented but also, ultimately, incredibly fragile. There were no signs of the heartache to come as he waltzed through his novice hurdle season unbeaten, or when he won all six of his novice chases the year after. That he had a subsequent Gold Cup winner in Sizing John seven lengths behind him in the Arkle spoke volumes. However, when 2-9 favourite for the Champion Chase the year after, he made mistakes and trailed in seventh, finishing lame. He had a year off but returned for the same race only to fall four out when leading the field a merry dance.

Al Boum Photo (Gold Cup 2019 and 2020)

Despite dominating the Festival by now, Mullins had yet to win the blue riband, coming close on several occasions. Step forward the unglamourous Al Boum Photo. No star over hurdles, he would have gone close in the 2018 RSA Novices’ Chase when falling two out, breaking Ruby Walsh’s leg in the process. The following season he ran once before the Gold Cup, winning a minor race at Tramore, and his 12-1 success at Cheltenham caught a few out. But he repeated the trick 12 months later, with Mullins sticking to the same routine. He finished a five-length third to Minella Indo when bidding to emulate Best Mate.

Allaho (Ryanair Chase 2021 and 2022)

If ever a race and a horse were a match made in heaven it was surely Allaho and the Ryanair Chase. Viewed as a stayer in his younger days, when he was third in the Albert Bartlett and RSA in his novice hurdle and chase seasons, it was not until the intermediate trip was settled upon that he was seen to his best. Eschewed by Paul Townend in favour of Min in 2021, Rachael Blackmore made no mistake and the punters sent them off favourite, suggesting Townend had made the wrong call pre-race and so it proved, with Allaho winning by 12 lengths. Townend did not make the same mistake again, with a 14-length success a year later. Unfortunately injury has ruled him out of the past two Festivals.

Galopin Des Champs (Martin Pipe 2021 and Gold Cup 2023)

Unfortunate not to be going for a fourth successive win at the meeting given he tipped up when miles clear as a novice in 2022, he must have been some certainty in the Martin Pipe the year before off 142. Mullins has got him right back to his best mid-season after two defeats and he looks to hold massive claims of emulating his former stablemate Al Boum Photo and you would not put it past him to go one better.

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