Willie Mullins only 7-2 to break his Cheltenham record of 10 winners

Gala Marceau will bid to earn her festival ticket in Wednesday’s Quevega Hurdle at Punchestown

With just three weeks to the start of Cheltenham 2024, Willie Mullins is only a 7-2 shot to break his own record of 10 festival winners in a single week.

Jump racing’s dominant figure needs half a dozen more winners to reach a century of successes at the sport’s biggest meeting of the year and only once in the last nine years has Mullins failed to notch at least six victories at Cheltenham.

However, in 2022 he broke all records by reaching double figures for the first time, including a 1,518-1 five-timer on the final day.

About to send perhaps his strongest ever team to Prestbury Park, with Gold Cup hero Galopin Des Champs topping an overall squad of potentially up to 80 runners, bookmakers are battening down the hatches on what the Co Carlow-based maestro might achieve.


Paddy Power reckon it is only 7-2 that Mullins will wind up saddling 11 or more winners this time, passing the 100-mark with plenty to spare.

Much of the intervening time will be spent trying to guess the distribution of that colossal strength in depth.

If Mullins has form when it comes to leaving tricky final decisions until as late as possible, it didn’t prevent speculation on Monday as to whether the outstanding novice Ballyburn will line up in the Supreme or the Baring Bingham Hurdle.

Sustained support for the longer contest was reported on the back of Tullyhill springing into the Supreme picture following his impressive victory at Punchestown on Sunday.

Other races, including the Close Bros Mares’ Hurdle, are packed with Mullins contenders.

Last season’s Triumph Hurdle heroine Lossiemouth is an overwhelming favourite for that Mares’ contest, although her old rival and stable companion Gala Marceau will try to earn her own festival ticket at Punchestown on Wednesday.

Gala Marceau beat an unlucky in running Lossiemouth at Leopardstown last season before securing more Grade One success in the Prix Alain Du Breil at Auteuil during the summer.

She will face a trio of rivals, including her stable companion Saylavee, in Wednesday’s Grade Three Bet Victor Quevega Hurdle, named after the star that dominated the Mares a record six times.

Gala Marceau is currently third best in betting lists for the Cheltenham contest behind Lossiemouth and another Mullins star in Ashore Diamond.

The latter had Gala Marceau behind her in third at Doncaster on their last starts but substantial improvement is expected from the Kenny Alexander-owned mare on the back of that.

“We were very happy with her, and Danny [Mullins] said she took a bit of a blow after the last,” commented Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony.

“He thought he would definitely have been second and closer to the winner without that and he wasn’t overly hard on her to try to get second as the big day is in a few weeks’ time.

“The step up in trip is going to help her. She stayed the extra distance well last year in Auteuil and we really think that will play to her strengths,” he added.

One highly-rated novice that won’t be going to Cheltenham however is No Flies On Him.

The Edward O’Grady-trained runner impressed when winning a maiden at Leopardstown over Christmas but proved no match for Tullyhill at the weekend. No Flies On Him went down by nine lengths in a Listed contest.

“Had he won then obviously I would have gone to Cheltenham and had no worries,” admitted O’Grady on Monday. “But it might have been just a pretty big step and he might improve quite a bit from it.

“He’s a very gross horse and he blew quite a lot after his race and I think there is a nice bit of improvement in him.

“We’ll probably go to Fairyhouse and Punchestown – home soil and good ground. I’m sure he will have benefited from the experience at Punchestown.

“There were a number of positives and obviously you are always disappointed when you get beat, but maybe at this stage we were over estimating things and the winner put up a Grade One performance.

“My horse is only five and this was only his second start. He had never been off the bridle before in his life, so it was quite a shock to his system and something he handled quite well on reflection.

“He really wasn’t at home on the gluey ground, and he did find that rather difficult – the day he ran at Leopardstown it was good ground. What we really liked about him was having made the mistake at the last hurdle, he ran on again,

“So, there were a lot of positives to take from the run and he certainly hasn’t gone down in our estimations. But just maybe at this stage of his career it was maybe too big an ask under the circumstances,” he added.

Separately, another weekend runner-up, Colonel Mustard, will go to the festival and take on the huge task of competing with Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle.

Lorna Fowler’s stable star couldn’t peg back Nemean Lion in Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle on Saturday but the Co Meath-based trainer is still keen to let him take his chance at Cheltenham.

“How often do you have a chance to run in a Champion Hurdle? People are talking about the race cutting up and yes, it isn’t a winning opportunity on paper at all. But does he have a chance of getting a place – absolutely,” she said.

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column