Mullins aiming to extend remarkable Morgiana Hurdle record
Klassical Dream odds-on favourite to complete a nine in a row for top trainer
Ruby Walsh onboard Klassical Dream wins the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle during the Punchestown Festival last April. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Willie Mullins will be long odds-on to get back on the Grade One winning trail and secure a remarkable nine-in-a-row in this Saturday’s Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
The champion national hunt trainer has dominated the first top-flight hurdle of the new jumps season like no other race.
Beginning with Thousand Stars in 2011 Mullins has swept all before him with star names such as Hurricane Fly, Faugheen and Nicholls Canyon, while he was also successful last year with Sharjah.
That horse is among half a dozen entries Mullins can choose from this time although it is Klassical Dream who is a general 2-5 favourite in ante-post lists.
Unbeaten in four starts last season, including in the Supreme at Cheltenham, Klassical Dream is also a 7-2 favourite to emulate Hurricane Fly and Faugheen by ultimately graduating to Champion Hurdle glory in March.
Saldier and Benie Des Dieux are also among Mullins’s options for Saturday’s €100,000 highlight.
Benie Des Dieux was his last Grade One winner when successful in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil six months ago.
She was one of six top-flight winners Mullins saddled at the Punchestown festival and contributed to a total of 22 Grade One successes for her trainer last season.
The Morgiana has been switched to a Saturday date to facilitate the big-race sponsors. They are also behind the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham on Sunday and were keen to avoid a clash.
Also featured among the 11 entries is the 2017 Cheltenham festival winner Labaik who hasn’t run since April of 2017 through injury.
The Gordon Elliott-trained star has been the centre of controversy since shortly after his Cheltenham success with a proposed sale being stopped by the Criminal Assets Bureau.
After a lengthy legal process, a High Court decision last month resulted in the horse being free to race again. The shape of the Morgiana line-up is likely to become more clear after Tuesday’s forfeit stage.
Willie Mullins made the trip to Melbourne to watch his mare True Self win a $300,000 Group Three in impressive style on Saturday morning.
However with ground conditions getting softer at home, the strength in depth of his National Hunt team is starting to emerge.
A handful of Mullins runners, including the former Grade One-winning hurdler Bapaume, are due to line up at Fairyhouse on Monday where heavy ground conditions are certain.
Bapaume was a top-flight winner as a juvenile in 2017 and can also boast a Prix La Barka win as well as a second in a French Champion Hurdle.
He’s still only six and while he mightn’t strike as an obvious physical type for fences his first chase start will be of some interest. Bapaume’s main danger could be Galvin but his fall four out on his own chasing debut at Galway is an obvious negative.
Concertista has had a single run for Mullins but that was no less than a narrow defeat to her stable companion Eglantine Du Seuil at the Cheltenham festival in March.
That should make her very hard to beat in a mares’ maiden hurdle while Annamix earlier has a chance to start living up to his reputation in a novice event.
Thatsy and All Those Years renew rivalry from Galway in another maiden but here too Mullins has an interesting option in the expensive purchase Monkfish.