Mullins delays call on adding Limini to Champion Hurdle mix
Champion trainer indicates Vroum Vroum Mag will defend her OLBG Hurdle title
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh celebrate winning the Mares’ Novices Hurdle on Limini at Cheltenham last year. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Willie Mullins will leave any decision about supplementing Limini into next week’s Stan James Champion Hurdle until as late as possible before Wednesday’s vital declaration stage.
Adding Annie Power to last year’s Champion Hurdle field at a cost of almost €23,000 paid off in style and Limini is currently a general 6-1 shot to repeat the feat – if the decision is taken to supplement her.
“She is doing everything alright so far but we will have to see how she is in the morning before making any decision,” Mullins indicated. “I need to speak to her owner and just see how she is.”
Limini, one of seven Mullins festival winners a year ago in the mares novice hurdle, impressed when beating Apple’s Jade on her return to action at Punchestown recently.
However owner Rich Ricci has said he won’t go down the Annie Power route and supplement her if it’s felt Limini can’t at least make the first three in the Champion Hurdle.
Limini is also prominent in ante-post lists for the OLBG Hurdle on Tuesday, alongside another Ricci-owned star mare, the defending OLBG champion, Vroum Vroum Mag, who has her own selection of Cheltenham entries that include the Stayers Hurdle and the Champion.
“She is in the Champion Hurdle too and there’s still a week to go so things can change. But the mares race has been the plan all along for Vroum Vroum Mag and I would imagine that’s where she’ll go,” said Mullins who ruled out any late change of heart about supplementing the JLT favourite Yorkhill into the Champion Hurdle.
Eve of festival headaches are nothing new for a man who has been the festival’s leading trainer in five of the last six years and who secured seven more winners in 2016 which took his overhaul Cheltenham haul to 48.
Injuries to Annie Power, Faugheen and Min, as well as the ramifications from his split with Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team, mean Mullins’s festival raiding party will be reduced by a third to almost 40.
However he can still boast seven ante-post favourites including Vroum Vroum Mag in the mares and Melon in Tuesday’s opener, the Supreme Novice Hurdle.
Douvan will be a Day Two ‘banker’ for many in the Champion Chase while Carter McKay is favourite to give Mullins a ninth success in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
Yorkhill and the Ryanair favourite Un De Sceaux could be joined on Day Three by Let’s Dance who is among a number of Mullins horses that could attempt to succeed Limini in the mares novice hurdle.
“Let’s Dance is in the mares race, the mares novice and the other novices but I’m not going to make any hard and fast plans for her when there’s still a week to go,” added Mullins.
The champion trainer’s nephew, David, will be in a different Champion Hurdle camp, teaming up with Nicky Henderson’s Brain Power who pleased the jockey in a workout last week.
“I schooled him at Seven Barrows and he was brilliant. I think he’s a big price in a very open race. If he gets some reasonable ground he will take a lot of beating,” the Grand National winning rider said. “He’s a straightforward character and he is improving. We haven’t seen his limit yet.”
Mark Walsh and Noel Fehily have been supported in the market for next week’s leading jockey at the festival after picking up some prime rides for owner JP McManus. Both riders are 7-1 with some firms behind the odds-on Ruby Walsh.
“While his namesake, Ruby, remains hot favourite to be top jockey once again, Mark Walsh has been the best backed rider for the award as punters react to news his mounts will now include leading hopes like Yanworth, Uxizandre and Jezki” one bookmaker spokesman said.