Mullins hoping Clonmel meeting can proceed as planned

Champion trainer wants to ‘clear the decks’ before hectic festive campaign begins

Tuesday's rescheduled Clonmel card may not carry the kudos associated with the upcoming Christmas action but Willie Mullins is keeping his fingers crossed it goes ahead in order to "clear the decks" ahead of unleashing potentially the champion trainer's biggest ever festive team.

Vautour (King George VI Chase) and Faugheen (Christmas Hurdle) will fly the Mullins Grade One flag at Kempton on St Stephen's Day while Douvan (Racing Post Novice Chase) will do top-flight honours on the opening day of Leopardstown's Christmas festival.

The Rich Ricci-owned trio are the headline acts of a holiday team that is likely to see more than 40 runners overall sent into action over the four day from Mullins’s all-powerful Closutton yard which passed the century mark for winners in Ireland this season over the weekend.

That number could increase again if a sizable list of Mullins entries for Clonmel get denied a chance to run and consequently are switched to the Christmas team.


“Clonmel going ahead would be a help because it would help us get a few out and allow us to try and clear the decks before Christmas. It would certainly suit us,” said Mullins who is facing into one of his biggest organisational headaches of the year.

Tough going

“It’s tough going, especially with the shorter days and having to take weather into account. The Punchestown festival is probably the same in terms of runners but that’s the one place. At Christmas we have Kempton, Leopardstown, Limerick, and maybe we’ll have a runner in Down Royal too. So it’s very busy.

“I would imagine we will have numbers roughly similar to last year, probably a little more, maybe something like ten runners on each of the four days,” he added.

Officials at Clonmel are hopeful they can fulfil Mullins’s hopes after twice being forced to recently cancel due to waterlogging.

“There is some rain forecast for Monday and Tuesday but we’ve had some lovely drying days and all things being equal I would be reasonably confident we’ll go ahead. Hopefully it will be third time lucky,” said the Clonmel manager, DJ Histon.

Mullins had 39 Christmas runners in 2014 with Faugheen leading a haul of four Grade One prizes overall with his spectacular Christmas Hurdle victory, part of eight winners overall for jump racing’s dominant trainer.

Surprisingly he had a single winner at both Leopardstown and Limerick on St Stephen’s Day a year ago and Vautour was memorably turned over at 1-4 odds in the Racing Post Novice Chase by Clarcam, the second year in a row a Mullins odds-on favourite was beaten in the race after Champagne Fever in 2013.

Impressive debut

Douvan is currently a 4-7 favourite to win the €90,000 feature after an impressive debut victory over fences at Navan last month.

“He’s fine and on target for Leopardstown. It looks like being a very good race and I would imagine Ttebbob will set a scorching pace and make it a fair test.

“There are a couple more in there with good chances and they’ll have more experience than Douvan as well. But I was happy with the way our horse tackled Navan which is a big track.

“With the Autumn so dry, everyone’s a bit behind and it’s just the way it has panned out that everybody has come together,” said Mullins.

The trainer indicated the first two in last month’s Royal Bond, Long Dog and Bachasson, are likely to clash again in the following day’s Future Champions Novice Hurdle.

“I think Long Dog and Bachasson will meet again at Christmas. They are only likely to be the same horses from Fairyhouse at Leopardstown, unless something comes over from England,” he added.

The going at Leopardstown is reported to be soft, heavy in places, with an unsettled weather picture for the week ahead. Overall attendance at the Dublin course for its renowned four-day festival is forecast to reach almost 60,000.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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