Mullins knows time running out to blood novices pre-Cheltenham

Savvy champion trainer is keeping Irish Gold Cup options open with Kemboy

David Mullins on Kemboy clears the last to win The Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Willie Mullins is concerned time may be running out to get vital experience into his best novices ahead of the Cheltenham festival in eight weeks' time.

The weather will get colder but, crucially, not significantly wetter over the coming days and the champion trainer is already “monitoring the situation” ahead of a possible Grade One appearance by one of his stable stalwarts, Un De Sceaux, at Ascot on Saturday.

However on the same day one of Mullins’s leading bumper performers from last season, Carefully Selected, is entered in a maiden hurdle and could be forced to miss it due to ground conditions at Navan.

The going there is officially “good” at present and Mullins admitted on Tuesday: “I would be very apprehensive about running him on that first time.”


Carefully Selected was runner-up to his stable companion Relegate in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last season and is as low as 10-1 for the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle this March despite never having jumped a flight in public.

Ground conditions

Unseasonably quick ground conditions have kept a lot more of Mullins’s best young prospects out of action up to now and he is anxious to get racing into them as soon as possible before Cheltenham.

“The season is rolling on and we haven’t got experience into them because of the ground. I think a lot of people are probably having a rethink of what they’re going to do this season, in terms of how they’re going to approach the big festivals with their young horses,” Mullins said.

“We’re not at panic stations yet but there are going to be a lot of horses running at Cheltenham with very little experience. It’s certainly cause for concern that we haven’t got that experience into what we think are a lot of our better novices,” he added.

One of those is the highly-touted Annamix who finally made his long-awaited jumping debut at Limerick over Christmas only to get beaten as an odds-on favourite by Press Conference.

Having been ante-post favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle Annamix is now 20-1 for that race although Mullins has far from given up on him.

“Like a lot of mine he ran like he needed the run. Hopefully we can get him up to speed and in the sort of form we think he’s capable of,” said the trainer.

Mullins has left the Cheltenham Gold Cup entries Total Recall and Invitation Only among the 11 horses in Sunday’s Grade Two Horse And Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.

That race has thrown up two recent Gold Cup champions in recent years, Sizing John and Don Cossack. However bookmakers reckon Mullins's best hope of securing an elusive first success in steeplechasing's 'Blue Riband' in March is Kemboy, a surprise winner of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Dublin Racing Festival

Mullins had indicated Kemboy could go direct to Cheltenham but prior to that the horse holds an entry in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup at next month’s Dublin Racing Festival. “The fact he won so well around Leopardstown, on good ground, we have to think about whether we run him there or go straight to Cheltenham. All options are open with him,” said Mullins.

Laurina also holds an entry at the Dublin Racing Festival in the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle but the trainer is holding fire on plans at the moment.

“I’m very happy with the way she came out of the race in Sandown. We have the option to run her but it will be like the Sandown race; we’ll see from week to week what we want to do with her,” he said.

Sunday’s other Grade Two contest at Thurles, the Coolmore Mares Novice Chase, has ten left in it after Tuesday’s forfeit stage.

Mullins has three left in the race including Camelia De Cotte, an impressive winner on heavy going at Cork last month. Her potential opposition includes Henry De Bromhead's Ellie Mac.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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