Saldier can get final day off to a flier for Willie Mullins

Trainer has four runners in pursuit of Cheltenham Gold Cup glory on Friday

Willie Mullins: has almost twice as many runners on Friday as Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson put together. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Willie Mullins: has almost twice as many runners on Friday as Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson put together. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire

 

Willie Mullins pitches four runners into the pursuit of the Cheltenham Gold Cup grail, but potential success also looks to be lurking among the rest of his 20-strong final-day festival team.

Quantitatively, it is an astonishing display of strength in depth. Mullins has almost twice as many runners on Friday as Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson put together. The bad news for his rivals is that the quality isn’t exactly shabby either.

Henderson has the long-time JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite, Apple’s Shakira, while Elliott has his own valid contender in Farclas.

Mullins, though, has four of the nine runners as he pursues a first Triumph success since Scolardy in 2002. Mr Adjudicator is the proven Grade One winner, although Stormy Ireland appears to be the stable number one. And the solution to a fascinating contest could ultimately wind up being Saldier.

The French recruit has the lowest profile of the Mullins quartet and is the most inexperienced in the field, with just one run over flights.

There was sufficient evidence in that race at Gowran last month, however, that this is a horse with a significant future at the highest level.

Despite being messed around by a loose horse in the early stages, Saldier didn’t miss a beat to win as he liked. He has the scope to suggest he is no ready-made juvenile, but neither is Saldier some tyro likely to be bullied out of this contest. He has nine runs on the flat under his belt from France.

Double-digit price

That he lines up at all, considering the strength Mullins has anyway, looks significant. At a double-digit price, Saldier appeals as an unexposed type that can surprise some higher-profile opposition.

Mullins has five in the following Randox County Hurdle in which he sprang a 20-1 surprise last year with the hardy annual topweight, Arctic Fire.

Bleu Et Rouge tops the ratings this time but it is the novice at the other end of the experience scale, Whiskey Sour, that could emerge best of the lot.

It’s hard to portray a Grade One winner as coming in under the radar, but there is a touch of that to Whiskey Sour.

After all, his top-flight win came after two of his stable companions fell at the last in the Future Champions over Christmas. But his subsequent Deloitte effort behind Samcro was a perfectly acceptable effort that could have earned him a spot in Tuesday’s Supreme.

Instead Whiskey Sour goes down the handicap route on just his fourth start over flights. But this is a battle-hardened little horse from the flat, and a mark of 141 looks playable.

Owner Luke McMahon saw his colours carried to Coral Cup success on Wednesday by Bleu Berry, and Whiskey Sour has the potential to double up.

Mullins has three chances to follow up Penhill’s Albert Bartlett victory a year ago, but anyone who saw Chris’s Dream sluice through the Clonmel mud to win a Grade Three last month will be anxious to keep him onside.

Visual impression

Chris’s Dream didn’t beat much in form terms but the visual impression he made was spectacular, winning at his ease by daylight. On heavy going it was a spectacular display and certainly neither trip or ground will be an issue for him. Chef Des Obeaux looks a solid home alternative, but Chris’s Dream is a fascinating contender.

If Edwulf can manage to win the Gold Cup it will bring the house down in terms of “feelgood factor”, although On The Fringe coming back to win the Foxhunters for a third time would run it close.

The 2015 and 2016 hero could finish only fourth to Pacha Du Polder a year ago and looked set for retirement after a lacklustre point-to-point run during the winter. He’s back, however, and Nina Carberry is back on board, which leaves Jamie Codd available to ride a horse almost half On The Fringe’s age.

Burning Ambition had Gilgamboa get back up to beat him at Punchestown last month. If Gilgamboa was qualified to run in this race he would be a popular favourite in these conditions. Codd takes over on Burning Ambition this time and one of the youngest horses in the field can trump his seniors.

The record shows it increasingly takes a Grade One level horse to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle. Whether Sire Du Berlais is quite that level is unclear, but he does look open to significant improvement.

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