Willie Mullins hoping to unleash A-List stars at Punchestown
Weather permitting, Annie Power and Faugheen could reappear in Mogiana Hurdle
Annie Power (with Ruby Walsh on board) who could return to action in Sunday’s Stan James Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Willie Mullins already trails his great rival Gordon Elliott by almost half a million euro in the trainers’ championship but, with Punchestown billing its weekend Grade One action as a ‘Winter Festival’, the champion is readying some of his A-List stars for a return to action.
The last two winners of Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle, Annie Power and Faugheen, are among seven Mullins hopefuls still in Sunday’s Stan James Morgiana Hurdle ahead of today’s forfeit stage and National Hunt racing’s dominant figure plans to be represented in depth – if weather conditions allow.
“I would hope to run as many as I can since it’s very hard to get races for them all,” Mullins indicated and he is playing down the significance of a comparative lack of runners from his Closutton base as Elliott forges ahead in the trainer’s table.
Mullins is chasing a 10th title in a row but despite having already banked over €1.1 million in prizemoney in Ireland this season he is well behind Elliott’s haul of over €1.6 million.
“At the moment it’s all about getting the horses out but the weather has been so unseasonal. It was like September this morning on the gallops, incredibly warm, and basically we’re waiting on the ground,” he said.
Should more winter-like conditions apply at the ‘Winter Festival’ it could be the perfect cue for the vast power of the Mullins string to emerge.
The sole occasion Faugheen has been beaten in his career came in last year’s Morgiana but the trainer dismissed the suggestion that might be a factor in whether or not hurdling’s top-rated star returns to action in Sunday’s €85,000 feature.
Nichols Canyon beat Faugheen in the 2015 Morgiana and is also a contender as are the star mares, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag. But they will all have important home workouts before weekend running arrangements are finalised.
Huge anticipation surrounds the likely reappearance of Mullins’s latest star chaser, Douvan, although when that happens hasn’t been decided.
“He’s in great shape but it will be another few weeks before we think about running him,” the trainer said before pointing out how uncertain the racing game can be.
“You look at Nicky Henderson having to retire one horse [Sprinter Sacre] on Sunday and then losing another [Simonsig]. We’re in a lucky position but we lost one of our top horses [Vautour] and another horse [Avant Tout] in one weekend too,” he said.