Willie Mullins keeping his Cheltenham options open until as late as possible

Video has emerged on social media of licensed trainer Mark Todd striking a horse with a branch

For a second on Sunday it seemed like Willie Mullins might change the habits of a lifetime and clarify targets for some of his leading novice prospects at the Cheltenham Festival.

"Yes, Kilcruit goes for the Supreme Novice, " he grinned when quizzed on plans before going no further.

Kilcruit is 12-1 for the first race at the festival but it is how his stable companions Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo will be split – if at all – that will consume much of the focus in the countdown to Cheltenham.

Both are among the market leaders for the Supreme and the Ballymore Novices Hurdle, with Sir Gerhard a 3-1 favourite for the latter.


There will also be intense speculation about whether Mullins's hugely exciting Galopin Des Champs takes on Bob Olinger in the Turners Chase or tackles the top English novice Bravemansgame in the three- mile option, the Brown Advisory Chase.

Mullins is renowned for late calls on running arrangements at the festival, including in 2016 when a late switch with Vautour paid off with Ryanair success.

No dramatic change in policy looks to be on the cards for 2022.

“We haven’t made any decision on what we do with the others. It will be late. There is no reason to make anything early I think,” the champion trainer said at Punchestown.

That leaves open the possibility of clarification on the Supreme – and what horses Mullins will rely on for an eighth win in the race – being left until final declaration 48 hours before.


With three Grade One novice options over both hurdles and fences, Ireland’s top trainer won’t be alone in keeping his options open until as late as possible.

Nicky Henderson's top pair Constitution Hill and Jonbon could also be split, while Gordon Elliott has both the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett as a choice for his Grade 1 winner Ginto.

Significantly, Henry de Bromehead has already indicated the Ballymore is the pick for his unbeaten Journey With, Me who won at Naas on Saturday.

In contrast Mullins didn't hesitate to nominate his shock King George VI Chase winner Tornado Flyer as a Gold Cup runner alongside the former dual "Blue Riband" hero Al Boum Photo.

“I image Tornado Flyer will go for the Gold Cup after having done a fantastic trial for it in Kempton,” he said.

“Al Boum Photo is fit and well. Things just didn’t work out in terms of another race this season but he’s in good shape,” Mullins added.

Tornado Flyer, who also holds a Ryanair entry, is a general 14-1 shot for the Gold Cup.

Klassical Dream will also take his place in the Stayers Hurdle field despite proving a major disappointment in last month's Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran.

Prior to that the former Cheltenham Festival winner had beaten the reigning Stayers champion Flooring Porter at Leopardstown over Christmas.

“I think I brought him back too quick after Christmas and he went very fast. It was one of those things. I’m not worried. He’s in good shape,” Mullins said.


In other news the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has described the former double Olympic gold medallist Sir Mark Todd as falling "a long way short of the standards of care" expected after a video emerged on social media of the licensed trainer striking a horse with a stick.

The New Zealander has apologised for the incident which the BHA says it is looking into.

In the clip Todd appears to be teaching a cross-country schooling session where one rider is struggling to get a horse into a water jump and the trainer brandishes a branch, striking the horse several times on the hindquarters.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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