Willie Mullins rules Yorkhill out of Champion Hurdle switch

Graham Wylie-owned star expected to race over fences at the Cheltenham Festival

Willie Mullins has all but ruled out a late switch to the Stan James Champion Hurdle for Yorkhill who will instead be prepared to race over fences at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival.

Following the defections of both Faugheen and Annie Power, the prospect of Yorkhill reverting to flights after two wins over fences this season prompted some bookmakers to make last year's Neptune winner as low as 11/4 favourite to successfully step into the Champion Hurdle breach.

That would require the Graham Wylie-owned star to be supplemented into the hurdling championship but Mullins appears to have ruled that out, indicating Yorkhill will stay over fences at the Festival.

“I’m happy to keep him over fences. It’s his novice year. We could seriously have a think about putting him back over hurdles next season if we want to. But at the moment we’re not thinking like that. At the moment the Champion Hurdle is not part of our plan,” the champion trainer said.


Instead Yorkhill’s Festival options over fences look to be between the JLT, for which he’s a warm favourite, and the Arkle, which is dominated by the star English novice Altior.

Falling at the last

Another star Wylie novice who had been favourite for the RSA, Bellshill, blotted his copybook with a lacklustre display at Leopardstown on Sunday and was well beaten behind Disko when falling at the last in the Flogas Novice Chase.

Bellshill was pushed out to 12/1 for the RSA as a result but that race remains on his Festival agenda and Mullins said: “He did something like that last year too [beaten at odds-on in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle] so maybe he just doesn’t like Leopardstown in February. The RSA is still the plan.”

Another of Mullins’s 2016 Festival winners, Limini, is set to make her return to action in Saturday’s Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran where she is likely to face the former Champion Hurdle winner, Jezki, and perhaps another JP McManus-owned star in Sutton Place as well.

An impressive winner of a Grade Three at Naas three weeks ago, Sutton Place, who is unbeaten in his last four starts, has also got an entry in Sunday's Grade Two Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

Limini won the mares novice hurdle at Cheltenham a year ago and although beaten twice afterwards, the form of her Aintree third to Buveur D’Air and Petit Mouchoir has been advertised in spectacular style this winter.

The Rich Ricci-owned star is a 9/2 third favourite for the OLBG Hurdle in just under four weeks’ time but Mullins insisted: “She’s in good form but I’m not looking any further ahead with her than Saturday.”

Mullins has won the Gowran Grade two in four of the last five years.


The luckless Identity Thief is a 14/1 second-favourite to Altior is some Arkle ante-post lists and Henry De Bromhead’s runner could try to get his season back on track in Sunday’s Grade Three Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan.

Identity Thief is one of seven left in the two-mile heat after Tuesday’s declaration stage where his opposition may include another Gigginstown’s hopeful, Ball D’Arc.

Identity Thief was pulled up after striking into himself behind Min in a Christmas Grade One at Leopardstown and back at the Dublin track unseated David Mullins at the first fence of the Irish Arkle last month.

Road To Respect holds a Flyingbolt entry and is also among those left in the Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase over three miles on Sunday.

The Tony Martin-trained Naas winner, Anibale Fly, described this week by Noel Meade as a likely Grade One horse, is highest rated among the eight hopefuls remaining in the race which Martin won two years ago with Noble Emperor.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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