Willie Mullins sets his sights overseas after Punchestown victory

Champion trainer says draw with Gordon Elliott’s yard would have been ‘fantastic’

Willie Mullins has his first runner of the new National Hunt season at Ballinrobe's opening fixture of 2017 on Tuesday evening but Ireland's champion trainer is already preparing to extend his big-race reach overseas this summer.

The Cheltenham Stayers Hurdle hero Nichols Canyon is set to chase a $500,000 bonus in the US on Saturday week while another Grade One winner Airlie Beach is likely to lead another Mullins summer squad at Auteuil over the coming weeks.

On top of that, Mullins is eyeing a return trip to Italy in September for Alelchi Inois in the Gran Premio Merano, a race in which he finished third a year ago.

Nevertheless, Mullins anticipates a relative summer lull for his powerful team as the dust settles on his epic trainer's title victory over Gordon Elliott at Punchestown last week. It was a success he believes has taken a lot out of everyone involved.

“It was very tough on both yards, both trainers and both sets of staff. It must have been difficult for everyone at Gordon’s, leading for the whole and then losing out on the last day. I feel for them. It would have been great if it could have been a draw. That would have been fantastic,” Mullins said.

“Every year we regroup and think what we can do better and it will be the same now, in terms of improvements to the yard and planning the next year out. But we won’t be overly busy during the summer,” he added.

One horse being kept busy though is Nichols Canyon who will collect a half million dollar bonus if he can add Saturday week’s Iroquois Hurdle in Nashville to his Cheltenham success in March. He was just beaten by Unowhatimeanharry in a titanic finish at Punchestown on Friday.

Nichols Canyon is set to be joined in the race by Shaneshill. Both horses ran in the race last year when Shaneshill was runner up to Rawnaq with Nichols Canyon in third.

Lucrative action

“We are entering both. So far it’s so good with Nichols Canyon and we’ll monitor him. If he’s well I expect him to take his chance,” said Mullins who anticipates a smaller team than usual will go to the lucrative action in Auteuil during May and June.

“We’re still looking at sending a few. Airlie Beach ran well against Apple’s Jade on Saturday and she’s certainly on the shortlist but we haven’t finalised plans yet,” he added. “Alelchi Inois is on a break with a view to going back to Italy in September.”

Timi Roli is the Mullins runner in Ballinrobe’s opening maiden hurdle and he can carry the Hurricane Fly colours to victory over Elliott’s Harden.

Champion jockey Ruby Walsh is also booked for Dawn Raider in another maiden although Fintara represents the red-hot Jessica Harrington-Robbie Power team in this.

An early mistake ruined Linger’s Fred Winter chance at Cheltenham but he will love quick going in a four year old hurdle which also includes Sword Fighter and Landsman.