We are just four weeks out until the Cheltenham Festival and when the annual nightmare returns – Willie Mullins bingo. Due to his dominance across almost every division, Willie trains the top two or three in the majority of our antepost festival markets found HERE. However, punters are getting wiser about the destination of Closutton stars, largely down to plenty of experience.
In previous years we’ve had high profile conundrums such as the 2014 Vautour-Faugheen fiasco and 2022’s Dysart Dynamo-Sir Gerhard split. When Willie’s horses are so dominant in each division, it can always leave future Gold Cup winners like Galopin Des Champs running in a Martin Pipe off 142… He is currently the
favourite for the 2024 renewal.
Rightly or wrongly, the situation is no different in 2024. If you analyse the top seven in the betting for each of the main novice hurdling divisions, Willie Mullins trains a 2/7 in the Supreme, 4/7 in the Ballymore and 5/7 in the Albert Bartlett – that’s ignoring his favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Jade De Grugy, currently priced at
The ‘big 2’ this year are Ballyburn and Mystical Power, who have both won two of Ireland’s biggest ‘stepping stones’ towards the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, however, Willie never runs his best novices’ against each other – so where will they run?
A forgivable seasonal return second-place to an already fit Firefox aside, Ballyburn has a pretty faultless record. With a three-mile Point-to-Point and two impressive bumper victories to his name, he was at the forefront of the horses to follow conversation coming into the 2023/24 season.
He soon put his defeat to Firefox behind him, winning a novice hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival on his first start over two-and-a-half-miles by twenty-five lengths. Given the manor of his victory over a further distance, the Ballymore appeared an obvious long-term target but as we know so well with Willie Mullins, it’s never quite that simple.
Thirty-seven days later, Ballyburn scooted clear from Slade Steel in the two-mile Grade 1 Tattersalls Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Mullins has won eight of the last nine previous renewals of this race but it’s worth noting that the race distance changed from two-mile-two to two miles in 2018. When working out Ballyburn’s likely spring target, the obvious questions seems ‘once the race dropped to two miles, where did those previous winners go next?’
🥇 2019 Klassical Dream (Supreme)
🥇 2020 Asterion Forlonge (Supreme)
🥇 2021 Appreciate It (Supreme)
🥇 2022 Sir Gerhard (Ballymore)
🥇 2023 Il Etait Temps (Supreme)
The results show an 80% favour towards the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but on the other hand, not one of those 5 winners had previous experience over further than two miles, unlike Ballyburn.
for the Supreme
for the Ballymore
YOU GET TO DECIDE
🐴 Do you choose Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle?
— Star Sports Bookmakers (@StarSports_Bet) February 9, 2024
Willie Mullins’ other ace in his pack is Mystical Power – that second name sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? This five-year-old son of Galileo is out of the wonderful Closutton mare Annie Power.
His three starts to-date include a bumper win, Galway Festival novice hurdle win and an impressive seven-length victory in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in January – another race that Willie has used as a springboard to Cheltenham success – winning seven of the last eleven previous renewals with names such as Vautour, Douvan and Impaire Et Passe.
🥇 2013 Mozoltov (didn’t run at Cheltenham)
🥇 2014 Vautour (Supreme)
🥇 2015 Douvan (Supreme)
🥇 2016 Min (Supreme)
🥇 2018 Getabird (Supreme)
🥇 2022 Dysart Dynamo (Supreme)
🥇 2023 Impaire Et Passe (Ballymore)
Again, a large swing in the favour of Supreme.
for the Supreme
for the Ballymore
Ballyburn is in the ownership of Ronnie Bartlett who doesn’t have alternative options in the novice hurdling sphere. The same thing can’t be said about Mystical Power, who’s carried the silks of J P McManus on all of his three starts despite being co-owned by Mrs Sussanah Ricci and Mrs John Magnier. Presuming J P has the final say on his Cheltenham target, he’s one of many exciting novice hurdlers to run in the famous green and gold including Mirazur West, No Flies On Him and Jeriko Du Reponet, who are all entered in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll all avoid each other, as Captain Cee Bee and Binocular clashed in the Supreme in 2008 and Jezki and My Tent Or Yours clashed in 2013, but it’s something to think about, and so are jockey bookings.
Let’s say Mystical Power runs in the Supreme, Nico de Boinville will ride Jeriko Du Responet, and J P McManus’ first rider Mark Walsh will be on Mystical Power, so who does Paul Townend ride? The next horse in the market is Ile Atlantique, an 18/1 shot whose connections have already pointed the way of the Ballymore.
Sean Graham on Ile Atlantique, per irishracing.com, “I think the Baring Bingham is going to be his race at the Festival. I spoke to Willie on Tuesday and even though he has a Supreme entry, I think we’re 95 per cent to go for the two-mile-five race.”
Townend on a Mullins outsider would be unheard of in the Supreme. Surely the main man will be vying for Ballyburn to run on the Tuesday and give him the perfect start to the biggest week of the year?
I think Ballyburn will run here with Townend on, leaving Mark Walsh to ride either Jeriko Du Reponet, No Flies On Him or Mirazur West. He is currently
I think Mystical Power will go up in trip with Mark Walsh, leaving Paul Townend to ride Ile Atlantique or Readin Tommy Wrong. He is currently