Mullins Punchestown Preview
20th Apr 2023
20th Apr 2023
Mullins in tip-top shape for Punchestown after surgery
Galopin Des Champs leads power-packed team for “end of term” carnival
Willie Mullins has pronounced himself fit for action ahead of the Punchestown Festival, following a successful hip operation three weeks ago.
Mullins has enjoyed spectacular success at the traditional conclusion to the Irish jump racing season and reports that most of his top guns will join him in making the journey from Closutton to Punchestown from Tuesday to Saturday, April 25th-29th next week.
The champion trainer – he will be crowned top dog for the 17th time – was speaking in a wide-ranging online interview (attached) in which he touched on a range of topics not confined to but including his admiration for stable jockey Paul Townend, starting protocols, his 93-year-old mother Maureen’s “incredible appetite” for the sport, and why he has a picture of triple Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle winner Quevega inside his trademark Fedora.
His Punchestown team is headed by Galopin Des Champs, who is on track for a possible reunion with Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Bravemansgame in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup, a race offered further intrigue by Henry de Bromhead committing another Cheltenham victor, Envoi Allen to taking part. Energumene, Impaire Et Passe, El Fabiolo and Lossiemouth are other Cheltenham scorers aiming to complete a high-class double, having emerged from their exertions in better nick than their trainer, who was quite lame at Prestbury Park and had an operation scheduled upon his return.
“I was in Tramore the other day and I’m on the gallops every morning,” Mullins declared. “I’ve missed very little time. “It’s fantastic what surgeons can do nowadays. I was amazed. Three weeks ago (Monday) I went in, and they kicked me out of the hospital on Wednesday morning. I was back on the gallop the next morning. I missed a few mornings; I did a little too much early on. When I came off the painkillers it soon settled me back! But it’s coming along nicely so hopefully I’ll be well able for Punchestown.”
He has spoken before of his rich memories of going to Punchestown as his legendary father Paddy brought a slew of stars from Doninga, and of his admiration for the “amphitheatre” of racing.
“It’s a nice time of year preparing for Punchestown. It’s like then end of term, when you’re going to school, you’re looking forward to the last exam and getting away for the summer holidays.
“From the time we were kids growing up, Punchestown was the end-of-season festival but it’s grown so much. The vast quality of the races, the huge prize money, the way that management are able to keep the ground safe for good horses. It’s a credit to the organisation. “Punchestown is a tremendous festival. It’s lucky that it’s a little later in the season. It usually get the weather, gets grass, gets everything. It’s set later in the afternoon when people can get to the races and enjoy themselves. It’s got a huge amount going for it.”
He describes his Cheltenham yield of six winners as “fantastic,” while noting that there was some external expectation that he might double that tally given he was sending his biggest team. But winning the Cheltenham Gold and Queen Mother Champion Chase, as well as a number of key novice events that suggest he has the next crop covered, left him very satisfied.
Champion jockey, Paul Townend was hailed for his ride on Galopin Des Champs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but it paled in comparison to his heroics on board I Am Maximus in the Irish Grand National.
When Mullins commented on tactics deployed on Facile Vega at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, it was interpreted as criticism of Townend but that wasn’t how the boss saw it and he leaves no doubt about how highly he rates and values his man. “I didn’t call it criticism at the time. I just thought it was a tactic that didn’t go right. Put it the other way around. What I asked him to do on I Am Maximus in the Irish National, I had tied him down to instructions because he’s a particularly awkward horse that doesn’t like going right-handed. I’d asked him to go down the inside so he could keep horses on his outside the whole time but after a circuit, Paul changed his mind. He did the exact opposite and went down the outside and it worked.
“In Cheltenham, Paul was a jockey in the Gold Cup. In Fairyhouse, Paul was a horseman in the Irish Grand National. All he’d gleaned from pony racing, from hunting, from just riding, he put into use on I Am Maximus. I thought it was a fantastic ride. Whatever we thought about Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup, I thought his riding in Fairyhouse was excellent, something top drawer.
“I always think a good jockey is a guy that can pull a race out of the fire and win on horses that he shouldn’t win on. That’s the difference between great jockeys and good jockeys, I think. And he pulled that one out of the fire. That was an absolutely extraordinary ride.”
Aintree didn’t yield the same dividends. He watched events unfold from his sofa, including the disruption caused by protestors, and could only glean from the pictures what the rest of us did but feels the authorities deserve praise for how they handled the situation. The starting procedures are a source of frustration, however.
“In flat racing, if you don’t go into the stalls, you’re withdrawn but I think a lot of jockeys maybe cynically hold up starts when they haven’t a good position.
“Is there a case for a race being advertised at quarter-past five, if you’re not there at quarter-past five with your horse, that’s your problem? The starter shouldn’t have to wait for you unless there’s a real problem. To me, they should be ready to go and facing the right direction. Too many jump races are stopped with a false start waiting for a horse that has no intention of going. Even if he does go in the end, why upset 25 other horses or 30 horses for one horse? We’ve had plenty of horses over the years like that. You get your chance to line up and if the rest of them are in the right order, let them go.”
And what about that photo of Quevega, spotted as he doffed his hat in acknowledgement?
“I always keep a photograph of Quevega in my hat,” he exclaims with a hearty laugh, before explaining. “It’s just a business card I have in case someone picks up the wrong hat. My details are on the other side of it. I was flabbergasted the detail that you could see from that far away. But sure why wouldn’t Quevega be in my hat!”
A GUIDE TO WILLIE MULLINS’ PUNCHESTOWN RUNNERS 2023
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS (Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup)
“He’s in great shape. We’re aiming for Punchestown since Cheltenham. I didn’t have any worry about his stamina until about four furlongs out (in Cheltenham) when I said, ‘Right, now,’ when what I was convinced about was gonna happen or not. I just took his novice hurdle form to mean he would stay three-and-a-quarter miles easily as an older horse. I didn’t have any fear about him staying all year. I was surprised myself how much doubt crept in as they rounded the top of the hill.
“But Paul seemed to be going well at all stages. The only little blip was at the third-last where he brushed the top but the minute he did that, Paul just pulled him together, got him in behind the others, gave him just a little bit of time to recover. You could see Paul’s body language telling you, ‘This fella’s got plenty in the tank.’”
“JANIDIL is other one that could go there so hopefully we’ll be nicely represented.”
ENERGUMENE (William Hill Champion Chase)
“I was particularly pleased how he did it in Cheltenham. He’d been working like that at home. We were all a little disappointed when he disappointed at the rescheduled Clarence House Chase but I think we learned so much that day which meant he was a very good winner of the Champion Chase. The white fences might have upset him, we sharpened up tactics. I think he’s a fair sort to do what he did two years running and in the manner he did it in Cheltenham.
“Those ground conditions are very helpful to him as well. He probably won’t get those in Punchestown but if he does get wet weather, he’s going to be very difficult to beat with a clear round.
“We have GENTLEMAN DU MEE in that race and he won’t be hanging around at the start. That’s his nature and Energumene can follow away. Paul has the confidence to do both. I imagine, looking at the field, we could have four runners in the race with BLUE LORD and CHACUN POUR SOI taking their chances.”
STATE MAN (Paddy Power Champion Hurdle)
“I was happy with him at Cheltenham. He will run here. He’s in good form. We’ve SHARJAH, VAUBAN and ECHOES IN RAIN in the race. We will see whether Echoes goes for the Coolmore Irish EBF Mares’ Champion Hurdle or not. She could be a difficult ride over two and a half miles but ratings-wise, she would look the one for that, with Love Envoi the biggest challenge if she were to come but that looks the race to go for. In the same race, BRANDY LOVE would probably prefer to go left-handed but I think she’ll improve a good bit on her Cheltenham run.
“But back to the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle, State Man’s in good shape. There’s no Constitution Hill so hopefully he’ll be the one to beat there. Possibly VAUBAN needs a longer trip and we’ll give him a good shot at the flat later in the season to see what he can do there but the plan will be to go to Punchestown first.”
KLASSICAL DREAM (Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle)
“KLASSICAL DREAM is the one that can go back to Punchestown and win it (for the third year in a row). We didn’t know whether we were going to make it or not to Cheltenham but we thought his work was good enough. We took our chance. I think you’ll see the real Klassical Dream in Punchestown.
“It’s great to see ASTERION FORLONGE and MONKFISH coming back. Those horses had long breaks and have little turnaround from Fairyhouse to Punchestown and that’s a big negative for me. If they ran a good race, I’d be very happy. WHATDEAWANT is probably just not good enough. I’d be sticking with Klassical Dream.”
LOSSIEMOUTH (Ballymore Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle)
“I was particularly worried when LOSSIEMOUTH hit what appeared to be the front (in the Triumph Hurdle). She took off with Paul at the top of the hill. It’s a long way out for a mare to be in front. She took over herself from Paul and I could see Paul wondering, ‘I don’t want to stop her but I don’t want to let her go either,’ and he did fantastically well to manage her at what would have been five furlongs out and keep enough in reserve to finish the race.
“We haven’t missed much with her this season. Christmas, Dublin Racing Festival, Cheltenham. That’s a lot on a filly and she’s not the biggest filly in the world but she has a huge constitution so hopefully, we ask for just one more day. There’s no reason to say that she won’t give it. She’s just so laidback, I don’t think racing or anything fazes her or takes too much out of her. She’s really top class.
“GALA MARCEAU will definitely go. BLOOD DESTINY was a little disappointing in Fairyhouse and maybe should have another go. I think he hasn’t shown his best to us and may need another year with summer grass under his belt. GUST OF WIND should have another go as well. I think ZARAK THE BRAVE is going to be ready to run. He’s a nice type. He showed a lot and then got a colic during the season and we had to put him to one side. But he’s a horse to keep an eye on.”
IMPAIRE ET PASSE, FACILE VEGA, GAELIC WARRIOR and IL ETAIT TEMPS are all ready for action. I very seldom change the way I do things. When you look at Facile Vega and Impaire Et Passe, you’re probably going to separate them between the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle and the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. DIVERGE comes into the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle after the form of Liverpool big time. Gaelic Warrior might want a longer trip and could be one of the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle. HUNTERS YARN was probably a little disappointing. We’ll see how they work this week and look at it but they’re ready for action.
“I don’t have any negatives about CHAMP KIELY for the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. Facile Vega might come into the reckoning there (although) I’m not too worried about him over two miles. I always thought his dam Quevega had plenty of speed to win over two miles and I think she did earlier in her career in Punchestown but we always went down the longer road with her because we had Hurricane Fly and Annie Power around that time. This fellow has plenty of speed. We saw that in Cheltenham, he was so fast down between the third-last and the second-last. He’s not short of speed. It’s just using it, just the way the race worked out in Cheltenham. Like all our novices, they’re usually entered in both the two and a half and the two, or else the two and a half and a three and it’ll be one or the other.
“Gaelic Warrior is one that could come in for the two-and-a-half-mile race. Impaire Et Passe, no problem for him doing two and a half around Punchestown. We ran him over two miles in the Moscow Flyer in Punchestown before Cheltenham and the speed he showed in Cheltenham was fantastic but then again, that was against two-and-a-half-mile horses. NICK ROCKETT was very good in Fairyhouse. I might just leave him now. He’s in great shape but there’s a right shine to him after he did in Fairyhouse and whether I need to run him again, I don’t know. We’ll be well represented in it again.
“EMBASSY GARDENS and PARMENION are other possibles for the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle. SEABANK BISTRO is one for it and SHANBALLY KID is one I think hasn’t given his best yet. Embassy Gardens and Gaelic Warrior are probably the two best. Embassy Gardens is a horse that could be improving as we come into the Spring so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll run a big race there. Gaelic Warrior is a horse that probably needs to go out in trip. He shows plenty at home here. He did win the two-mile handicap in Leopardstown but I think he might be better off once he goes out in trip and maybe gets over a fence as well.”
“EL FABIOLO and DYSART DYNAMO have come out of Cheltenham well. SAINT ROI might run in the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase too. He seems to have come back fine from Aintree and we might roll the dice and let him take his chance. It’s a big prize and he won’t be doing anything else after that.
“El Fabiolo looks like he could be the real deal and could be the one contending for championship honours next year. We just hope we can keep him right, keep him sound. The type of performance he put in was fantastic. He’s a real nice prospect to have in the yard for next season.
“Dysart Dynamo can be his own worst enemy but a lot of people like that in a horse too, that he’s so exuberant and loves his game. I’m hoping as he gets older or gets a bit wiser, he learns how to settle and temper his enthusiasm. But of course sometimes, half his ability might be in his enthusiasm, especially for two-mile chases and he’s always a horse to be afraid of in one of those races. One day he’ll put it all together and maybe put in a huge performance.
“We’re well represented in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase. JAMES DU BERLAIS could go out to three miles and RAMILLIES could. APPRECIATE IT disappointed me a little bit in Fairyhouse. It might be too much coming back again. However, we’ve nothing left to lose and maybe we’ll just let him go there and take his chance. He’s a fair sort, I think, on his day. You’d have thought going up to two and a half miles should be enough for him. Sometimes horses lose their form and he might be one of those. Maybe he wants a trip but he wouldn’t be going there fresh. That race is going to be a tough race. He’s going to be one of the higher-rated horses in the race but a lot will depend on what he does. One bit of work will do him, maybe two. He seems to be fine. He was fine after the race, eating and drinking so that’s usually enough and we’ll let him take his chance.
“SIR GERHARD might go for a shorter trip. ALLEGORIE DE VASSY might go for a shorter trip.”
RACE &STAY AT PUNCHESTOWN INH FLAT RACE
“We’ve got a nice field of horses here. BALLYBURN was very impressive when he won the other day. Very hard on himself but I think he’ll be better off next time. DANCING CITY is a horse that I think is improving me. IT’S FOR ME is good enough to be in the field. RATH GAUL BOY’s performance when he was second to John Kiely’s horse (Champion Bumper winner A Dream To Share), we were a little bit disappointed on the day but his form looks well now. TULLYHILL looks a fantastic horse. When he won, he looked above average. WESTERN DIEGO is a nice type and WESTPORT COVE is another nice type. I’d imagine Ballyburn, Dancing City, It’s For Me, maybe Western Diego would be the top ones there. We’ve plenty to throw at it thankfully because it’s always a good sign that you might have novice hurdlers coming on for the following season.”