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Willie Mullins’ best Festival chances

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Posted in: Cheltenham Festival News

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Willie Mullins has a phenomenally strong team heading to the 2021 Cheltenham Festival and has nine runners at 3/1 or shorter. Timeform’s Tony McFadden ranks them from most vulnerable to biggest banker.

9. Billaway (Festival Hunter Chase, Friday) - General price: 3/1

Billaway finished runner-up in the Festival Hunter Chase at last year's meeting and, having looked better than ever in Ireland this season, is clearly entitled to plenty of respect. He was beaten ten lengths by It Came To Pass at Cheltenham last year, however, and has not yet produced a better performance than that rival. His jumping is a concern and he won last time despite making several fiddly mistakes. Such errors may prove costly in the cut-and-thrust of a big-field event over Cheltenham's stiff fences, so he looks vulnerable.

8. Al Boum Photo (Cheltenham Gold Cup, Friday) - 11/4

Winning two Cheltenham Gold Cups is a great accomplishment but Al Boum Photo has not shown a level of form you would associate with a great of the sport. Things went perfectly for him in last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he secured a good position in a race run at a modest tempo, but he was ultimately all out to fend off Santini, demonstrating that he is a tough, top-class chaser but probably not an outstanding one. Al Boum Photo is Timeform's highest-rated staying chaser in training but his figure of 172 does not set a daunting standard, and in Champ (166p) and A Plus Tard (169) there are some interesting up-and-comers on the scene.

7. Appreciate It (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Tuesday) - 7/4

No novice hurdler has achieved a higher Timeform rating this season than Appreciate It, who earned a figure of 148p when a hugely impressive winner of the Future Champions Novices' Hurdle at Leopardstown in December. He was more workmanlike when following up at the Dublin Racing Festival, however, and is only 1 lb clear of wide-margin Tolworth Hurdle winner Metier on ratings. Appreciate It will probably need to improve again if he is to maintain his dominance over the division in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but he has always shaped like a horse with plenty of stamina, so he may not be seen at his very best until stepping up in trip. He is the most likely winner of the Supreme but looks short enough around the 7/4 mark.

6. Kilcruit (Champion Bumper, Wednesday) - 7/4

Kilcruit shaped with lot of promise when runner-up on his only start for Tony Mullins last season and he has quickly developed into one of the best bumper performers of recent years since joining Willie Mullins. Kilcruit didn't need to come off the bridle to make a winning start for the yard at Navan in December and he then looked very special when landing the Grade 2 Future Stars Bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival, catching the eye with how he motored past his rivals under a motionless Patrick Mullins. That earned him a Timeform rating of 124p, which is 1 lb higher than Ferny Hollow achieved in last season's Champion Bumper, so he is clearly the one to beat at Cheltenham. However, there are two points to consider before getting stuck in at a short price. Firstly, that Leopardstown bumper was run at an overly-strong pace so the 12-length margin may have exaggerated his superiority. Secondly, he faces a rival in Sir Gerhard (118p) who has looked extremely promising in his own right. 

5. Gaillard du Mesnil (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Wednesday) - 3/1

Gaillard du Mesnil was beaten on his first start for Willie Mullins after arriving from France – he finished an encouraging second to Holymacapony at Punchestown – but he has registered two hugely impressive victories at Leopardstown since, including in Grade 1 company at the Dublin Racing Festival. Gaillard du Mesnil (142p) will face some promising rivals in the Ballymore, most notably Bob Olinger (140p) and Bravemansgame (146p), but he looks the likely winner based on how much he seemingly had left in the tank last time. Gaillard du Mesnil, who settled better than previously in a first-time hood, made smooth headway and readily drew five lengths clear of a strong field, clocking a good time in the process. He is a novice of some potential.    

4. Elimay (Mares’ Chase, Friday) - 2/1

Elimay won her first couple of starts over fences last season with the minimum of fuss but she produced an even better effort in defeat when runner-up at Thurles last month. Elimay had a tough task in the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase against stablemate Allaho, but she ran a cracker to get within three lengths of that potentially top-class rival. Allaho set a strong tempo that quickly proved too much for most, but Elimay kept in touch and pulled a long way clear of the remainder. The rating of 159 she earned on that occasions sets a clear standard – for context, stablemate Colreevy is rated 147p – and Elimay further underlined her wellbeing with a decisive victory in a listed race at Naas last time.

3. Concertista (Mares’ Hurdle, Tuesday) - 11/10

Concertista's task in the Mares' Hurdle has been made significantly easier by connections of Honeysuckle deciding to reroute their star mare to the Champion Hurdle. The progressive Concertista, who won the Mares' Novices' Hurdle by 12 lengths last year, will now head Timeform ratings and should prove difficult to beat. She barely needed to come off the bridle to pass Minella Melody at Fairyhouse on her reappearance and then proved better than ever when beating the same rival by a wider margin at Leopardstown in December. That is the best form on offer, she is on a sharp upward curve and has shown her effectiveness at Cheltenham, so her claims are obvious.

2. Monkfish (RSA Chase, Wednesday) - 8/11

Monkfish progressed sharply over hurdles last season and knuckled down well to win a strong renewal of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. A tall, raw type, Monkfish always looked likely to improve as he matured physically and gained extra experience, and he has raised his game to new heights since going over fences, winning all three outings and showing the attributes of a top-class chaser. He was especially impressive when landing the Flogas Novices' Chase by 11 lengths at the Dublin Racing Festival and that is a much stronger piece of form than anything his likely rivals have achieved. He is a hugely exciting prospect and can maintain his unbeaten record over fences.

1. Chacun Pour Soi (Champion Chase, Wednesday) - 4/5

Chacun Pour Soi is Timeform's highest-rated horse in training – he has a lofty figure of 176p – and he proved as good as ever when retaining his Dublin Chase crown last time. Chacun Pour Soi breezed through that Grade 1, showing all his trademark exuberance, and he quickly settled matters when bursting to the front in a matter of strides on the approach to the last, needing just a hands-and-heels ride to score by eight lengths. He clocked an excellent time, just as he did when winning over the same course and distance in December, and his record since joining Mullins is that of an outstanding talent. He missed last year's Champion Chase after he was found to have a foot abscess on the morning of the race, but he can gain compensation this time. He should easily brush these rivals aside. 

Click here to read a horse-by-horse guide to Willie Mullins' Festival team

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