ALL the talk in racing circles of late has been the imminent Cheltenham Festival with the tape coming down at 1.30 for the Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle today Tuesday. Win or lose, for the punters and the crowd, it is four days of battling with the bookies and when each day is over it is back to the pubs and restaurants for the post-mortems and anticipating the next days action.
For the trainers, the jockeys and those who care for the horses it is not quite the same. The first tranche of horses began to arrive on Saturday while many of the Irish trainers and jockeys only arrived in Cheltenham after the last races at home on Sunday.
Patrick Mullins has seen it all before.
“I suppose we are used to the pressure. We have had a lot of good horses over the last couple of years. As like anything, you become used to it. The lead-up is not bad. I wouldn’t say it is enjoyable. We are well used to the pressure now. It is not a negative,” says the son of champion trainer, Willie Mullins.
“Monday is a very enjoyable day. We ride out the horses out in the morning. We get to relax, bring the horses for a walk through the parade ring and through the course. Everyone is very relaxed. The hard work is done. Monday is very much the calm before the storm,” says Patrick.
Interestingly, many of the horses which are running on Thursday and Friday are initially housed at Aintree racecourse.
“Once the Tuesday horses run and leave, the Thursday horses come to Cheltenham. Once the Wednesday horses run and leave, the Friday horses arrive,” reveals Patrick.
The Mullins yard have entries in almost every race. That means there is little time for celebration if they have a winner
“It is funny. Cheltenham is our All-Ireland final and if you win, there is not much time to savour it because you are so busy. Win, lose or draw you are riding the next day. It is not like winning your All-Ireland final where you can go and celebrate. It is a funny week. It passes in a flash.”
Patrick starts with three rides on Monday, Diverge in the first race, Echoes in Rain in the Mares’ Hurdle and the strongly fancied Gaillard Du Mesnil in the last. He is looking forward to riding Gaelic Warrior in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle on Wednesday.
“He is a great ride to pick up. He does prefer riding in the other direction but I am hoping to ride him in a way that will negate that.”
One of his toughest picks of the week was deciding what to go with in the Champion Bumper in the last race on Wednesday and that he has chosen Fact To File is a strong hat tip in the direction of that horse. Another Carlow man, Jack Foley, also rides for Willie Mullins in that race, on Lecky Watson.
Patrick says his mount, Stattler, is not without hope in the Gold Cup where he takes on, among others, stable companion, Galopin Des Champs, and the reigning champion A Plus Tard.
“He has a great chance and if something goes amiss with the favourite, we maybe take advantage,” suggests Patrick, who is also hoping to pick up a good ride from the strong Mullins’ hand in Friday’s Triumph hurdle.
His cousin, Emmet, has some really fancied horses over the course of the week. If he had a horse of Emmets to ride then he surprisingly went for the relatively unknown So Scottish in the Handicap Chase.
“I think he looks to have a great chance on Thursday. He may be flying under the radar a bit.”
By Kieran Murphy