Willie Mullins has saddled the winner of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner for the last two seasons as Champagne Fever and Briar Hill stormed up the hill to land Cheltenham Festival glory on the second day and the Irish handler will unleash another strong battalion on the national hunt flat race and will fancy his chances of bagging the hat-trick in the 2m 110y event.
Black Hercules propelled to the head of the betting when easing to an eight-and-a-half length victory at Gowran Park in late January and the manner in which he despatched his rivals suggest that he warrants his current 6/1 Champion Bumper odds with Betfred, but he will come up against a whole host of exciting talents and he will need to improve.
Pulling emphatically clear of his rivals in the final furlong, Patrick Mullins wasn’t forced to get serious at any moment in the saddle and he quickened with aplomb, but it’s always tough to assess early season bumper form and the jockey bookings in the Mullins camp may help give a clearer indication as to what the stable fancies in the race with Ruby Walsh likely to have a tough call to make nearer the race on March 12.
Shaneshill will be another unbeaten Mullins-trained raider taking his chance and he hasn’t been seen on a racecourse since a mightily-impressive 11-length success at Fariyhouse in November and he is another who oozes potential and that’s why bookmakers are taking no chances and have him installed as the 7/1 second favourite for the contest.
Killultagh Vic (12/1) and Golantilla (14/1) are another couple of prominent Irish figures in a wide open betting market and the former, trained by the aforementioned Mullins, trounced Tony Martin’s contender when the pair met at Naas in late February and the Co. Carlow inmate will be confident of franking the form of his Irish rival and that pair have to warrant respect.
One of the most visually impressive performances in the bumper ranks this season came at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day as the Robert Stephens-trained Modus propelled clear of his rivals in testing conditions to land a Listed prize and that immediately saw him slashed to a 10/1 shot in the latest betting with Betfred.
With the weather likely to dry up significantly over the next week then the underfoot conditions are sure to be a lot different than that of New Year’s Day, but he has winning form on good to soft at Exeter on his racecourse debut and in his two wins he has shown significant ability to warrant being a major player and could make the frame if coming on again for that run.
Dermot Weld is often seen dominating the Galway Festival, but the Rosewell House handler could send Vigil across the Irish Sea and he is another on offer at 10/1 and was a taking winner at Leopardstown last time out, where he stayed on in style to win by four-and-three-quarter lengths and if he takes his place then can’t be under-estimated by a shrewd training operation.
Cue Card showed when landing this prize at a huge 40/1 starting price in 2010 that you can never write off some of the potentially bigger prices and with limited form to go on then there could quite possibly something that comes on leaps and bounds and can fight out the finish up the energy-sapping hill.
One name that jumps off the page in the lower echelons of the betting is Steve Gollings’s Definitly Red, who has improved with every run he has had this season and was a taking three-and-a-quarter length winner of a Listed contest at Newbury last time out and at 25/1 in the latest betting with Bet Victor is overpriced.
Gollings has already snapped up the services of Jason Maguire and they have already voiced their will for better ground with their raider being out of Definite Article, so with the ground likely to dry up over the coming days then that could play into his chances and at his cracking 25/1 odds is a major player to take on the strong Irish challenge.
David Pipe’s Seven Nation Army (25/1) showed some smart form earlier in the campaign, but was well beaten in that Newbury contest won by Definitly Red and may things tough, whilst you can’t disregard the biggest price Mullins raider in Westhorpe at 25/1 with Bet365 as he has only been seen once this year and Briar Hill showed last year that Mullins can have a big-priced winner in the race after this year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle contender eased clear in the closing stages.
Of the others, John Ferguson’s El Namoose (16/1) impressed when winning at Musselburgh and should come on leaps and bounds, whilst the likes of Weld’s other entry Silver Concorde and Charlie Longsdon’s Our Kaempfer are another couple of exciting youngsters ready to launch into the national hunt arena with a victory here.
The market will be guided by the Mullins quartet and who will partner each of the runners from the Irish stable, but the way Black Hercules eased to victory last time out suggests he could be the best of the quartet and he has to figure in the finish, however, the manner in which Definitly Red bagged victory at Newbury left a lasting impression and he can bag the wide open prize.