Willie Mullins has already had a brilliant season over in Ireland but like many National Hunt Trainers, he knows that a winner or two at the Cheltenham Festival would really be the icing on the cake. Mullins has been Champion Trainer in Ireland for the past four years but seldom has he had such a powerful team to go to war with at the Cheltenham Festival as he has in 2013.
The County Carlow handler seems to have a leading contender in almost all of the 27 races at the Festival this year and many punters are even backing him to pick up the top trainer award, for which he is the 13/8 second favoruite behind Nicky Henderson. Mullins has already recorded 24 winners at the Festival since 1995 and it would be a major surprise if he failed to add at least a couple of winners to that tally this season. Taking that into account, Mullins is sure to be a popular man when it comes to side bets at the Cheltenham Festival with an interesting market surrounding his potential number of winners starting to heat up.
The first horse to look at when it comes to finding a Willie Mullins winner is of course Quevega (1/2) who is the hot favourite in the Mares race. She has been simply sensational at the Festival winning the David Nicholson race for the last four years and few would argue against her chances of racking up win number five. Mullins has once again kept Quevega fresh for the race this season and surely only a fall can stop her claiming another success.
Other leading contenders for Willie Mullins at the Festival this season include the likes of Hurricane Fly and Pont Alexandre. Hurricane Fly (7/4) will start the Champion Hurdle as a warm favourite to win the race for a second time in three years, while Pont Alexandre looks a major contender for Mullins in the Neptune Novices Hurdle on day two. Hurricane Fly has of course been there and done it at Cheltenham which is a positive for the horse and it would be no surprise to see him score for Mullins once again.
One race Willie Mullins has never won at Cheltenham is the Gold Cup but that could end this year with Sir Des Champs (4/1) set to take his chance on day four. The Gigginstown Stud owned horse has won at the festival for the past two years which is a major plus and given the fact he is a confirmed stayer, he has to be a major threat. A Gold Cup win would surely be a sweet one for Mullins and there is no doubt that Sir Des Champs represents is his best chance in the race since Florida Pearl came second back in 2000.
One other horse we do want to mention is the exciting Ballycasey who has clearly been impressing Mullins so far this season. Along with Pont Alexandre, he looks to be the future for Mullins and all the signs are that Ballycasey (4/1) will start as one of the leading contenders for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. Mullins has been unusually bullish about these two young novice hurdlers in particular which will be more than enough for many punters back them at the Festival.
Elsewhere Willie Mullins can look forward to Arvika Ligeonniere in the Arkle, Boston Bob in the RSA/National Hunt Chase and any number of horses in the various handicaps across the card. It would be no surprise to see him pick up a winner or two in the handicaps but the Champion Bumper is the race which has been farmed by Mullins in recent years. He has won the Bumper on no less than seven occasions including in 2012 and at this stage he has five very good runners entered for the race at this year's Festival.
Last season we saw Mullins pick up three winners at Cheltenham and given the strength of his team this year, it would be no surprise to see him at least match that tally in 2013. Anyone in horse racing will know how hard it is to win even one race at Cheltenham, but Mullins seems to have so much quality to go to war with this season that it is hard to see him not having a successful week.
Number of Willie Mullins 2013 Cheltenham Festival Winners
10/11 - Over 3.5 Winners
10/11 - Under 3.5 Winners
9/1 - Hurricane Fly + Sir Des Champs both to win
All betting markets supplied courtesy of SkyBet.com