The entries for the various Cheltenham Festival novice hurdle races were released this morning and as expected, Willie Mullins is mob-handed. In total there are 352 entries for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the Neptune, the Albert Bartlett and the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the festival in March. Many of the horses do have multiple entries which does skew the figures, while Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins accounts for a remarkable 64 entries in total at this stage.
Mullins has an unbelievably strong hand in the novice hurdle division this season with the likes of Briar Hill, Faugheen, Vautour, Sure Reef and Ivan Grozny just a selection of his horses entered in the various races. The vast majority of them are still to have the final target confirmed with Briar Hill for example, still featuring towards the head of the betting for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett over three miles with the Festival fast approaching.
All of the market leaders appear on the entry list for the first race of the Festival which is the Supreme Novices Hurdle. They include the Paul Nicholls trained Irving (10/1) and Josses Hill (10/1), who could take his chance for Nicky Henderson. They are just a couple of the 102 entries engaged for the Supreme at this stage with that number set to be whittled down over the next few weeks.
It is a similar situation in the Neptune betting with 104 horses standing their ground this morning, while there are 81 entered for the Albert Bartlett over three miles. The David Pipe trainer Kings Palace (4/1) is the stand-out name on the Albert Bartlett entries, while Clondaw Court (16/1) and Deputy Dan (16/1) are also expected to line-up in the three mile contest at the Festival.
The Triumph Hurdle picture is a little bit clearer in the juvenile division although there are still 65 entries at this first stage. The already mentioned Ivan Grozny (8/1) is the current market leader but so far this season there has been no stand-out performer in the juvenile division. Perhaps the most interesting entry for the Triumph Hurdle is the Aidan O'Brien trained Plinth (20/1), who could add a fascinating angle to the Festival. The famous flat trainer has rarely been seen at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years but the JP McManus owned juvenile beat Ivan Grozny over Christmas and is clearly a potential runner in March.
We are now less than six weeks away from the start of the festival and the announcement of the novice hurdle entries is a significant step on the toad to Cheltenham. Rarely has the betting been as wide open as it is this season for the novice hurdling division races and that is reflected in the entries. That does of course mean there is plenty of value about at the moment, while there is no doubt that Willie Mullins and his owners have plenty of work to do over the next few weeks as they look to finalise plans for their battalion of young hurdlers.