News Does Mullins hold all the aces in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper?

Does Mullins hold all the aces in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper?


37 horses were handed an entry in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the closing stage on Tuesday 27th February, of which 14 are trained by Willie Mullins, who has won the race for a record 12 times, with four of those victories coming since 2018.

Five of his squad for 2024 are mares and they include Grade 2 winner Fleur Au Fusil and the well-bred Maughreen, who created a strong impression when winning what appeared to be a weak race on racecourse debut. The third has since come out and won a maiden hurdle with ease, which suggests the race might have been better than initially looked to be the case. She travelled with ease en route to winning the same Punchestown bumper as 2018 Champion Bumper winner Relegate, although she did go on to win the mares’ event at the Dublin Racing Festival and her inexperience is a concern.
Talking of that DRF race, it was won this year by Fleur Au Fusil, who had Amanha 13 lengths away in third when winning at Naas on debut and the same rival finished 15 lengths behind Maughreen at Punchestown. The six-year-old kept on really well to win at Leopardstown, suggesting that she is a strong staying type.
Fourth home in the Grade 2, Aurora Vega – a full-sister to 2022 Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega – was sent off as the odds-on favourite, on the back of a couple of summer wins and a Listed success in the Mucklemeg Bumper at Gowran Park in late-September. She was a shade keen, but has the best part of five lengths to find with her stable-mate, should they both turn up.
Junta Marvel was a Grade 3 winner at last year’s Punchestown Festival, but hasn’t been sighted since, whilst Flashaway is another with a nice pedigree, with her being the fifth foal out of high-class mare Voler La Vedette. She only made a winning racecourse debut in mid-February, therefore overall experience is once again a concern.
Of the Mullins-trained geldings, You Oughta Know is another who ran well at the Dublin Racing Festival, despite finishing runner-up to Jeroboam Machin, who was sadly ruled out for the season shortly after his convincing Leopardstown success. The runner-up was having his first start for 181 days, so can be expected to step forward and would probably appreciate better ground (hard to know if that will be the case at this stage).
Visually, Jasmin de Vaux looked good when winning by 15 lengths at Naas in late-January, whilst the double-green silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede could also be represented by C’est Ta Chance, who is another Point-to-Point winner and although beaten on Rules debut shaped with abundant promise behind William Munny, who has advertised the form by winning again recently.
Another owner who is doubly represented is Audrey Turley, who will head back to Cheltenham with her Galopin des Champs a warm order to retain his Gold Cup crown. Cantico won on heavy ground at Navan recently, having been beaten by Goldinthemountains over Christmas, whilst Argento Boy looked hugely promising when scoring under Jody Townend at Fairyhouse in late-January. Again, inexperience would be a concern, but I liked the way in which the son of Jukebox Jury went about his business and he is a half-brother to 2013 Champion Bumper winner Briar Hill, who was successful at Cheltenham on the back of just one bumper run, although he did boast Point-to-Point experience, having run twice in that sphere. Out of interest, the last horse to win the Champion Bumper on the back of just one run (and no prior Point-to-Point experience) was Cue Card in 2010 and he, of course, ended up developing into a top-class staying chaser.
Fellow leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott has entered three horses and all three are fairly prominent in the ante-post market. The Yellow Clay finished fourth in the aforementioned Grade 2 at the Dublin Racing Festival – a race which has thrown up three of the past five winners (although all three were successful at Leopardstown and, of course, this year’s winner sadly misses the Weatherbys Champion Bumper) – and has about three lengths to find with You Oughta Know. Twice a winner as a four-year-old last March, he kept-on in eye-catching fashion on what was his first start for 314 days.
The unbeaten Jalon d’Oudairies was originally entered at the Dublin Racing Festival and although he didn’t run, his form was given a boost when Switch From Diesel finished runner-up to Fleur Au Fusil in the mares’ event. She had been beaten further by Gordon Elliott’s likeable five-year-old at the same track over Christmas, whilst the horse who split the pair (Redemption Day) finished just in front of The Yellow Clay at the same fixture. The son of No Risk At All isn’t flashy, but possesses a fine attitude and looks sure to be suited by a relatively stiff test. A strong pace on soft ground would, therefore, play to his strengths.
Fellow Point winner Romeo Coolio completes the Elliott team and had been the subject of positive reports before his debut under Rules. Having travelled well, he was fairly hard pressed to beat Sporting Glory (won narrowly since), form which would appear to leave him with plenty to find in this company. He is, however, expected to improve for that initial experience, having been weak in the market beforehand.
The only British trainer to have a horse priced shorter than 25-1 is Paul Nicholls. Teeshan was a hugely impressive winner of an Irish Point-to-Point – when trained by Gerald Quinn – and the son of Westerner created a good impression on his first start for current connections, when justifying favouritism at Exeter. Cruising to the front, he only had to be nudged out by Harry Cobden to win with plenty in hand, although the form has yet to be tested and it didn’t appear to be an overly strong event on paper. He looks to be a lovely long-term prospect and represents owner Mrs Johnny de la Hey, who saw Captain Teague finish third when carrying her silks in 2023.
Another of Nicholls’ possible runners also won at Exeter, that being Quebecois who had finished runner-up in an Irish Point-to-Point for Sean Doyle. In splitting Queensbury Boy (bumper winner for Harry Derham) and the 117-rated Magical King, the son of No Risk At All showed a good level of ability and also landed the odds on his first start under Rules. It wasn’t too dissimilar of a performance as to that of his stable-mate, in that he sat handy throughout and eased to the front early in the home straight. I really liked how he travelled and the third has run reasonably well in defeat twice since, whilst the winner barely broke sweat to shed his maiden tag. It will be interesting to see which of the pair Harry Cobden opts to ride – should they both take their chance – and similarly, it will be interesting to see who Patrick Mullins selects to ride of the Mullins’ battalion and Jack Kennedy of the Elliott-trained trio.
Jonjo O’Neill and Fergal O’Brien are another pair of trainers to have entered two horses in the race, with Bill Joyce and Mister Meggit possible runners for the Jackdaws Castle team. The former only won on heavy ground last week, so I would be surprised if he were allowed to take his chance, whilst the latter won nicely at Carlisle and has been absent since (early-February). The Shantou six-year-old, who carries the silks of Hemmings Racing, actually holds an entry at Doncaster on Sunday, so perhaps he will head there under a penalty and then be considered for Aintree, should all go to plan.
Another trainer local to Cheltenham, O’Brien has both Tripoli Flyer and Horaces Pearl engaged, with the former having shown a good turn of foot to win at Lingifeld on his second start. As a result, it had been suggested that the son of Getaway would wait for Aintree, whilst Horaces Pearl has been off since winning under a penalty at Wincanton in November. Whilst the runner-up from that race was beaten recently, the fourth has won (easily at Newbury) and he had earlier looked full of promise when coming from off the pace to win at the same track. He will be ridden with restraint, so will need luck in running but is one who could easily out-run his big odds if things fall right on the day. A six-year-old by Authorized, he probably wouldn’t want the ground to turn too soft.
Tripoli Flyer lowered the colours of Kingston Pride at the Winter Million fixture, with Nicky Henderson’s grey catching the eye with how he moved through the race. His Point-to-Point defeat of The Enabler (won two bumpers – including at Listed level – before finishing fifth in the Grade 2 at the DRF) reads particularly well and it was a shame that he was forced to miss a race at Kempton recently as he had looked a sure-fire future winner on Rules debut. Despite not having won a race, he is another at big odds who looks to be of interest given the innate promise which he displayed at Lingfield.
Another who suffered a defeat last time, Brechin Castle has the strongest British form in the book, by virtue of his Listed success over course-and-distance. Under a penalty, he was unable to concede weight to the highly-promising Let It Rain (sadly ruled out for the remainder of the season last week) at Ascot, but again ran with huge credit and the form of his Cheltenham win has worked out quite well in recent weeks, with Fire Flyer (2nd), Moon Chime (3rd) and Diamond Dice (5th) having won five hurdle races between them. He is an interesting contender for rookie trainer, Ben Brookhouse.
Let It Rain was due to represent the Dan Skelton team and with her on the side-lines, the trainer now relies upon Royal Infantry, himself a Listed winner at Newbury. Unbeaten in two starts under Rules, he would look to have a bit to find with Brechin Castle on a line through the third horse, I’m A Lumberjack.
Ben Pauling is a trainer who has enjoyed a fine season in the bumper division, so perhaps it is significant that he has only entered Sandown winner Sixmilebridge. Having unseated at the very first fence on his first start in an Irish Point (race won by Jalon d’Oudairies), he then split Trim Castle (appeared to disappoint a shade behind William Munny and C’est Ta Chance at Navan) and Union Avenue (winner of two bumpers – including a defeat of Farland at Aintree – before finishing 4th behind Royal Infantry at Newbury) before joining current connections for £100,000. Having been the subject of sustained support, he travelled really well throughout and ran out a thoroughly convincing winner.