There’s no doubting that all-time great trainer Willie Mullins is the overwhelming favourite to win his fifth consecutive Leading Trainer award, both in the betting lines and in the minds of fans and pundits alike.
It’s easy to see why the 88-time Cheltenham winner is so short to take home the top trainer gong (1/8), as not only does he have a huge team of entries that includes roughly 60 thoroughbreds – but also, many of them are either red-hot favourites or strong challengers in their respective fixtures.
However, while Mullins is expected to dominate proceedings across the meeting, there’s one day where he could potentially struggle. That is on day three, where at the time of writing, he doesn’t have a favourite in any of the seven races scheduled.
That begs the question, if he is unable to secure a win on day three of the Festival, does that mean a potential upset in the race for the Leading Trainer award could be on the cards? When looking at how deep his team is, probably not – however with that narrative in mind – let’s take a look at his best hopes on the day and the Cheltenham day 3 antepost favourites they’ll need to beat if Mullins is to defy the odds and pick up a win or two on March 16.
Turners Novices’ Chase
A favourite as recently as last week, Mullins’ El Fabiolo has drifted out to second favourite in the Turners Novices’ Chase behind that of Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter. El Fabiolo takes exceptional form into Cheltenham, having won his last three on the trot and four of his last five, including a ten-length victory in the Irish Arkle Chase at Leopardstown the last time we saw him.
However, El Fabiolo is almost certainly going to challenge Jonbon in the Arkle on the opening day of the Festival now. That leaves 9/2 chance Appreciate It as Mullins best chance for the Turners Novices’ Chase.
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Mullins’ shortest-priced favourite in the second race of the day is 11/1 shot Shewearsitwell, who has won her last two outings at Leopardstown and Punchestown respectively. Despite the mare’s run of solid form, she is behind seven other horses in the betting lines.
Boasting another strong claim in this fixture, Mullins’ Blue Lord is the second favourite at 5/1 to take home the spoils in the Ryanair Chase. While the eight-year-old is in strong form that includes six triumphs from his last eight, punters clearly liked what they saw from the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin the last time they saw him.
Shishkin reigned supreme in the Ascot Chase by 16 lengths from Pic D’Orhy, and couple that with the fact that he has won at the Festival on multiple occasions in the past, and you can see why he’s garnering the shortest price at 4/5.
Although Klassical Dream has course and distance form heading into the feature race on day three, the nine-year-old will need to run a flawless race if he’s to secure his second Festival win. I’m sure he will be confident that he can do that, however, with a strong few at the top of the markets including Blazing Khal, Teahupoo, Home By The Lee and former champion Flooring Porter – I can’t see it happening.
Magners Plate Handicap Chase
Boasting the second and third favourites in Adamantly Chosen and Haut En Couleurs, the Magners Plate Handicap Chase is another fixture in which Mullins could cause a minor upset. If either of his horses are to do so however, they’ll need to beat a horse in So Scottish who has excelled over the distance and won three of his last four.
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
Ashroe Diamond (10/3) and Night and Day (13/2) are the Closutton trainer’s best shots in this one. They’ll need to overcome an unbeaten Luccia though, whose four wins to date have been achieved by a combined margin of 40 lengths.
Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Handicap Chase
With the second favourite in this fixture, the Mullins-trained Mr Incredible will need to perform well if he’s to beat the in-form Stumptown, whose back-to-back victories by 12 and seven lengths at Thurles and Sandown respectively has seen her enter the final race on day three as the 4/1 favourite.