Apr 7, 730 days ago

Mullins stars set to light up Aintree

Mullins stars set to light up Aintree

Leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins dominated the Cheltenham festival last month with a record eight winners. He is sending another strong team across the Irish Sea this week, although only Un De Sceaux is attempting to complete the Cheltenham/Aintree double.

The impressive Arkle Chase winner is expected to line up for the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase on Saturday. Un De Sceaux was such an easy winner at Cheltenham that he is already as short as 5-4 favourite for next year’s Champion Chase.

Mullins will be represented in Thursday’s Aintree Hurdle by Champion Hurdle runner-up Arctic Fire. The six-year-old ran on strongly from the last flight but could not catch stablemate Faugheen, eventually going down by a length and a half. That was certainly the best run of his career to date but this will be his first attempt at two and a half miles.

He will face two previous Champion Hurdle winners in Rock On Ruby and Jezki. Rock On Ruby missed the festival after scoping badly prior to his intended run in the World Hurdle. He has finished runner-up in the Aintree Hurdle for the past two seasons, failing by only a head to catch The New One last year. Jezki finished behind Arctic Fire in fourth when attempting to defend his Champion Hurdle crown last month.

Champagne Fever is favourite for the Grade 1 Melling Chase on Friday. The grey was forced to miss Cheltenham in bizarre circumstances after being bitten by a stable companion during his journey over from Ireland. His festival target had been the Queen Mother Champion Chase following a fine display of jumping at Gowran Park in February.

Although he has appeared at three Cheltenham festivals, this will be his first run at Liverpool. Mullins has tried the gelding over various distances including the three-mile King George VI Chase at Kempton but two and a half miles could prove to be his best trip.

In 2005 Mullins saddled Hedgehunter to win the Grand National and that horse went on to finish second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the National the following season. Mullins hopes of recording a second Grand National victory rest with 25-1 outsider Ballycasey.

The eight-year-old was second in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase to Carlingford Lough last season and won next time out at Gowran Park. His form has not been so encouraging since and he was pulled up before three out in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham festival. Mullins believes that the better ground will suit Ballycasey and Ruby Walsh will be seeking a third National victory after Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter.

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