Which Horses Could Be Willie Mullins’ 2021 Champion Hurdle Contenders?
Between 2011 and 2016, Willie Mullins saddled three different horses to four Champion Hurdle victories at the Cheltenham Festival.
As the new jumps season begins in earnest this autumn, it is hard to believe that nothing from his Closutton stables is shorter than 20/1 for next year’s race.
Does that mean there are value bets to be had on the Champion Hurdle?
When you consider that Mullins, the winning most trainer in Cheltenham Festival history, has had a horse at least placed in the race for much of the last decade (except 2014 and 2017), then quite possibly.
Where he once dominated the Champion Hurdle for a spell, British master trainer Nicky Henderson has now scored in three of the last four renewals.
Other Irish handlers Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead may also have horses in their yards to aim at this Cheltenham contest.
Here are some Mullins mounts which could have the 2021 Champion Hurdle as their main target.
Last year’s runner-up Sharjah is the obvious place to start. Owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci, this horse has had two cracks at the Champion Hurdle before.
Unlucky to be brought down by Buveur D’Air in 2018, the Doctor Dino gelding gave a far better account of himself when chasing home Epatante this past March.
Sharjah lands back to back wins in the Matheson Hurdle at @LeopardstownRC for @WillieMullinsNH who says "He's a good horse on a nice bit of ground. He gets on well with Patrick and Rich likes him to ride when he is available. We might come back here for the Irish Champion Hdle." pic.twitter.com/5xc2VeiAhG
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 29, 2019
It’s tough giving a 7lb sex allowance away to a filly or mare, but Sharjah stuck to the task well and was only beaten about three lengths. A sounder surface and drier winter may just suit him better.
With three Grade 1s to his name, Sharjah has a shout in the Cheltenham betting to make it third time lucky.
Were it not for his patchy fitness record, then Saldier would be shorter in the market for the Champion Hurdle. A dual Grade 1 winner at Punchestown, he has had just two races since the Festival there brought the curtain down on the 2018 season.
Mullins has brought horses back from lengthy lay-offs to win: think Douvan and Chacun Pour Soi. Saldier, who raced on the Flat before joining his current yard, still has more to offer over hurdles after just six career starts in that sphere.
If able to put a string of races together, then Champion Hurdle odds of 25/1 antepost are big.
Leading Irish owner JP McManus is the man to follow for this race. He has won each of the last four Champion Hurdle renewals and six since 2010.
Saint Roi took the County Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival in style and looks another progressive sort.
A typical French import to the Mullins stable, he is the youngest of potential Champion Hurdle contenders.
Saint Roi is open to tons of further progress and punters should follow his campaign carefully.
The form of Saint Roi’s Cheltenham Festival success has been franked and then some by Aramon. He has come out and won two subsequent starts, the second of which was the ultra-competitive and valuable Galway Hurdle. That is one of the most prestigious handicaps in all Irish horse racing.
It’s not just the fact that German-bred Aramon won at the Galway Festival, but that he did it off top-weight. That is a sign of a very good horse and Mullins’ son Patrick has hinted that training him for the Champion Hurdle is the next logical step.
Aramon is also a big price in the betting.