Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake covers the Closutton juggernaut of Willie Mullins coming into form the week of the Dublin Racing Festival with the Cheltenham Festival also on the horizon.

  • Monday 27 January
  • Blog
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MULLINS COMING TO THE BOIL WHEN IT MATTERS MOST

History has shown us that Willie Mullins and his team are exceptionally resilient, no matter how trying the circumstances may be.

This thought is best illustrated by the story of the tumultuous season they went through in 2016/17. In September 2016, Mullins was dealt a savage blow by Gigginstown removing 60 horses from his yard just as the campaign was getting going. As well as that, a succession of his stable stars such as Vautour, Annie Power and Faugheen were absent from his team that season.

Not only did Mullins weather this storm and manage to retain his Champion Trainer title, he somehow managed to register his best-ever tally of prize money in Ireland that very season.

Likewise, last season a combination of an unusually dry winter and Mullins reportedly struggling with the health of his horses in the middle part of the campaign saw him fall well behind his usual performance levels. Indeed, the number of winners he saddled in November, December and January was more than 50% behind what had come to be expected of him.

However, yet again he managed to pull it out of the fire when it mattered most, saddling four winners at the Cheltenham Festival, retaining his Champion Trainer crown in Ireland and going on to once again break his own record for prize money in a season in Ireland for good measure.

In a nutshell, Willie Mullins isn’t easy to keep down for long and he has an uncanny knack for getting his horses to hit form when it matters most in the spring meetings. This is worth bearing in mind at the upcoming Dublin Racing Festival, as while it has been more subtle, there has been an element of underperformance from the Mullins team in the middle part of this season.

Many of his better horses have been slow to emerge and when they have, they have seemed to be in need of the run. This was particularly applicable over the Christmas period. Mullins had plenty of winners in this time, but the likes of Chacun Pour Soi, Kemboy and other high-profile runners gave the distinct impression of needing the run on what was their seasonal reappearance.

The 21 winners he saddled in the month of December in Ireland was his second-lowest tally in that month since 2011. However, the weeks since Christmas have seen the performance of the Mullins team ramp up more than a couple of notches. Indeed, he is currently having one of the best Januarys of his long career in terms of number of winners in Ireland. With a couple of meetings left in the month, his current tally of 25 winners is second only to his total of 29 in January 2012.

Most significantly with a view to this weekend, many of his horses seem to be taking significant steps forward from their seasonal reappearances. Whether it was by design or not, it seems that quite a few of Mullins’ horses were shorter on fitness that might normally be expected for their first run of the season.

This is particularly worth bearing in mind with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi and Kemboy, who will be re-opposing rivals that finished in front of them when they made their seasonal reappearances over the Christmas period.

In light of what we’ve been seeing in recent weeks, they can perhaps be expected to make more than normal improvement from their seasonal returns. It will also be worth bearing in mind for less high-profile Mullins’ horses with similar profiles that may slip under the radars after below-par efforts on their seasonal reappearances.

The thought of horses trained by Willie Mullins finding lengths on the most high-profile of stages will not be a pleasant one for his rivals, but it is one that is a distinct possibility this coming weekend and beyond.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A JUMP JOCKEY?

Davy Boland who runs the excellent Twitter account Racing’s Inside Track (@RInsideTrackTV) was responsible for collecting some excellent head-cam footage from a point-to-point at Tyrella over the weekend that is very much worth a watch.

The reaction to the video on social media has hammered home the reality that many that watch horse racing are desensitised to the sheer madness of what takes place in every race. Videos like this illustrate the tightness of the gaps and the speed/danger involved in day-to-day racing situations.

While some racing authorities have been resistant to allowing more widespread use of jockey-cam and drone footage in racing, these technologies really are the future of the coverage of our sport. We shouldn’t underestimate the potential it has to make it so much more immersive and exciting for the viewer.

We got a glimpse of the potential for this sort of technology thanks to the 360 degree interactive footage produced for the Pat Smullen race at the Curragh last year. Imagine something like that being produced for the biggest races in the calendar and integrated into our television coverage of the sport? It would be a game changer. The technology is improving all the time and the authorities need to get on board with it.

Kevin Blake
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