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How the opening race at Cheltenham could be the big Mullins v Henderson battle of the week

Trainer Willie Mullins. Photo: Sportsfile

John Brennan

It shows you just how powerful Willie Mullins’s stable is, that a couple of bookmakers are offering prices about him having more winners at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival than Britain in three weeks’ time.

He did it last year, six successes to Britain’s five, but probably won’t do it this time around, with handicap victories going to be hard to find as the British handicapper clamps down on Irish horses coming over to run at jumps racing’s showpiece with the proverbial ‘stone in hand’.

Still Mullins, who welcomed the media to his Closutton stables this morning for a pre-Festival visit, will doubtless have one or two up his sleeve for the handicaps when the action starts on Tuesday, March 15.

He’ll also have potential stars for the championship races such as Dysart Dynamo, Sir Gerhard, Appreciate It, Energumene, Gallopin des Champs, Allaho, Al Boum Photo, Vauban and many others to go with them in a cracking team.

Those first two mentioned look like going head-to-head in the very first race against Nicky Henderson’s top British pair of Constitution Hill and Jonbon. It could be the race of the meeting if all four hold their ground and are not diverted elsewhere.

So far, neither Mullins nor Henderson has given any hint that they are going to run any of the horses in a different race over the four days.

How good a race might the opener be then? Well, top trainer Gavin Cromwell who has won a Champion Hurdle with Espoir d’Allen and had Darver Star finish third in it, is thinking of running his novice, My Mate Mozzie, in the Champion Hurdle instead of taking on ‘the Big Four’ in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

Cromwell reckons he might have a better chance of picking up place money with My Mate Mozzie in the Champion Hurdle than in this incredibly hot novice event.

All four top horses taking each other on will set the tone for a great week at jump racing’s ‘Olympics’, as Willie, Henry de Bromhead, Gordon Elliott and the rest of Ireland’s trainers send over their finest beasts to do battle in front of packed stands that were so empty last year.

Yes, the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ will be heard again, and it is now less than three weeks away.

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