cheltenham ‘I’d rather I had him in better order’ – Willie Mullins concerned over form of Gold Cup hope Al Boum Photo
Willie Mullins will wait until the last possible minute to make up his mind as to which races many of his star horses will run in at Cheltenham in three weeks’ time.
And when he does get around to making the calls, Mullins will value heavily the opinion of his stable jockey Paul Townend.
"Paul is the one who rides them, so he will have a big input," said the Irish champion trainer as he welcomed the media to his Closutton stables in advance of the Festival which starts on Tuesday fortnight.
"As will Patrick (Mullins), Ruby (Walsh) and David Casey. We'll all throw in our opinion and then decide based on what we are seeing in training.
"The Cheltenham-bound horses still have a lot of work to do and we'll make the calls after that," added Mullins who trained six of his 78 all-time Cheltenham winners at last year's Festival.
Mullins will have to make a decision right at the start of the meeting, with his Dysart Dynamo and Sir Gerhard both highly fancied for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the first race of the meeting.
One of them will go for that race, the other will be diverted to the Ballymore Hurdle, over half a mile further, on Wednesday.
However he did confirm that Kilcruit, the winner of the Punchestown Champion Bumper last April, will go for Tuesday’s 'Supreme'.
Mullins has also to decide what is the target for his star novice chaser Gallopin des Champs, who can go for the Grade One over two and a half miles or over three miles. "That's still to be settled too," he added.
Mullins also has concerns over the form of dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo with just over three weeks until he tries to reclaim his crown.
Having won the blue riband twice off the back of just one previous run, Mullins wanted to change tack this season and give the 10-year-old more action.
However, a dry winter meant those plans were scuppered and Al Boum Photo will again head to Cheltenham with just one outing - at Tramore on New Year's Day - in the bank.
Mullins, though, fears he may have worked him too hard at home as a result and only on Wednesday morning was he starting to show a bit more sparkle on the gallops.
"I'd rather I had him in better order, to be honest," said Mullins.
"I brought him away to work and I wasn't happy with him, so we'll see.
"He's fit and we should have plenty of time. I think he's in better order this morning than he was the last few days.
"I just gave him a few easy days after he worked. Maybe it just wasn't his day when I brought him away. He usually comes right for Cheltenham.
"I wish he was in better form, but we still have time. It's just a matter of hoping he comes into form."
He went on: "I was probably hard on him because he hadn't had racing and maybe that just backfired on me a little bit with the work I gave him.
"I was very happy with him after Tramore and so was Paul (Townend). He said he was in way better form than he was the previous year.
"But because we haven't had the chance to run him since, I was working him very hard at home and maybe we just overcooked him a little bit at his age.
"It looks an open Gold Cup and a lot will depend on who gets to the races on the day in great form, I think."
The Irish trainer expects to have a total raiding party of about 55 runners at Cheltenham 2022.
"We’ll bring over about 60, but there's always a few of them don’t end up running for one reason or another. It won't be my biggest team ever, but it will be a big one."
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