Willie Mullins must have sent the pulses of his fellow leading trainers racing when he announced after last month’s Cheltenham Festival that he quite fancied having a crack at winning his maiden British trainers’ championship title — a feat no Irish handler has accomplished since Vincent O’Brien’s dual success in the early 1950s.
Mullins, who was narrowly beaten to the title by Paul Nicholls in 2016, only had three winners on British soil prior to the Cheltenham Festival. However, his record 10 victories at Prestbury Park — and the subsequent £1.27m in prize money — has propelled the Closutton man up to fourth in the standings and it’s still all to play for the Grand National Festival and the Jump Finale at Sandown both to come this month.
Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Dan Skelton would have breathed a sigh of relief when Mullins’ Aintree contingent was revealed though — with the majority of his big guns set to stay in the Emerald Isles for the Punchestown Festival, Ireland’s own Cheltenham Festival, which was largely expected due to the higher quality of races and larger prize purses.
It’s certainly not as strong of a team as the 65-year-old has sent to Merseyside in previous years, but when a Mullins horse is in the mix, it has a chance. That said, read on as we take a look at some of his top contenders at the Grand National Festival…
Burrows Saint – Grand National
Where better to start than with Mullins’ leading candidate in the meeting’s highlight race. After finishing fourth in last year’s renewal of the marathon contest, albeit 27 lengths behind Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore, Burrows Saint is a general 20/1 shot in the Grand National tips and predictions ahead of this year’s race.
The nine-year-old hasn’t had a bad season either, finishing third on his reappearance at Clonmel in December before coming up four lengths short to dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo next time out in the New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.
Burrows Saint came home in third again in February, finishing well behind Escaria Ten and Any Second Now in the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. His weight will be up this year, but he’s proved he can navigate the Aintree fences and rarely failed to place. So, could be worth an each-way flutter.
Kemboy – Bowl Chase
This year’s renewal of the Bowl Chase looks set to be one of the most exciting races of the meeting, with defending champion Clan Des Obeaux set to go up against Protektorat, who was third in the Gold Cup last month, Conflated, a faller in the Ryanair Chase, Kemboy and several other fantastic horses.
Mullins will, be hoping that Kemboy can retain his Bowl Chase crown this year. The 10-year-old beat Clan Des Obeaux to the post by nine lengths back in 2019, but hasn’t returned to Aintree since and looks to be a shadow of the seven-year-old who raced to such an impressive victory that day.
He’s winless in five outings, including in three failed attempts this season — his best being a third-place finish in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, where he was just three quarters of a length behind Galvin and Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard. There’s no indication Kemboy has the better of those aforementioned entries in the Bowl, however.
El Fabiolo – Top Novices’ Hurdle
El Fabiolo has raced just once since he swapped Patricia Butel’s and Jean-Luc Beaunez’s French yard for Closutton in November — impressively winning on debut, beating Tempo Chapter Two in a Maiden Hurdle by some 13 lengths after a 472-day break.
The five-year-old was meant to reappear at Leopardstown in February, but was injured in transit and subsequently missed the Cheltenham Festival. He’ll head to Aintree for the Top Novices’ Hurdle, where he’s fancied as the second favourite.
However, El Fabiolo will be up against the fantastic Jonbon in the two-mile, half-a-furlong contest and it’s hard to see the inexperienced youngster getting the better of Henderson’s fan favourite — who suffered his first defeat over hurdles in the Supreme, being well beaten by his stablemate Constitution Hill.