Master trainer Willie Mullins, much to his chagrin and the mystery of his supporters, has never won the Cheltenham Gold Cup but is apparently ready to throw a number of darts at the board in order to secure his first success in the Blue Riband event.
Despite being the most successful trainer in the Festival’s long, illustrious history, Mullins as yet has been unsuccessful in the big one but may send as many as four candidates to the £625,000 race this time around in the form of Al Boum Photo, Bellshill, Invitation Only and Kemboy.
Al Boum Photo put in a high class display at Tramore on January 1st to win at Listed level, but in not having beaten much there and having looked well held when falling in the RSA at last year’s festival he doesn’t look like an obvious leading light in all honesty.
Eight-year-old Invitation Only scored nicely in a very valuable handicap at Gowran Park in January, but in doing so off a mark of 152 again doesn’t immediately single Graham Wylie’s horse out as a dead cert even for a place at this level.
Mullins’ Kemboy could be a different prospect all together though. The seven-year-old took a big step forward in late December when jumping brilliantly in the Grade 1 Savills Chase to score by an easy 7½ lengths to put himself firmly in the Gold Cup picture and it’s easy to see this one going close.
With not too many miles on the clock (only 8 chases to date) we have not seen the best of Kemboy yet and in having been allowed to remain off the track rather than take in another prep race, last year’s JLT Novices’ fourth has all the credentials needed to run a big one as long as he has the maturity.
Mullins’ last contender may just prove to be his best however and that is Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill. Another owned by Wylie, Bellshill was always touted as a potential Gold Cup winner but it was thought that his time at the top had gone before it even arrived as he didn’t really hit full stride when expected earlier in his career.
In recent times though Bellshill has come into his own. Firstly when winning the Punchestown Gold Cup at the end of last season, then after a prep (behind Kemboy) scoring in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. His win that day over Road To Respect shouldn’t be underestimated and can be upgraded in terms of the figures as the four-runner event was never going to produce anything stunning on the book.
Mullins now believes that Bellshill is the horse they always thought he was and as a horse who jumps well and stays, all he was missing was that touch of class at the top level which seems to elude him no longer.
The masterful Irish trainer will probably send his usual 60 or so horses to the Festival and no doubt it won’t always be his apparent first string that wins each time he is successful, but in Bellshill he seems to have a genuine priority horse to lead his posse in the big race and it would be no surprise should the Closutton handler finally land his hitherto elusive first Gold Cup success.