Matt Tombs / Thursday 26th February 2015 / 15:32
Willie Mullins dominated the Bumper at the Festival long before his yard reached its present strength across the graded races, winning the race 6 times between 1996 and 2008 – half the stables total Festival winners to that point. Since then the stable has moved into another league, recording 21 winners in the subsequent 6 Festivals.
In that context, winning 2 of those 6 Bumpers is a good return, but whilst the yard’s performance in the other graded races has improved exponentially, Willie has won the Bumper once every three years, compared to every other year between 1996 and 2008.
Given he has the best overall squad ever bought to a Festival this year, its tempting to think the Bumper will be a penalty kick for him and its just a case of listening to the vibes for which is the Closutton number 1. However, the truth is that he had the Bumper cracked years ago and he hasn’t really been able to improve his chances much in that.
Of course he has a great chance of winning it again but the hype is such that a good Bumper horse trained by anyone else is likely to get overlooked. I usually don’t have a bet at all in the Bumper, and if I do its often on or close to the day. It’s a bit of a race for momentum punters – during Festival week the dogs are often out for the best horses and winners tend to shorten a decent bit, (I remember backing Dunguib, who looked to have great form but was from an unfashionable yard, just as the momentum started building.)
So I decided to have a look and see if there was a Dunguib equivalent this year. I started with the Mullins battalions as they provide a good benchmark. The vibes are that favourite Bordini (8/1) is indeed Closutton’s number one – and if Patrick confirms he’s riding it, that view is likely to strengthen. Whilst he chose correctly on Cousin Vinny, (12/1 whereas stablemate Apt Approach went off 4/1) and Champagne Fever, (16/1 with stablemate Pique Sous going off 12/1,) he doesn’t always. He chose 9/1 shot Union Dues two years ago who was 8th to 25/1 stablemate Briar Hill. The market is a bit more savvy to the fact Patrick, rather than Ruby, gets the choice in this race these days, but with these inexperienced horses connections are less likely to know their relative merits.
Bordini was 3rd in a point a year ago and has won his 2 bumpers easily. On debut at Punchestown he easily beat the well thought of Falcon Crest, (disappointed on sole run since.) In total the 6 horses he beat are 0/13 in a mixture of bumpers and hurdles since. He followed up at Navan beating a decent prospect in Attribution, (not seen since). The key to that form is the mare Rock On The Moor who has won twice over hurdles since, including a strong contest in open mares company. He’s looked good visually and on breeding ought to like a sounder surface - but its more the vibes that are strong. He has sound claims but hasn’t looked the sort of superstar that would make me want to take a single figure price.
The other Mullins horse for whom the vibes have been strong is Pyleonthepressure, (12/1) who seems to do a lot more on the track than at home, (like Briar Hill.) It looked a poor race he won at Thurles, (beaten horses 0/25 since.) He then put in a really good performance in a stronger race at Naas earlier in the month, beating the odds-on Space Cadet, (who had been a good winner of the big 4 year old bumper at Leopardstown on St Stephens Day,) easily by 8½l, with previous winner Baby Back another 19l away third. That Naas win was over 2m3f and whilst stamina is very much to the fore in the Bumper, Hairy Molly 9 years ago is the last winner to have run in a bumper beyond 2m1f. He looks a staying chaser of the future more than a winner of this.
Stone Hard (16/1) has won bumpers on testing ground at Fairyhouse and at Gowran, (good ground would be a definite question mark). The form doesn’t look that strong but he was an impressive point winner when trained by Gordon Elliott, who rated him really highly. Stone Hard is owned by Gigginstown, who have previously refused to run their horses in the Festival Bumper. Willie looks to have talked the O’Leary’s round and it’ll be interesting to see how he approaches the task with the future in mind for this chasing type.
Willie has 8 entries in all. With Bordini and Pyleonthepressure both owned by the Ricci’s, their Livelovelaugh (25/1) and Turcagua (25/1) are probably less likely runners. The Ricci owned Au Quart De Tour (16/1) was penciled in for this but has been held up at home. Up For Review (33/1) who was beaten when odds on by Tycoon Prince last week and Bellshill (20/1) are both owned by the Wylies but haven’t looked top class so far. The Mullins team looks strong but the vibes aren’t that they have a superstar in the team.
No horse has ever won the Bumper having run in it before but there are two lively contenders this year in Vigil and Modus. Vigil (12/1) was favourite for this last season until the last few minutes before the off. Dermot Weld did say that fast ground would suit Silver Concorde rather than Vigil, and if there’s more ease in the ground this time, he could improve on last season’s 5th. He won a strong bumper at Leopardstown at Christmas, beating 4 previous winners, including Bellshill. Presumably he’s vulnerable to a top notcher, but there isn’t much evidence as to how much advantage his extra experience gives in this race.
I backed Modus (20/1) last season, but he went pretty wide and never got into it, finishing 10½l 8th. Unlike Vigil who is now 6, he was just a 4 year old and so might be more of an improver, but equally he was getting 8lb last year. He disappointed at Aintree and hasn’t been seen since, (has run in the maximum 4 bumpers allowed to qualify.) Similarly to Vigil, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.
Supasundae (14/1) won at Wetherby in March and was sold on to join Andrew Balding. He left that form well behind when beating dual previous winner Yanworth by 2¼l in a listed bumper at Ascot, with some good horses well behind. He should be effective on better ground and Barry Geraghty was upbeat after his Ascot win. He’s been sold on again to join Henry De Bromhead.
Wait For Me (14/1) made an impressive debut earlier in the month at Ascot, beating a stack of previous winners easily. Visually that was a taking performance though his breeding suggests he might want the soft ground he got there.
I wouldn’t have a great idea which order the horses above will finish in. If you ran the race today it’s quite likely you’d get a different result from what’ll happen in a fortnight’s time – some of these youngsters are improving rapidly at the moment.
The only reason for having a bet is that I think I’ve seen something special in Moon Racer (12/1). He was trained in a very small yard, (that’s had 4 runners in 5 years,) and caused a surprise by bolting up at 50/1 at Fairyhouse in April. The 3rd Turcagua has won its sole start since and has been entered for this by Willie Mullins. 4th Tycoon Prince has won all 3 subsequent bumpers and was 2nd favourite for this until connections decided to bypass the race.
Moon Racer was sold for £225,000 to join David Pipe and then thrashed a decent looking field, (containing 5 previous bumper winners,) at Cheltenham in October. The form looks solid with 12l 2nd Arabic History having won his previous two, and having subsequently been 4½l 2nd in a listed event to Definitely Red and then won a maiden hurdle.
Moon Racer showed loads of pace at Cheltenham, but he’s a full brother to 134 rated hurdler Saffron Wells who was 2nd in the EBF Final over 2m4f and 3rd in the Lanzarote over 2m5f, so you’d be optimistic that he’d have the required stamina too. Ruby Walsh has been quoted as saying that he can tell at the start of the Bumper that half the field have no chance as the occasion has got to them. Moon Racer could succumb to that but he looks a fairly relaxed horse from what little we’ve seen so far.
I’ve re-watched all the market leader’s races. There are plenty who could be superstars but he’s the one runner I’ve seen that’s looked like it so far, and it’s only Willie Mullins reputation that’s stopping him being a clear favourite. If he is as good as I think he might be, he could be the subject of the classic Bumper plunge in the week leading up to the race, so I’m taking the 12/1 now.
1pt Moon Racer to win the Champion Bumper @ 12/1