Matt Tombs / Tuesday 20th January 2015 / 17:24
The vibes from Willie Mullins’ yard are that his novice hurdling team is even stronger than last season. To put that in context, Mullins had 5 of the top 10 novice hurdlers on official Anglo-Irish ratings last season, (Faugheen 161, Vautour 158, Briar Hill 155, Don Poli 153 & Abbyssial 151- though Abbyssial was a juvenile.) He won the Supreme and Neptune, and given that Briar Hill had given weight and a beating to Very Wood the time before, he might well have completed a clean sweep of the novice hurdle Grade 1s had Briar Hill stood up.
Mullins ran Vautour (7/2), Wicklow Brave (8/1) and Valseur Lido (16/1) in the Supreme. In the Neptune Faugheen, (6/4,) and Rathvinden, (11/2,) represented Closutton. Briar Hill (2/1) was his lone runner in the Albert Bartlett.
That means that, (before adjusting for the over-round,) he had a 6/4 chance of winning the Supreme, a 5/6 chance of winning the Neptune and a 2/1 chance in the Albert Bartlett. The theoretical chances of winning all 3 were around 13/1. If you adjust for the over-round, he had in theory about a 16/1 chance of the clean sweep.
It’s easy to say with the benefit of hindsight, but those SPs probably underestimated his chances of winning those races. Whilst punters and layers know Mullins is the leading trainer in the sport, I don’t think it was appreciated just how far he now is ahead of the other top trainers like Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson – especially in the novice hurdle division.
Training racehorses is a business and these days arguably the most crucial part of that business is identifying the top horses to buy, getting connections to sell them to you and having owners with serious money who trust your judgment. Of course that’s always been important, but a few years ago the big owners used to buy stacks of store horses. Whilst there are still some big owners who do that, (in part probably to support the breeding industry), most have cottoned on to the fact that buying the best horses who’ve run in an Irish point or a couple of times in France – is a much more efficient way to spend your money.
No other trainer is doing this on Mullins’ scale, which is why he is dominating the top end of the sport. This dominance comes through particularly in the early parts of their career, (ie bumpers and novice hurdles,) as, simplistically, their raw talent for those disciplines is more obvious and there’s less to go wrong by then.
The problem with making money out of this is that it’s so hard to know which horses will run in which races. Mullins keeps his cards close to his chest, which frustrates some punters but it’s understandable. In contrast to some other trainers I don’t think he’s doing it to keep punters off the scent so they can land a coup – he genuinely wants the flexibility. A good example was Champagne Fever who looked to be heading for the Albert Bartlett a couple of seasons ago, or possibly the Neptune, but ended up winning probably the best Supreme of the modern era.
I like trying to find value by working out how Mullins will shuffle his pack, but what’s even better is the prospect of a good bet where which horse runs where doesn’t matter. Several firms have priced up his winning the Supreme, Neptune and Albert Bartlett at the 2015 Festival and Paddy Power offer 20/1. That’s bigger than the theoretical price it should have been on the day last year, even before the fact that the Mullins novice hurdlers were, in my view, being under-bet. If I’m reading the vibes right and his novice hurdling team is even stronger this year, then the correct price might be shorter still.
Willie described himself as ‘raging’ for only running two horses in the 2m Grade 1 novice hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas, (Nichols Canyon fell and McKinley pulled up.) Given the race was won by Sizing John, who’d been 12l behind Douvan the time before, Willie probably felt he could have won it with several of his novices who were in their boxes at home.
I think he’s therefore likely to be mob handed at the Festival, probably with 3 in each. That’s why this is such an attractive bet – assuming I’m right, the presence of 3 Mullins runners in each race will massively reduce the odds on the treble, as nothing he runs is going to warrant starting at a big price, (the 3rd string in the Supreme only went off 16/1 last season.)
I’ve been waiting a while to put this bet up – I wanted to see him have one banker plus a decent hand in the Albert Bartlett, (he’s won the Supreme 4 times, the Neptune 3 times, but never the Albert Bartlett.) Douvan became that banker last weekend. Whether he’ll run in the Supreme or Neptune isn’t clear, probably the Supreme, but either way he won’t run again beforehand, and I can see him starting around 6/4, (currently 5/2).
In the two shorter races, his other main contenders look to be Alvisio Ville, Shaneshill, Nichols Canyon, McKinley and Tell Us More. If Annie Power recovers to run in the Mares Hurdle, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morning Run ran as well, and Aminabad is another possibility. With a couple of stablemates taking him on, Mullins will be odds-on to win whichever race Douvan runs in and something close to an even money shot in the other.
The last piece in the puzzle is the Albert Bartlett horse. Black Hercules has always been targeted at this race and his beating of Alpha Des Obeaux got a boost at the weekend when that horse finished 2nd to Douvan over an inadequate trip, ahead of some good novices. He looks to have leading claims. It would be no surprise for some of Arbre De Vie, Avant Tout, Killultagh Vic, Measureofmydreams, Milsean, Outlander & Roi Des Francs to line up with a strong chance too.
The Albert Bartlett is definitely the weak leg of the 3 but I think Black Hercules could be challenging for favouritism on the day and with a couple of stablemates to back him up, Mullins might only be about 3/1 to win that too – which leaves the treble a lot shorter than 20/1, (even assuming he doesn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat by unleashing a top class novice we’ve not yet heard of).
The great beauty of this ante-post bet is that a horse getting injured doesn’t create a non-runner. Clearly it weakens Mullins hand but unless it’s Douvan, he has such strength in depth that he could still do the clean sweep even if a couple of his horses fall by the wayside. The fact that he has an approach of keeping his best 3 novices apart in the Supreme, Neptune and Albert Bartlett is crucial – 20/1 is too big given the firepower he has and the mob handed way he’ll deploy it.
1pt Willie Mullins to win Supreme, Neptune & Albert Bartlett @ 20/1