Willie Mullins has never won this prestigious 2m 5f handicap, but with Fivefourthree third in 2013 and Smashing fourth in 2014, the Co Carlow handler is getting closer to ticking another big festival prize off his list and in the shape of ARBRE DE VIE (best price 16/1), he looks to have his best chance for quite some time.
Looking back over the last decade, winners of this race tend to be classy types (last three being Aux Ptite Sions, Whisper and Medinas) and the son of Antarctique certainly fits the bill being a 150-rated horse who was good enough to finish a creditable fourth in last season’s Albert Bartlett. Indeed, one could argue that the six-year-old was the best horse in that Grade 1 event given how he was the only one to make any significant headway of those held up out the back in a race where it paid to be handy.
To put that performance in to some kind of context, the fact that he had the likes of Black Hercules, Measureofmydreams, Native River, Avant Tout, Thomas Brown, Out Sam, Definitely Red Blaklion, Kylemore Lough and Tea For Two - who’ve all going on to make their marks in top class events this season - well beaten in behind him, just goes to show what a top-class effort it was from this lightly-raced sort. Going on to run a blinder in one of the most keenly-contested handicap hurdles at the Punchestown Festival next time only further reinforced the qualities he possess and if it wasn’t for a bad stumble rounding the home turn, he may have actually won that day.
Sent chasing on his only start so far this season, clearly life over the larger obstacles may have to be put on hold for the time being as he blundered his chance away with a bad mistake down the back straight and one at the top of the hill for good measure. That said, he still showed what an amazing engine he has by making up the huge amount of ground lost and almost pulling the race out of the fire in the closing stages.
Whether this race at the festival is an afterthought after what happened at Thurles or whether this was always the plan is not known, but either way, he has all the right credentials should connections choose to go down this route. Obviously there’s always risks attached in backing one ante-post from the Mullins stable in handicaps, but having stated in the press the other day that this was his likely target, he has to be worth a roll of the dice at his current price of 16/1 (likely to go off close to favourite if confirmed). For those a little more sceptical, you might want to consider taking 12/1 NRNB as an insurance policy.