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Solving Willie Mullins’ 10-horse Cheltenham Bumper riddle

| 10.02.2015

Willie Mullins has won the Cheltenham Champion Bumper eight times in the past 18 years, so it’s not quite as surprising as it should be that 10 of his horses are among the first 14 favourites, between 8/1 and 25/1 in a devilishly-tight market, for this March’s renewal.

The County Carlow handler isn’t quite on his own, with last year’s winner Dermot Weld looking likely to run 10/1 shot Vigil, who finished a decent fifth in 2014, while Ben Pauling’s unbeaten Barters Hill ranks as a decent outsider for the beleaguered home team at 20/1.

That being said, it’s likely Mullins will be heavily involved at the finish after taking this prize in 2012 and 2013, before filling the second, fourth and sixth places last year.

It’s hard to see Mullins running all 10, as he hasn’t had more than three per race since 2009, when he threw in eight. That didn’t work out very well, with Ruby Walsh’s Quel Spirit the first of them home in fourth.

The Ricci family own four of the current crop, in 8/1 favourite Au Quart De Tour, 10/1 pair Bordini and Pylonthepressure and 20/1 shot Livelovelaugh.

The outsider of that quartet has only been out once this season, unlike the other three, and Pylonthepressure won at the weekend, which isn’t a good look; none of the last three Cheltenham Bumper champions were seen on a race track less than six weeks before the Festival.

Neither of the past two winners suffered a loss during the season leading up to their victory, which knocks out 20/1 shot Bellshill, beaten by Vigil between Xmas and New Year, leaving the Wylie family represented by Up For Review at 10/1, who won the previous day.

Gigginstown have Stone Hard and Balko Des Flos at 14/1, and Valerian Bridge at 20/1. Of the trio, the former looks to be on the most clearly-defined track, having taken the same route through Gowran Park last month as last year’s fourth Black Hercules did, and winning by a good deal more.

Stone Hard gets the nod at present, as Mullins hasn’t won twice for the same owners since 2005 with Violet O’Leary’s Missed That, eight years after Florida Pearl’s triumph. The Riccis and the Wylies have both had winners of late.

The other Mullins top 10 contender is Very Much So at 25/1, who hasn’t run this term after edging a Punchestown bumper last April at handy odds.

He’s owned by the Supreme Racing Syndicate, who also have 2012 third Pique Sous on their books, so warrants respect.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Alex Fortune