Another bumper Christmas sees Willie Mullins go into 2023 at the top of Ireland’s trainers’ championship and set to start the New Year as he means to continue.
Mullins has 13 declarations for Sunday’s New Year’s Day action including a trio of options for Tramore’s Grade Three feature.
Twice the Savills Chase set up Al Boum Photo for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory and the now retired ‘Blue Riband’ hero landed the contest four times in all.
Its pedigree is underlined now by the 2021 Gold Cup hero Minella Indo getting his season under way in a race shown live on ITV.
Despite having chased home his stable companion A Plus Tard in last season’s Gold Cup, suspicions that ‘Indo’ may be on the slide from his peak are reflected in general 33-1 ante-post odds about him regaining the title at Cheltenham in March.
Instead, it is Mullins’s emerging talent, Stattler who is half that price to secure ultimate steeplechase glory in 11 weeks’ time.
If it is hard to think of a more unlikely venue than Tramore’s tight circuit for a galloper like Minella Indo; it hardly seems an obvious fit for Stattler either.
Unbeaten in three starts over fences last season, he secured Cheltenham festival success in the marathon National Hunt Chase. Trumping all considerations however is the prospect of testing ground conditions.
“He’ll go there for softer ground, and he’ll get it. He’s in great form and it’s a nice place to start the season,” Mullins said. “He’d probably want further but two miles five on heavy ground [means] stamina will come into play.”
Also in play is the generally outstanding form the Mullins team exhibited during Christmas.
A total of 16 winners over the four days included a handful of Grade One prizes that saw Mullins overhaul his rival Gordon Elliott at the top of the trainers’ table with over €2.5 million in prizemoney already in the bag this season.
A 16th championship – and a 17th in total – already looks all but inevitable when the season ends in April.
By then the figure who has redrawn the parameters of National Hunt success might even have reconfigured the boundaries of Cheltenham Festival achievement too.
A 1,518-1 five-timer on the final day of the 2022 festival famously brought his tally for the week to 10.
In a broader context the haul also brought the festival’s most successful ever figure to 88 winners, making it look a question of him reaching the century mark sooner rather than later.
Depending on various markets, Mullins-trained horses top the betting in up to 12 of Cheltenham’s 28 races and momentum suggests that tally is likely to increase.
One of those favourites is Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup but a convincing success for Stattler on Sunday would see him cement his status as stable No. 2.
He is joined by a pair of stable companions in the five-strong field where Rachael Blackmore is reunited with Minella Indo.
She was last on-board Henry de Bromhead’s star in an unhappy experience around Kempton in last season’s King George.
‘Indo’ bounced back with a pair of admirable efforts at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham before getting pulled up at Punchestown.
Earlier at Tramore, the English point-to-point winner Kap d’Attente is one of two de Bromhead runners lining up for a maiden hurdle named in memory of the trainer’s late son, Jack.
There would be no more appropriate success at de Bromhead’s local track, but Mullins too is doubly represented.
Lisngar Fortune is a half brother to a Stayers winner and had enough natural ability to overcome greenness on his bumper debut at Punchestown last Spring.
Sunday’s other card is at Fairyhouse where up to 25mms of rainfall is forecast to fall on already soft ground.
Such testing conditions won’t hold any terrors for Scarlet And Dove, the highest-rated mare in the featured Grade Three John & Chich Fowler Chase .
Third in this race a year ago, Scarlet And Dove went on to run a big race at Cheltenham before getting the better of Elimay at Punchestown.
The Gigginstown mare has ground to make up on both Dolcita and Ballyshannon Rose on Clonmel running last month but she did look like she would sharpen up for that first start of the season.
Daryl Jacob is on the 2021 winner Agusta Gold in the Grade Three but is on Fairyhouse duty primarily for James Du Berlais who gets his career started over fences in the following Beginners Chase.
Highly rated in his native France, James Du Berlais’ two starts to date for Willie Mullins have been at the highest level.
Having run behind Honeysuckle in the 2021 Champion Hurdle he subsequently found only Klassical Dream too good at Grade One level in Punchestown’s Stayers championship.