Peter Mooney/INPHO Patrick Mullins.
# Racing
Patrick Mullins facing tough Champion Bumper choice at Cheltenham
‘It’s very hard to pick the right one’.

PATRICK MULLINS BELIEVES It’s For Me is a worthy favourite for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper – but admits he faces a tough choice to pick between all his father’s contenders.

Willie Mullins has won the Cheltenham Festival feature 12 times and should his son ride a fourth winner of the Grade One contest in a fortnight’s time, he will go ahead of Ruby Walsh as the race’s most successful rider.

Mullins registered his first Champion Bumper victory aboard Cousin Vinny in 2008 and having partnered plenty of this year’s contenders to success, he rates wide-margin Navan winner It’s For Me as a likely leading light.

He said: “The betting says It’s For Me is our best chance. He won his point-to-point very well, but he was a big price there and although I thought he’d win at Navan last month, I didn’t expect him to win in the manner that he did.

“I’m not sure it was a particularly strong race, but the way he did it was impressive and he would be a fair favourite I’d say.”

Chapeau De Soleil, Western Diego and Fact To File are also prominent in the Closutton team.

“Fact To File improved hugely from his win at Leopardstown at Christmas, so I rode him at the Dublin Racing Festival where he was only beaten by a Flat-bred rival (John Kiely’s entry A Dream To Share) in a slow-run race on good ground,” Mullins added.

“There has to be a chance that he could reverse that form on more watered ground with a hill.

“Western Diego was also very good at Naas, and although he’s quite keen he’s by Westerner and is probably a stronger stayer.”

Fun Fun Fun carries the same ‘double green’ colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede as It’s For Me, but she would be a special winner for Mullins as he bred the Martaline mare himself – although he cannot ride her at Prestbury Park.

He said: “Fun Fun Fun was hugely impressive at Leopardstown earlier this month in a strongly-run Grade Two, but as she’s a mare I can’t do the weight.

“I bred her myself out of a mare I bought in foal because she was a sister to Yorkhill and she’s entitled to improve. She hadn’t run for more than three months and so I was afraid she mightn’t be fit enough that day.

“She’s got two younger siblings coming through by Doctor Dino, and a third by Jukebox Jury, so if I can’t win it I’m hoping it’s her coming past me on my outside!”

With so many chances, Mullins is expecting a hard call on which horse he will ride come the big day.

He added: “This year nothing has put its hand up to say ‘I’m the special one’, but these horses don’t run very often and they improve at different rates, and so it’s hard to get a handle on them.

“There are lots of options, and I’m probably guaranteed to pick the wrong one. I remember (2013 winner) Briar Hill was very average at home and I wanted him to stay at home for Limerick the week after, but Willie’s view is that if they have a chance they go, and every year we have a 20-1 winner.

“It’s very hard to pick the right one, but as Ruby and I both have three previous winners it would be nice to have another one.”

On the family history with the race, Mullins has memories stretching back as far as his father’s first success as trainer/rider of Wither Or Which 27 years ago.

He said: “I grew up with photos on the wall of Wither Or Which winning in 1996, of ‘Woody’ (Richard Dunwoody) winning on Florida Pearl in 1997, and of Ruby winning on Alexander Banquet in 1998. Also of Joe Cullen, who Charlie Swan rode in 2000, who was owned and bred by my mother and who only went on the lorry because Adamant Approach was lame the day before.

“It’s obviously been a very lucky race for us, and winning on Cousin Vinny in 2008 was the dream, because I hadn’t been riding very long and I’d gone there expecting to ride Drive On Regardless, who finished out the back.

“It was the year that the Wednesday was called off and the bumper was run as the 10th race on Thursday, in near darkness. You never forget a day like that. It was my first Grade One and very special.”

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