One interesting note to come from last year’s festival was that Willie Mullins didn’t school Douvan over fences before he went to the Champion Chase. Not only this, but he didn’t school Rathvinden for the four-miler either. Mullins’ priority seems to be getting them to the race safely as opposed to having them jump flawlessly. However, Mullins’ record with chasers at the festival hasn’t really been magnificent through the years.
His record at the festival as a whole doesn’t need to be explained – he has been the undisputed King of Cheltenham for a number of years now. However, if we compare his runners in hurdles and chases, there’s a stark contrast.
The hurdles record is outstanding – you actually could have made a profit by blindly backing his hurdlers, and this has been the case in 6 of the last 10 years. For 8 of the last 10 years, his hurdlers’ A/E has been over 1, suggesting that they’re still performing better than the market expects. His chasers, on the other hand, have only been profitable in 1 of the last 10 years to level stakes, and only had an A/E of over 1 twice in that decade.
This obviously isn’t all due to their jumping. After last year’s festival, however, there was a lot of attention given to the fact that he has had 19 fallers (including horses which unseated and one which was brought down) in chases over the last 10 years at the meeting. 6 of these were last year, making this a more pressing “issue” than ever. 19 fallers from 118 runners is a total of 16%.
Before adding to the narrative that Mullins’ horses aren’t good jumpers, I want to compare his faller rates to those of other trainers. I’ve included the only other trainers to have had over 100 chasers at the festival in the last 10 years (Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and David Pipe) as well as Gordon Elliott, as Mullins’ main current rival and the trainer to whom he is most often compared at the moment.
Firstly, Nicholls and Elliott have very similar rates to Mullins, if slightly lower. If we eliminate last year’s fallers (this is hardly unreasonable as there’s a distinct possibility that last year’s high faller rate was an anomaly), Mullins’ rate drops to 12.87%, which is on a par with Elliott, the trainer currently closest to Mullins in terms of success at the top level, and Paul Nicholls, still often referred to as the best trainer of chasers in the game, despite a lack of recent success at the top level.
Looking away from fallers, though, Mullins’ record with chasers compared to hurdlers should still be noted. We can break it down by looking at the record of different jockeys when riding for Mullins – three jockeys have been seen in chases over 10 times for Mullins at the festival in the last 10 years, and these are Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend and Patrick Mullins:
Ruby’s record is impressive. He has won on over a quarter of his rides in chases for Mullins and has (just about) outperformed the expectations of the market. Patrick Mullins’ record isn’t bad and he has been on plenty at massive prices – if we narrow it down to those at 10/1 or less, his record is 2 wins and another 3 places from 12 runners (A/E 1.12).
Paul Townend’s record isn’t as impressive, although one would suspect that he has played second fiddle to Ruby over the years, riding second-strings. For this reason, I want to look at his in the same way as I looked at Patrick Mullins’ – narrow them down to horses priced 10/1 or shorter. This narrows the amount of runners down to 8, confirming the theory that he’s regularly on stable second-strings and relative outsiders. His form reads 56F2P2P – the last four were at last year’s festival when Walsh was injured.
He has managed to place twice – however, the prices on the exchange would have suggested 3.2 places from these 8 runners, as well as 1.5 wins. This is admittedly a small sample size and it’s possible that we’re being harsh on Townend (especially considering the fact that one of his second-place finishes was a very respectable one on Min behind Altior in last year’s Champion Chase) but his inferior chase record to Ruby’s may be worth bearing in mind.