Timeform's Tony McFadden picks out the very best of Willie Mullins' Cheltenham Festival favourites - while nominating a couple to avoid.
Willie Mullins has the ante-post favourite in 12 of the 19 non-handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival. Timeform's Tony McFadden states the case for the trainer’s three best chances at the meeting and another couple who may be vulnerable.
Concertista didn't run at the Dublin Racing Festival, but her Mares' Hurdle claims took a significant boost due to events at Leopardstown.
Honeysuckle would have been a formidable foe at Cheltenham but she was so impressive in the Irish Champion Hurdle that connections have been persuaded to go down the Champion Hurdle route. That leaves the path clear for the progressive Concertista to take advantage in the Mares' Hurdle, a race Mullins has won nine times in the 13 years since its inception.
Concertista won't have to take on stablemate Benie des Dieux – who won in 2018, fell with the race at her mercy in 2019 and was runner-up last year but has been ruled out this time – and she will have a notable edge on Timeform ratings.
Concertista is 4 lb clear of Roksana, but that rival, who took advantage of Benie des Dieux's fall two years ago, has the Stayers' Hurdle as an option and would likely find the Mares’ Hurdle presenting too much of a test of speed. Concertista was hugely impressive when landing the Mares' Novices' Hurdle over two miles and a furlong at last year's Festival and she has been better than ever this term, not needing to come off the bridle to win on her return at Fairyhouse, and then producing a career-best effort to give Minella Melody weight and an even bigger beating over two and a half miles at Leopardstown in December.
That form is the best on offer, Concertista is on an upward curve and she should prove too speedy and talented for these rivals. She is a top price of 6/5 but, with the race likely to cut up, could be sent off odds-on.
The current crop of novice chasers, headed by Shishkin on a Timeform rating of 165P, are an exceptional bunch and debate will rage among racing fans over which is the best.
We will get some clues at Cheltenham when Shishkin meets Energumene (163p), but for a definitive answer we might have to wait until the Punchestown Festival and hope Envoi Allen (160P) meets Monkfish (164p) as both have looked horses of rare ability. They have been so impressive, in fact, that it's difficult to take on either at Cheltenham.
Monkfish showed he is not short of speed when producing his best effort yet in the Flogas Novices' Chase over an extended two miles and five furlongs at the Dublin Racing Festival last time, but he will have no issue stepping back up to three miles in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.
He had won his previous start – also a Grade 1 – over three miles at Leopardstown in December, while stamina appeared his forte when bravely winning a strong renewal of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival. Monkfish beat the likes of Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Thyme Hill despite displaying signs of greenness, and he has shown himself to be an improved model this year having matured physically.
With Royale Pagaille – who is also owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci – likely to run elsewhere, Monkfish will be at least 10 lb clear on Timeform ratings and should be incredibly hard to beat if in similar form as when an 11-length winner of the Flogas.
No horse in training has a higher Timeform rating than Chacun Pour Soi, whose figure of 176p puts him 8 lb clear of last year's Champion Chase winner Politologue.
Chacun Pour Soi would likely be arriving here with a Champion Chase already to his name had he not suffered a late setback which ruled him out on the morning of last year's race, but he can gain compensation this time to provide Willie Mullins with a first win in the event. Chacun Pour Soi has looked as good as ever in three starts this term, impressing in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown the last twice.
Those visually impressive performances are backed up by stunning efforts on the clock that leave little doubt he is worth at least a rating of 176, while the ‘p’ attached to is ratings shows that he retains the potential to rate even higher given the ease with which he has been winning.
Politologue is a top-class chaser but is a ten-year-old whose limit has been well established by this stage, while First Flow showed improved form to win the Clarence House at Ascot last time but benefited from being able to make the running under a superb ride and needs to prove as effective going left-handed at Cheltenham.
According to the market the greatest threat to Chacun Pour Soi is provided by Altior, a dual winner of the race, but his laboured second at Kempton in December suggested he is a fading force.
Timeform ratings indicate that Chacun Pour Soi is operating on a different level to the established two-mile chasers and he can prove as much at Cheltenham. Expect an authoritative, wide-margin win.
Appreciate It has achieved the highest Timeform rating of any novice hurdler this season and is clearly the one to beat in the Supreme, though a top price of 7/4 looks short enough given that he doesn't tower above his rivals at the head of the pecking order.
Appreciate It's Timeform rating of 148p – achieved courtesy of his nine-length win in the Future Champions Novices' Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas – places him just 1 lb clear of wide-margin Tolworth Hurdle winner Metier.
It is true that Appreciate It, who followed up in more workmanlike fashion at the Dublin Racing Festival, has much more substance to his form than Metier, but Harry Fry's hurdler has been winning by wide margins, clocking decent times and has not yet shown the ceiling of his ability.
Neither Appreciate It nor Metier has reached the level of a typical winner of the Supreme – the median winning Timeform rating in the last ten years is 155.5 – so it is likely that improvement will be required to score at the Festival.
Appreciate It looks to have a bigger effort in his locker, as denoted by the 'p' attached to his Timeform rating, but whether he will be able to show it on better ground over two miles is up for debate as he has always appealed as a strong stayer who will come into his own granted a stiffer test.
He's long been the number one contender for a trainer who has dominated the contest, but there is a hint of vulnerability that is not reflected in the price.
The fact Billaway is trained by Willie Mullins and is on an upward curve automatically entitles him to serious respect in the Festival Hunter Chase, though he looks short enough at around the 3/1 mark given his form is not the strongest on offer and he has shown some jumping frailties.
Billaway shaped with promise when runner-up in last year's race, though he was left behind after the last by It Came To Pass, who stayed on strongly up the hill to win by ten lengths.
That performance from It Came To Pass narrowly represents the best form on offer in the division, though Bob And Co and Billaway have run to a similar level this season.
Billaway has won his last two starts and beaten some of Ireland's leading hunter chasers, but his sloppy jumping is an ongoing concern and could prove costly over Cheltenham's stiff fences and in a big field, where gaining and maintaining a good position is of importance.
On two of Billaway's three outings this season Timeform's reporter has given him an 'x' in-running symbol, signifying that he has made mistakes, and he will be vulnerable unless improving in the jumping department.