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Cheltenham Update: Mullins' riches on full display

It's already been quite the busy week of festive racing in the UK and Ireland and we are taking a look at how some of the Cheltenham Festival markets have been impacted.

Nobody has enjoyed more success this week than Willie Mullins, though even he might struggle to find anything good enough to give Constitution Hill any food for thought. 

Mullins machine in fine working order

Willie Mullins has dominated the Leopardstown Christmas Festival across the opening half of the meeting. 

Ireland's champion trainer remarkably had six of the seven race winners on day two, while the omission was Real Steel – a former inmate at his Closutton base. 

It's an embarrassment of riches at times for the Mullins machine and that was emphasised when Blue Lord won the two-mile Grade 1 chase under Daryl Jacob on Tuesday. 

Stablemate Chacun Pour Soi made a juddering error in the back straight, but he'd likely have struggled to keep tabs on Blue Lord in any case. 

In a style only he is accustomed to, Mullins now has a headache. In Energumene, he holds the king of the two-mile realm and Allaho is his middle-distance ace in the pack – so where next for Blue Lord, who is now 7/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and 6/1 for the Ryanair Chase, remains to be seen.

With such an embarrassment of riches, Cheltenham's all-time most successful trainer will have a decision to make. 

"I had marked him down as a two-and-a-half-mile horse so to come to Leopardstown at Christmas, join all the best two-milers and absolutely rout them is extraordinary," said Mullins. 

"On the basis of what he has done there he might be a Champion Chase horse. The dial seems to be coming back that way rather than going out in trip. The general consensus was that we should go up in trip, but we'll have to have a rethink after today. He seems to be improving." 

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Facile Vega does things easily

Facile Vega won the Future Champions Novice Hurdle on day two at Leopardstown and remains the 1/1 favourite for Supreme Novices' glory at Cheltenham in March.

Last season's outstanding bumper performer is now 2-2 over timber and a Grade 1 winner over sticks. It says as much about the esteem in which Facile Vega is held as anything else in the fact that he was an easy winner of this Grade 1 and onlookers were left somewhat underwhelmed. 

Mullins has now won the Future Champions Novice Hurdle and the Supreme seven times each, but only once has he done the double with the same horse in the same season – Appreciate It in 2019-20. The maestro felt this Christmas success will have aided him plenty. 

"I think he'll learn an awful lot. The big crowd and all the buzz before the race itself, all that will be a help for him in the future. It doesn't really matter to him where he is in a race. He can lead now and we're not too worried," said Mullins. 

Home By The Lee confirms Stayers' credentials

Joseph O'Brien's Home By The Lee is now the 6/1 favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle on 16th March following his impressive success in the Jack De Bromhead Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday.  

Winner of the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan last month over 2m4f, Home By The Lee was expected by the market to struggle to confirm those placings with the likes of runner-up Bob Olinger and Flooring Porter in competition.

The latter, winner of the last two Stayers' Hurdles, had the run of this race but was powerless to prevent Home By The Lee surging home on his outside, with Ashdale Bob taking second spot. 

Bob Olinger, sent off favourite, was only fifth in the end as Oliver McKiernan's Meet And Greet pipped Flooring Porter for third. 

Home By The Lee is a seemingly improving seven-year-old and his trainer confirmed he is likely to head straight to Cheltenham next. Flooring Porter, meanwhile, is now 8/1 to complete a Stayers' Hurdle hat-trick for Gavin Cromwell.

Constitution Hill continues march towards Champion Hurdle 

At Kempton on Boxing Day, Bravemansgame advertised his Gold Cup credentials in giving Paul Nicholls a record-extending 13th King George win but there was also another spell-binding success for Constitution Hill in the Christmas Hurdle.

The unbeaten star has now recorded successive Grade 1 wins in open company this season and looked even more impressive here than he had done last month at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. 

Nico de Boinville was adamant his partner had been "dossing" for most of the race but Constitution Hill still careered away to win by 17-lengths from Epatante. 

He is now 2/7 to win the Champion Hurdle on 14th March and richly deserves his place at the head of that market.  

The Seven Barrows trainer all but ruled out the possibility of sending Constitution Hill to the Dublin Racing Festival in February. 

"Most trainers would agree that having an 'away game' as close to Cheltenham as the Irish Champion Hurdle is not the way you'd choose to prepare a horse for a race like the Champion Hurdle," said Henderson. 

Savills Chase win for Conflated

Winner of the Irish Gold Cup back in February, Conflated notched the second Grade 1 of his career in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday and is now 10/1 from 25/1 for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory on 17th March.  

Winning rider Jack Kennedy suggested post-race that Conflated is a 'small bit quirky' though he says the horse is now learning to relax more. 

The Savills Chase was deprived of a star turn when Henry De Bromhead's reigning Gold Cup kingpin A Plus Tard became a non-runner on raceday and Conflated took advantage in fine style. 

As was the case in that Gold Cup win in February, Conflated pushed on from early in the race and that proved a master-stroke from Kennedy as he stretched the field out under a sound jumping performance. 

Still relatively unexposed over three-miles, owners Gigginstown House Stud will be hoping they now have another genuine contender for Blue Riband glory in the Cotswolds come March. 

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