24 Mar

Philip Sale | Thursday March 24 2022, 2:17pm | Racing Comment

At the time of writing Gaelic Warrior can backed at 20/1 with bet365, Sky Bet, William Hill, Coral and Unibet for the 2023 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle. 

James's Gate can be backed at 12/1 with bet365, William Hill, Sky Bet and Coral for the same race.

As backers of Sir Gerhard for the Supreme will attest, trying to second-guess the destination of a Willie Mullins Champion Bumper winner is a futile business. 

Assuming Facile Vega is as explosive over hurdles as in bumpers, the only certainty is that he will run in either the Supreme or the Ballymore. This does not help antepost punters and he is well worth leaving alone until the ink is dry on final declarations. 

With so much talent across all divisions and having won ten races this year, the 2023 Cheltenham Festival may bear witness to more Mullins horses having to take each other on than ever before.

If Facile Vega does embark on a Ballymore mission, two of his better opponents – namely James’s Gate and Gaelic Warrior – will hail from the same yard. Both horses are of great interest, not least because of the excellent performances they put in at this year’s festival, despite defeat. Unusually, one can also say with relative confidence that they will be running in the Ballymore and what is more, they are both double-figure prices.

"It is hard not to conclude that there is much more to come from Gaelic Warrior"

Those who balk at the chances of Gaelic Warrior will point to a tendency to jump right and the fact he failed to win the Boodles off a mark of 129. These are valid concerns, but there is room for optimism. Note Willie Mullins’ comments immediately after the race. “We will stay hurdling next season as he is still a maiden and he will be back here for the Ballymore next year.” 

It is hard not to conclude that there is much more to come from Gaelic Warrior, and easy to understand why the yard would have been licking their lips at a mark of 129. After all, Mullins is a man with seven Supremes, five Ballymores and three Albert Bartletts to his name, and if he considers Gaelic Warrior a horse good enough to contest the Ballymore – this being a race in which winners over the last decade average at an official rating of 151 – then the measly mark assigned to him presented the horse with a huge opportunity in the Boodles.

Ultimately, he went down by a short head to winner Brazil (a full-brother to 2017 St Leger winner Capri). Brazil is a vastly more experienced horse who gave an impressive 8lbs to Gaelic Warrior and looks more than capable of competing in Grade 1 company before this season is out. Given this was Gaelic Warrior's stable debut, his first run outside France and just the fourth run of his life, his performance can be marked up significantly despite his generous weight. 

Whilst a Susannah Ricci-owned, Willie Mullins novice is not exactly a ‘Hail Mary,’ there will need to be improvement from the horse. But, with a seemingly fixed-target and plenty of time to gain experience and iron out his jumping, he is worth a punt at the prices.

The case for James’s Gate is a little more straightforward. Finishing third behind Facile Vega and American Mike in the Champion Bumper looks the strongest of form until we are proven otherwise, and he wasn’t exactly kicked out the way by the pair. Lest we forget James’s Gate only made his debut in late February (winning a Punchestown bumper how he liked) and to perform to this level, in what is a gruelling test for a young horse (he did not run in point-to-points) was wholly impressive.

"The disparity between his own price and that of Facile Vega and American Mike is enough to make him value"

It is no secret that James’s Gate’s owners – Sean and Bernardine Mulryan – like to have runners in their own race and it can almost be taken on trust that should he live-up to expectations over hurdles, he will try to emulate City Island, who won the race for the sponsors in 2019. In five years of sponsorship the owners have also been represented by Whatdeawant (3rd in 2022) and Longhouse Poet (8th in 2020). 

Given the son of Shantou is likely to improve considerably for the experience and a step-up in trip, the disparity between his own price and that of Facile Vega and American Mike is enough to make him value for a race he will surely run in. He remains an extremely exciting horse.

Image: Carine06 from UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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