Willie Mullins is relishing the opportunity to prepare wonder mare Quevega for her shot at carving a unique place in Cheltenham Festival history.
All eyes will be on the legendary 10-year-old next Tuesday as she bids to surpass the achievements of five-time Gold Cup winner Golden Miller and become the first horse to win the same race at the Festival six times.
Ruby Walsh’s mount is hot favourite to achieve the feat in next Tuesday’s OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, which she has won without hardly breaking sweat for the past five years, just over half an hour after stablemate Hurricane Fly attempts to land the Stan James Champion Hurdle for the third time.
Mullins, the eight-time champion trainer in Ireland, said: “We’ve followed the same training regime every year and it’s worked out fantastically.
“To me, reading those old books about Cheltenham and Golden Miller winning five Gold Cups in a row, personally as a trainer I find it as satisfying as anything to be able to produce a horse to go back there every year. I enjoy that part of it as well.
“She has the ability and that’s key. We mind that ability and produce it on the days that count.”
Mullins explained how when Quevega first arrived at his stables in County Carlow, she wasn’t quite what he had been expecting.
But she has since developed into one of the greatest race mares of all time, with 12 wins from a glittering 16-race career with Mullins.
“When we first got her, we were looking for a fine big filly to go chasing with,” said Mullins.
“My agent found her for me after she’d won all her races in France.
“Anyway, I was standing at the back of a lorry waiting for this great, big mare to come down and this little thing runs out underneath me!
“I knew my money was spent but I got on the phone to the agent and said, ‘This filly’s not as big as I thought she’d be.’ He replied, ‘She’s got a big heart!’.
“But he was right and once we started to work her we could see what he was looking at.
“She’s gone from strength to strength. She had an injury and at the time we probably didn’t have anything like her.
“We had Hurricane Fly, but they weren’t what they are now, and we put everything into getting her right.”
Before Hurricane Fly and Quevega go for glory, Mullins and Walsh are hoping to make a blistering start to the meeting by winning the first two races with Vautour and Champagne Fever.
Vautour has yet to race at Cheltenham but looked good in racking up three wins over hurdles and is vying for favouritism in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Champagne Fever has won the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the past two Festivals and is favourite for the Racing Post Arkle Chase despite being beaten last time out after clattering through a fence.
Mullins said: “Champagne Fever is a long lean running machine whereas Vautour is a strong three-mile chaser-type.
“Possibly when Vautour won at Punchestown it wasn’t as visibly impressive as people might have expected for a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite.
“Champagne Fever has disappointed us twice going to Cheltenham and yet he has come right at Cheltenham.
“Usually his technique for jumping is good enough and I think that will be all right on the way.
“To me it’s horses for courses. It’s an old saying but it’s true. I hope he will be back on his A-game again at Cheltenham this year.
“That mistake last time was not like him. We thought long and hard about that and we’ll have that sorted.
“His style of jumping is the reason we’re going for that race. We’re hoping he’s a Gold Cup horse of the future, that’s where we’re aiming.”