Mullins readies bumper Festival team

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The Independent Online

Nicky Henderson admitted last week to a gnawing sense that the Weatherbys Champion Bumper asks too much of a young horse. They take a very different view in Ireland, however, and once again key protagonists from last year return as strong fancies for the various novice hurdles at Cheltenham next week – most obviously Dunguib, but also Rite Of Passage and Quel Esprit.

Fourth place last year qualified Quel Esprit as best of no fewer than eight runners saddled by Willie Mullins, who has dominated the race with six wins already. His bumper team has been somewhat less dominant in Ireland this winter, having been held up by a bug, but he has dependably marshalled four possibles for next Wednesday – and reckons them collectively "better than one or two" of his previous Cheltenham winners.

All four have won their only start at Fairyhouse – all ridden by the trainer's son, Patrick – though Lios A Choill has not been seen for over a year. "Day of A Lifetime won like he was working, as he had been showing lots of ability at home," Mullins said. "Bishopsfurze hated the sticky ground. Patrick just banked on getting him balanced and galloping in the straight. Once he got him going he devoured the ground, he must have made up 20 lengths. It was reminiscent of Cousin Vinny, so he's fairly good.

Up Ou That did it very well on bad ground after the big freeze. He won by 16 lengths, and his pedigree suggests he'll be better on better ground. I would give him a chance, as he will improve. Lios A Choill had an injury but we're going to try and get him ready for Cheltenham." Of the opposition, Mullins told At The Races that he has been impressed with Shot From The Hip, Forty Foot Tom and Al Ferof. But he will not have to worry about Kieren Fallon, who has turned down the mount on Old McDonald to remain in Dubai. Noel Glynn has found a top-class deputy in Paul Carberry.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nnap By Command (9.0 Wolverhampton) Thriving for his new stable and still very well handicapped, going best when hampered last time.

Next Best Top Flight Splash (4.0 Lingfield) Another to show immediate improvement for a new trainer.

One To Watch Viscount Rossini (S Gollings) never recovered from a mistake at Huntingdon the other day but is coming back to the boil.

Where The Money's Going Quantitativeeasing is 10-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the Coral Cup.