Mullins focus on Festival

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IT WAS an interesting day of racing here yesterday, and it looks set to be a good weekend of racing elsewhere, with a thrilling line up at Kempton as all eyes begin to focus on the Cheltenham Festival.

The 3pm race is sure to be close, with favourite Hold On Julio now ruled out by trainer Alan King. The former point-to-point and hunter chase winner had to miss our own Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month through coughing and despite hoping to have him fit in time, King has ruled that he is not quite ready to come back. The Wroughton trainer will now look to Cheltenham, where Hold On Julio is early favourite for the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase.

With a successful weekend behind him, Willie Mullins will be looking to further shorten his odds to take the title of Cheltenham’s top trainer. The Closutton-based trainer had a buoyant weekend last week, with Mourad comfortably beating his resurgent stable-mate Mikael D’Haguenet by some six and a half lengths, giving Mullins his first Boyne Hurdle.

Mourad, expected to feature in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, had seemed to be out of form and Mikael D’Haguenet, with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, was favourite to win with odds of 4/11 after coming back from a year or so out with injury. But in the end Mikael, a former winner at Cheltenham and 2008 winner of his maiden hurdle, struggled to pick Mourad up, meaning Mullins’ horses took first and second place in the race, perhaps not in the order he had expected.

Our next meeting at Doncaster is Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3 for the Grimthorpe Chase.

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