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'A major player' - Kilcruit heads Mullins' Champion Bumper fabulous five

Kilcruit: made a huge impression at the Dublin Racing Festival
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4.50 Cheltenham 
Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) | 2m½f | 4-6yo | RTV

Sometimes it’s best to rely on what your eyes tell you, and only those in urgent need of a trip to Specsavers could fail to have been excited by the impression Kilcruit created in a Grade 2 Leopardstown bumper last month.

Sent off 11-10 favourite in what had been built up as a strong race - all nine of his rivals were previous bumper winners - there were shades of Arazi about the six-year-old Kilcruit as he cantered through the race and remained hard on the bridle at the top of the straight.

Admittedly, a strong pace meant that several failed to get home, but that should not detract from the performance.

After all, Kilcruit’s exceptional cruising speed meant he was still tanking while most had long cried enough.

That 12-length romp provided the perfect warm-up for this race, and it’s devilishly difficult to believe there is a better bumper horse in training.

If you’re still not convinced, remember the post-race quote from his trainer Willie Mullins, who has overseen the preparation of more equine stars than Sir Alex Ferguson put trophies on his mantelpiece: “That was unreal what he produced there".

Apart from the striking visual impression made by Kilcruit, he scores highly in other departments too.

For instance, Mullins has won this feature ten times in total, and taken four of the last ten, including 2020 scorer Ferny Hollow.

Ireland has dominated the race since its inception in 1992, and won 21 of the 28 runnings.

According to the market, fellow Irish raider Sir Gerhard, who recently joined Mullins from Gordon Elliott, will provide the biggest threat.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned six-year-old may not have been quite as eyecatching as Kilcruit when readily dismantling four opponents at odds of 4-9 in a Navan Listed race just before Christmas, but there was still an enormous amount to like about the performance.

Sir Gerhard: leading contender in the Champion Bumper

Sir Gerhard was purchased for £400,000 after his 3m point-to-point success, and he’s clearly got a bright future. His owners are bidding for a third straight success in this race.

Outside of the top two it’s perhaps best to focus on Three Stripe Life, who made a winning debut in a Navan bumper in January.

His reputation preceded the son of Leading Light, who was sent off 4-5 favourite and never looked in any danger of failing to land the odds.

A nine-length victory over Outlaw Peter leaves him with a significant amount to find on Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard, but the Navan third, Now Where Or When, had shown fair form prior to that race, and he’s definitely one to respect.

The Mullins-trained Ramillies started 4-1 second-favourite behind Kilcruit at Leopardstown, but has 27 lengths to make up on his stablemate from that race.

There is substance to Elle Est Belle’s Cheltenham race in which Dan Skelton’s mare dead-heated with Ishkhara Lady since the fourth, Allavina, and fifth, Martello Sky, recorded novice hurdle successes last month.

However, it’s incredibly hard to get away from the feeling that the Irish bumper form is on a different planet to the British equivalent, and this could be an occasion where all on both sides of the Irish Sea are embracing a new superstar in Kilcruit by 5pm.
Race analysis by Richard Birch

Could it be the locals who stop Willie Mullins?  

Nigel Twiston-Davies is the last British trainer to have kept the Champion Bumper on home soil with his success with Ballyandy in 2016 and the local trainer hopes his two runners represent the strongest of the home challengers.

The Gloucestershire trainer drew comparisons between I Like To Move It and stable star The New One after the exciting four-year-old won at Wincanton earlier this season – and he has run a fine second since, in the same Newbury bumper Ballyandy won before enjoying festival glory. The stable's other runner Super Six is two from two.

I Like To Move It: has looked impressive in his two wins this season

Twiston-Davies said: "We don't know about the Irish but hopefully we can be the best of the English. It's lovely to have two good chances.

"I think an awful lot of I Like To Move It. He's done nothing wrong and when he was second at Newbury it was the first time he's come off the bridle. He's got excuses for being beaten there and we think he's grown up a long since. Super Six has been superb in both his runs for us." 

Mullins magic

Willie Mullins has trained six of the nine top-three finishers in the last three years, winning with Relegate (2018) and Ferny Hollow (2020). He trains three of the top four in the betting forecast. 

Mullins has won the race ten times and often with one at a big price. Briar Hill (2013) and Relegate were both 25-1.

What they say

Denise Foster, trainer of Chemical Energy and Three Stripe Life
Three Stripe Life is a lovely horse. He looked very impressive at Navan and everybody here is excited about him for the future. They all think he’s a horse with real potential. Chemical Energy seemed to struggle at Leopardstown – maybe the ground was a bit slow for him. I’m not sure he ran his race there. He’s a nice horse and if he recaptures his earlier form he should run well.

Three Stripe Life: nine-length debut winner at Navan

Willie Mullins, trainer of Cool Jet, Kilcruit, Ramillies, Sir Gerhard and Grangee
Paul [Townend] has decided to ride Kilcruit and it's hard to disagree with that decision. He's been very impressive on his last two runs and we expect him to be a major player. Sir Gerhard was very impressive when winning his two bumpers but changing stables so close to a major event is not ideal. That said, he's settled in well and hopefully his natural ability will come to the fore. Ramillies showed up well turning for home at Leopardstown and his home work has improved since. A minor change of tactics could see him involved. Cool Jet won at Thurles last time and has improved at home since. However, that form may not be good enough here and we'll be pleased if he finishes in the first five. Grangee improved from Market Rasen to Leopardstown but this is a much tougher task.

Ben Pauling, trainer of Fine Casting
He's quite straightforward and I've thrown the kitchen sink at him over the last month to give him a way out if he wanted it but he came through with flying colours. He's an exciting horse for the future and should run a big race. On the English form he has as good a chance as any of them.

Paul Nicholls, trainer of Shearer
He's a nice horse but he's got it all to do. He was going to have one more run this spring so we thought we'd let him take his chance and he looks one of our better bumper horses. He'll run a tidy race then he'll be left until next season.

Richard Spencer, trainer of Wonderwall
I think the drying ground will be better for him. He does everything we ask him at home and we couldn't have him in any better shape. 

Dan Skelton, trainer of Elle Est Belle
I think she's my outsider of the week. She's a very talented horse, has won round the track and you can ride her cold to start off with. She gets 7lb and I'm very happy with her preparation. It's clearly very hard but she's stronger than she was in the autumn.
Reporting by James Stevens

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Ramillies showed up well turning for home at Leopardstown and his homework has improved since
E.W. Terms