Willie Mullins aiming quartet at Gold Cup in search of elusive first win
Willie Mullins is likely to run four in a bid to end his Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup hoodoo at the festival next month.
The Irish champion trainer plans to run Bellshill, Al Boum Photo, Kemboy and Invitation Only in the £625,000 feature, a race that has so far eluded the most successful trainer in the history of Cheltenham.
All four of his Gold Cup contenders are set to enter the race off the back of a victory following Bellshill's small-field Irish Gold Cup win at Leopardstown.
Kemboy was a wide-margin scorer of the Savills Chase at the same course over Christmas, Al Boum Photo triumphed at Tramore on New Year's Day, and Invitation Only impressed when winning the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month.
Mullins said: "Bellshill is now the horse we thought he would be. It's all coming together. He jumps particularly well and stays. There is more improvement in him from what he showed at Leopardstown.
"I don't think we have seen the best of Al Boum Photo yet. There is more to come."
The Closutton trainer typically sends about 60 horses to Cheltenham, but is expecting to send "only around 40 this year". Racing Post Arkle contender Cilaos Emery may not be among the travelling party after Mullins announced that the seven-year-old, a 9-2 shot for the race on Wednesday morning, had pulled a muscle schooling at Navan on Sunday and is now a major doubt.
One who remains firmly on course for Cheltenham is defending Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle champion Penhill, despite not being seen on the track since trailing home in second behind stablemate Faugheen at Punchestown in April.
The eight-year-old, owned by Tony Bloom, is likely to renewal his rivalry with 2015 Champion Hurdle hero, who is reportedly in good order following his nasty fall at Leopardstown in December.
Mullins said: "Penhill is coming along nicely, but he's one of those you have to check every single morning to make sure he's okay. He will have a few more searching pieces of work between now and Cheltenham.
"Ruby [Walsh] had not asked Faugheen a single question when he fell [behind Apple's Jade]. He said he was really happy at the time. He goes for the Stayers' Hurdle and I'm very happy with him."
Benie Des Dieux will head straight to Cheltenham to defend her OLBG Mares' Hurdle crown, while recent Clonmel winner Allaho is more likely to run in the Albert Bartlett than the Ballymore according to his trainer, who also issued an upbeat bulletin on last year's Arkle winner Footpad. He holds entries in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase.
"He schooled very well at Navan last week, it was more like the Footpad of last year," said Mullins.
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