Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Top Cheltenham trainer using Orford Ness as base ahead of festival

Orford Castle in Suffolk
Orford Castle

A number of top Irish trainers are currently readying themselves ahead of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival with a smattering of handlers having already made their way over to the UK in order to maximize preparation time.

Although Suffolk is largely associated with racing on the flat, a handful of jumps specialists have opted to base themselves in the county during the run-up to the prestigious four-day event. 

Willie Mullins, trainer of Al Boum Photo who is the 5/2 favourite for this year’s Gold Cup in the latest Cheltenham Odds, has opted to move east as he prepares his talented string for a trip to Prestbury Park.

He will be hoping that his talented nine-year-old can complete a historic hat-trick in the Blue Riband event, although the likes of A Plus Tard, Champ and Native River will all be hoping to thwart his bid. The latter is likely to be a popular choice and is listed amongst Betfair’s Cheltenham Gold Cup tips, however, the race hasn’t been won by an 11-year-old in more than 50 years.

Mullins’ relocation will help his team to acclimatize to the British weather, and with the prices of accommodation in Gloucestershire proving a little too steep, the frugal Irishman was understandably delighted to have found a similarly picturesque spot for a fraction of the price.

The County Carlow-based handler has also gained special permission to train his thoroughbreds at Orford Ness and will be using the National Trust-owned beauty spot for mid-morning workouts. Although he admits that the demise of Orfordness Lighthouse brings a tear to his eye, the Grand National-winning handler is looking forward to setting foot on the world-famous shingle. 

With the exception of Saint Roi, the trainer has a full complement of runners to choose from this year, and he’ll be hoping that his decision to decamp to East Anglia pays off. His fondness for the Heritage Coast began several years ago after watching a powerful documentary about the construction of the Quay Street car park on RTE.

Mullins is also famed for having a sweet tooth, and regularly places orders with Orford-based confectioner Pump Street Chocolate, and his choice of location was undoubtedly swayed by his love of locally hand-crafted treats. 

Although he is likely to be tied to an extremely restrictive schedule, Mullins has also vowed to visit Orford Castle during his stay. Having been an admirer of this unique polygonal structure for over four decades, the County Kilkenny-born trainer admits that he can’t afford to miss an opportunity to take a selection of selfies in the presence of one of England’s most complete and unusual keeps.

He isn’t the only Irish native to base themselves in this locale, with Noel Meade choosing to spend the next couple of weeks in Felixstowe, whilst jockey Jack Kennedy, who missed the 2020 festival due to injury, has found a lovely idyllic spot just outside of Earsham.

Although Suffolk doesn’t appear to be an obvious destination for jumps handlers, it is proving to be an extremely popular spot in 2021. Willie Mullins is just one of many Emerald Isle natives who will be hoping that their choice of county proves to be profitable this year, and having enjoyed plenty of success at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years, he is currently gearing up for yet another fascinating four days at Prestbury Park.

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