Djakadam set to head Willie Mullins’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hopes

Djakadam, seen being ridden by Ruby Walsh last year at Aintree, is set for another tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, having finished second in both 2015 and the following year (Picture: David Davies/PA).
Djakadam, seen being ridden by Ruby Walsh last year at Aintree, is set for another tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, having finished second in both 2015 and the following year (Picture: David Davies/PA).
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WILLIE MULLINS, Ireland’s perennial champion trainer, is hopeful of finally breaking his Cheltenham Gold Cup duck.

Though his late father won the blue riband race in 1986 when Dawn Run became the first – and only – horse to win both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, Mullins has had no luck in the big race.

His horses have been runner-up on no fewer than six occasions, which is why he is likely to be mob-handed in this year’s renewal that will feature Brian Ellison’s Yorkshire challenger Definitly Red.

The Mullins runners are likely to be headed by the Ruby Walsh-ridden Djakadam, who was second to Coneygree in 2015 and then Don Cossack 12 months later.

Fourth to Sizing John in last year’s race, Mullins hopes Cheltenham will reignite the Rich Ricci-owned horse, who is winless since December 2016.

“There’s a lot of feeling that he should go back to the Ryanair, and that might happen, but I feel he should go for the Gold Cup,” said Mullins.

As well as Killultagh Vic and Bachasson, Mullins is due to be represented by Total Recall, who is a leading candidate for the Grand National after winning the Ladbrokes Trophy – formerly the Hennessy – at Newbury.

“Total Recall obviously had the Grand National as his main aim, but I think he’s going to go for the Gold Cup,” he said. “He’s a relaxed horse and he jumps economically so I think that will suit him in a Gold Cup.

“I’ve been second six times, but some good trainers won’t have six runners in it in their careers so I think I’ve been lucky. We’ve a nice hand this year. It looks an open race and if you have a horse of that calibre you have a go.”

Champion jockey Richard Johnson recorded his 150th winner of the campaign when Looksnowtlikebrian prevailed at Ayr yesterday.

Johnson, who is due to ride Colin Tizzard’s Native River in next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, is seeking a third consecutive championship and is currently 28 winners clear of the pursuing Harry Skelton.

“It’s fantastic. 100 winners is always the initial target, but then it moves onto 150, which I’m delighted to achieve,” said the jockey who was the regular runner-up to the now retired Sir AP McCoy.

“There’s not one person or one horse that can make it happen and I couldn’t do this without the fantastic support of all the owners and trainers. It’s a big team effort and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

North Yorkshire jockey Andrew Thornton will take part in a Cheltenham preview event next week. Twenty years after his Gold Cup win on Cool Dawn, the weighing room veteran and top media pundit is appearing at the Yorkshire Racing Club event on March 6. It starts at 7.45pm at Pudsey Liberal Club.