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Willie Mullins has another strong Champion Bumper team for Cheltenham

Willie Mullins has five of the 41 entries left in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, with Black Hercules and Shaneshill rated his best hopes of landing a ninth win in this Cheltenham Festival National Hunt Flat race.

The Irish handler has struck here for the last two seasons with Champagne Fever and Briar Hill, while Wither Or Which (1996), Florida Pearl (1997), Alexander Banquet (1998), Joe Cullen (2000), Missed That (2005) and Cousin Vinny (2008) also obliged.

Killultagh Vic and Westhorpe strengthened his hand with wins on the Emerald Isle last weekend, while French import Aminabad scored on his racecourse bow at Leopardstown last month, but Black Hercules and Shaneshill have arguably shown the best form of the quintet so far.

Having landed a point-to-point last spring, Black Hercules made his debut under rules when keeping on well to strike at Punchestown in December and then again stayed on strongly to follow up at Gowran Park in the style of a horse with a big future.

Shaneshill, who is also owned by Graham Wylie, has a lot to live up to as a half-brother to useful Flat performer Far Cry, a Doncaster Cup victor and Ascot Gold Cup runner-up, but he has certainly looked capable of upholding family honour during bumper wins at Naas and Fairyhouse.

Trainer's son Patrick rides most of the stable's winners in this sphere and he said: "The two obvious ones are Mr Wylie's horses Black Hercules and Shaneshill. The latter will probably handle good ground really well as he's a half-brother to a Group 2 winner on the Flat, whereas Black Hercules probably needs a bit of cut, as he's a real three-mile chaser in the making. I wouldn't mind riding either of them."

Mullins junior has a particular soft spot for Black Hercules, having originally bought the gelding with his brother and preparing him for the rigours of racing before recommending him to leading owner Wylie.

"Emmett and myself bought him, broke him and got him ready for a point-to-point, which he won," added Patrick on At The Races. "To me, he's a gorgeous horse. Mr Wylie bought him and so just for him to prove what we thought of him was right was a huge weight off our shoulders.   

"Black Hercules is not slow but he probably wants a real good gallop to be seen at his best. At Gowran Park we went a really strong gallop and he picked up well off it in the straight. Shaneshill is a bit skinnier and a bit smaller and has a Flat pedigree for speed, whereas sometimes you need a bit of a stayer to win at Cheltenham as you've got to go up the hill, so I think Black Hercules is more like Briar Hill in that respect as he's a real National Hunt horse who stays well."

Patrick Mullins chose right with Champagne Fever in 2012 but allowed Ruby Walsh to ride Briar Hill last term and opinions will vary over which contender has the better chance this time around.


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Willie Mullins has another strong Champion Bumper team for Cheltenham

Willie Mullins has five of the 41 entries left in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, with Black Hercules and Shaneshill rated his best hopes of landing a ninth win in this Cheltenham Festival National Hunt Flat race.

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