'CREATURE of habit' Willie Mullins is hoping he can tread a familiar path to Gold Cup glory with Al Boum Photo.
The leading trainer reckons his star chaser is at the top of his game as he prepares to defend his crown at Cheltenham.
The eight-year-old, who heads the betting at 4-1 with Betfair, warmed up for the Festival with victory at Tramore - the same race he won 12 months ago before winning the big one.
And County Carlow-based Mullins couldn't be happier with Gold Cup day just 23 days away.
Mullins said: "Last year worked out very well and I'm a creature of habit, so when it works well we want to do it again.
"He is nice and fresh off a confidence boosting prep run. It can be hard for Gold Cup winners to come back and win after the Gold Cup.
"I haven't pressed that many buttons with him and he isn't a horse who shows a lot at home.
"But we are on target, and with age and experience he could improve. He is going in there in good order and in a good frame of mind.
"He will have a school and a racecourse gallop before Cheltenham just to put the finishing touches to him."
But plans for the brilliant Rich Ricci-owned pair Faugheen and Benie Des Dieux are not so clear cut.
Mullins Festival snippets part one...
- Chacun Pour Soi: "He was much better at Leopardstown the other day, he needed the run at Christmas. I think he is improving all the time and I think he is going to be a big player in the Champion Chase. We are very happy with how he came out of the race. He showed us early on that he could be different class and the first day we schooled him it really opened our eyes. I'm very hopeful he will handle Cheltenham. It is a hell of a race."
- Kemboy: "I don't like it when a horse falls at a track like he did in the Gold Cup last year. He generally jumped well in the Irish Gold Cup last time. His two runs this year have been very good, we were pleased with him last time. He should get the best of the ground on the Friday of Cheltenham which will suit him. If he could finish in the top three or four in a Gold Cup I'd be delighted. But he has it all to do I think."
- Carefully Selected: "He looks born and bred for the National Hunt Chase. He gallops and jumps, he doesn't look very quick but he is deceptive. His last two runs he has looked beaten but come back and won well."
- Asterion Forlonge: "(Owner) Jim Donnelly said to me very early on, 'Willie do what you think is best'. And at the moment we think the horse should go for the Supreme. This horse had been aiming for the Albert Bartlett the last year, we didn't think he had any speed and he shows us very little at home. We ran him at the Dublin Festival to ask the question about where we should run at him Cheltenham, and I think we got our answer."
- The Big Getaway: "He will go for the Ballymore. I was delighted with him last time and he is coming along nicely. If you look at him, he is a future chaser, so you'd hope we are talking about him this time next year. I would have liked to get more experience into him but he is a good jumper and he has a huge engine. I think he has a fighting chance."
- Penhill: "He ran very well at Navan the other day. He has come out of the race well and I needed to get that run into him. It will put him right for the Stayers'. He's taken a lot more training this year and he is holding onto his condition much more this time. He will be given a day away as well, he needs a lot of work."
- Appreciate It: "He has done everything right. He is a real big chasing type, he stays well and he has a huge cruising speed, which is what you need at Cheltenham in the Bumper. The way he did it at Leopardstown was very impressive and I'm very happy with how he has progressed. He is one of our main hopes for the week."
Now a 12-year-old, Faugheen has found a new lease of life since going novice chasing this season.
He received a rousing reception when winning bravely in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown earlier this month.
And he could run in either the Marsh Novices' Chase or the RSA Chase.
Mullins explained: "He is fit and well after his run at Leopardstown. Myself and Rich haven't spoken about (his target).
"I couldn't get over the reaction in the stands, if ever I was moved at a race meeting, and I'm not very often, it was that day.
"It was some reception. Florida Pearl and Hurricane Fly both got great receptions there but Faugheen got the best I'd ever seen.
"It's amazing how the horse has captured the imagination. I've never said it's over with him, I always wanted to go chasing with him before he retired.
"The horse is in great form. To me, 12 and 13-year-old horses still have plenty of life in them. I'm very happy that he has come back and proven a point. We have to discuss where he goes now."
Mullins Festival snippets part two...
- Cash Back: "He reminds me of Un De Sceaux, his style of racing and running. If we get soft or heavy in the going desciption for him I will be very pleased. His attitude is fantastic and he is still improving, so we have got to believe we can reverse the Notebook form in the Arkle."
- Melon: "He will go for the Marsh Chase. He showed us last time out that he was ready for a trip. While his jumping is good, I don't think it's good enough for an Arkle. He has finished second at the Festival three times, he seems to bring his A-game to the meeting."
- Un De Sceaux: "Connections are very keen to run in the Champion Chase. We didn't get tactics right with him in the Ryanair last year, we dropped him in which wasn't the best idea, and he still has a huge amount of ability despite his age. I'd love to see lots of rain for him. It will be his last Cheltenham hurrah and Patrick will probably ride him.
- Easy Game: "I would like to run him where the ground is better. So that could mean the RSA on the Thursday over the Marsh, because this lad would like decent ground. Conditions will dictate where he goes. When we bought him we were thinking hurdles and Flat races, I never thought he would jump a fence. But when Robbie Power rode him over fences he was buzzing and said he is an absolute natural."
- Cilaos Emery: "After his win the other day I think we will be supplementing him for the Champion Hurdle. We thought we would run him in the Red Mills Trial to see what he could do, and he went there and did it. He wasn't spectacular but I loved the way he put the race to bed in a few strides after three out. It is such an open race this year. We've schooled him since Gowran and he jumped well. I think the pace of the Champion Hurdle will sharpen his jumping up even more. He can mix it, so he will likely go back over fences at some stage."
- Allaho: "Having had a chat with the owners, I'd say at the moment the RSA is the probable race for him. He lacks a bit of experience but he gallops and jumps, his jumping is a huge asset, and he stays very well. He was quite keen the other day, and that is the only reason we would still keep the Marsh under consideration. We will see how he works, at the moment I'm going RSA but we will weigh it up."
- Aione: "He gallops and jumps well and he has won his last two nicely at Gowran and Navan. He is an improving horse who stays well, so we would probably be leaning towards the Albert Bartlett."
And Benie Des Dieux, who won by a street on her comeback at Gowran, could yet run in either the Mares' Hurdle or the Stayers' Hurdle - though the former seems more likely.
Mullins continued: "She was a very unlucky loser in the Mares' last year. She is in that and the Stayers'.
"I thought what she did in France last year was incredible. She went and beat their unbeaten mare and they couldn't really believe what she did in Auteuil.
"I've curtailed her chasing career because it is easier to keep them sound. She hasn't run an awful lot because we have struggled to keep her sound.
"If I was to run her in a different race (at the Festival) I'd be looking at going up in trip, not down in trip. You're guaranteed to get soft in the description on the first day which is a big plus for her."