When it came to the prestigious Cheltenham Festival, it’s fair to say that Min had become accustomed to living in the shadows of the of the legendary Altior. The pair first met at the Prestbury Park meeting in 2016, when they went head-to-head in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Willie Mullins-trained horse actually entered the Grade 1 race as the 15/8 favourite. However, jockey Ruby Walsh and Min were left in awe as the soon to be iconic pairing of Nico de Boinville and Altior pulled away to a seven-length victory.
That set the scene for what would coincide at the Festival for years to come. Min missed out on the 2017 event, as Altior eased to a victory in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase. But the old foes went neck-and-neck again the following year. This time it was in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but with Paul Townend in the saddle as opposed to Mullins, Min was left in the wake of de Boinville and Altior again, as the pair replicated their previous seven-length triumph.
It was an overall disappointing performance from Min in the 2019 Queen Mother. Of course, Altior was the victor, but instead of the Mullins-trained gelding romping home in second as expected, he was some way back in fifth.
It was a strange state of affairs. It is so rare that a horse in the iconic pink and green polka dot colours of Mrs Ricci and trained by Mullins has so little luck at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, that all changed last year when Min finally sealed his inaugural Cheltenham victory. Mullins had switched his tactics heading into the 2020 Gloucestershire-based meeting and Min was instead entered in the Ryanair Chase.
It was a gamble that paid off for the Irish trainer. The then nine-year-old was the 2/1 second favourite behind A Plus Tard (7/4), but the market leader was unable to keep up with the pace set by Min and Saint Calvados as they raced up the hill towards home.
As they crossed the finish line, little more than a neck separated Mullins’ horse from the 16/1 shot, but in the end it was enough to give Min that sought-after win, and we’re sure many punters would have had a smile on their face as they finally saw Min’s name up in writing in the horse racing results.
“We got the tactics wrong on him last year and it didn’t work out,” Mullins said in regards to that disappointing fifth place finish in the Queen Mother. “We changed things up this year and learnt our lesson – here he is now back at the top table.”
The Irish trainer also described the race as the ‘optimum trip’ for Min, so it comes as no surprise that he leads the early entries for this year’s day three showpiece event. But, landing successive wins in the race will be no easy feat for the 10-year-old.
Whilst he is currently the 5/1 favourite on the racecards, the early entries include last year’s Novices’ Handicap Chase winner Imperial Aura (6/1), Min’s stablemates Melon (8/1) and Allaho (8/1), last year’s favourite A Plus Tard (8/1) and even the dreaded Altior. However, a shot for a hattrick of Queen Mother victories is a much more likely scenario for the latter.
The big questions is: at 10 years of age does Min still have enough gas left in the tank to win a race of this caliber? We certainly hope so!