Friday 22 September 2017

After a year when his invincibility was challenged Mullins could yet take blue riband

Trainer Willie Mullins after winning the Racing Post Novice Chase during the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown. Photo: PA Wire
Trainer Willie Mullins after winning the Racing Post Novice Chase during the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown. Photo: PA Wire

Eamonn Sweeney

This time last year Willie Mullins looked to be at the height of his powers. He had a dozen ante-post favourites for Cheltenham and seemed certain to break the record of eight Festival winners he'd set the previous year. Mullins was a monarch without rivals. There was no sign of a successor emerging any time soon.

The record didn't materialise the following month at Cheltenham but there were still seven wins and another leading trainer title. Djakadam might once more have just missed out on breaking his trainer's Gold Cup duck but the Champion Hurdle showed the awesome strength in depth of the Mullins stable, the absence of reigning champion Faugheen being set at nought when Annie Power won by the biggest margin since 2004. And in Vautour, whose Ryanair Chase win was his third impressive Festival victory on the trot, Mullins seemed to have the horse to finally make the Gold Cup breakthrough.

There followed a winter of discontent. In September, Michael O'Leary removed his 60 horses from the Mullins stable after a row about training fees and gave the best of them to Gordon Elliott, enabling the Meath man to emerge as a serious rival to Mullins.

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