Comment - Battle lines drawn at Fairyhouse for Mullins-Elliott title war as odds tighten
The curtain will come down on the National Hunt season at Punchestown but the destination of the trainer's title will most likely be decided this weekend at Fairyhouse.
Gordon Elliott appears poised to end Willie Mullins hopes of a 10th straight title this season but the master of Closutton won't be giving up on the fight just yet.
Elliott's rise to a position of power is akin to the Soviets victory over the Nazis at Stalingrad. Sheer weight of numbers has given him the edge.
Despite losing 60 horses from the Gigginstown juggernaut after his well-publicised split with Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, Willie Mullins numbers this season are largely similar to those achieved in his past victories in the trainers race.
He actually only trails Elliott by €5,000 on terms of winning prizemoney and he is only 20 winners shy of the number he achieved last season with Fairyhouse, Punchestown and just under five weeks of racing still remaining.
Elliott has eclipsed Mullins in terms of place money won, and this is no doubt down to the fact that he has saddled over 1,100 runners this season.
To put the figure in context, it's almost as many runners as Mullins, Noel Meade (currently third in the standings) and Henry de Bromhead (fourth) combined.
He has earned €1.15m in place money compared to Mullins' €800k.
Can Mullins bridge a gap of almost €360,000? Punters seem to think so. Mullins odds have shortened from 7/2 to 2/1 while Elliott has gone from 1/6 to 1/3.
With huge pots still up for grabs, it would be crazy to rule out a late surge from Willie and Ruby and their entries for Fairyhouse this weekend suggest they are up for the battle.
Yorkhill will be a very short-priced favourite for Sunday's €100,000 Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase.
The irony of Mulllins closing the gap in a race sponsored by Mr O'Leary won't be lost on racegoers, especially given the fact that the airline chief recently suggested that they had sent a small team to Aintree to give Elliott the bet chance of taking the trainer's title.
Mullins appears to be holding all the aces in the €100,000 Grade 1 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle with impressive Cheltenham winner Let's Dance and Royal Bond winner Airlie Beach entered.
Elliott has entered three horse to Mullins one in the Tattersalls Sales Bumper on Sunday, which is also worth €100,000.
Both Mullins and Elliott have suggested that Easter Monday’s Fairyhouse National – and the largest ever prize-fund for a National Hunt race in Ireland of €500,000 – as a potentially decisive factor ahead of the season finale at Punchestown.
The county Meath handler could run 10 of the 30 horses permitted in the race.
Neither of the men have won the race and Jessica Harrington Our Duke currently heads the betting market.
Mullins may need a favour in the national to keep pace with the man from Cullentra House.
Mullins has entered no fewer than 15 horses in the Glascarn Handicap Hurdle on Tuesday and is clearly hoping to take home most of the €100,000 on offer.
After our amazing exploits at Cheltenham, a record 19 winners, and a thrilling race for the trainer's title, we could be reflecting on one of the greatest ever national hunt seasons on the last day of the Punchestown festival.