Wednesday 20 September 2017

Champion trainer battle is going all the way to the winning post

Gordon Elliott Photo: Sportsfile
Gordon Elliott Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

At the start of racing yesterday, bookmakers could not split Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins in their market for the top National Hunt (jumps) trainer of 2016-2017.

Long was the road without a turn. Initially put in at odds-against when Gigginstown took 60 horses from him late last September due to a row over revised training fees, Mr Mullins was quickly backed into 1/6. Yet he was as big as 9/2 as Mr Elliott maintained and extended his lead earlier this month.

Trainer Willie Mullins Photo: Sportsfile
Trainer Willie Mullins Photo: Sportsfile

However, when shrewd punters did the maths before Punchestown began on Tuesday, they knew that Mr Mullins had a big chance. Considering those five dozen he lost - nearly half of which went to Mr Elliott - and that he was unable to run three of his best horses (Faugheen, Vautour and Annie Power) this season, it has been a phenomenal achievement on the part of the 60-year-old to be so close.

Seeking his 10th win, the trainers' title had become as much of a formality as an election in Pyongyang.

Initial betting sentiment when the bookies priced up the duel on news of Michael O'Leary's split from Mr Mullins suggested that the layers had gotten it wrong, that Mr Mullins still had far more top-class athletes than Mr Elliott.

Mr Elliott will finish the season with well over 1,200 Irish runners, smashing the previous Irish record and more than double what Mr Mullins turned out. However, he has far more run-of-the-mill animals than Mullins. At that level, purses are modest.

So close going into yesterday, Mr Mullins's treble changed everything.

He now leads by €91,295, yet if Mega Fortune wins for Elliott it may all rest on Apple's Jade - and how appropriate that would be. She was one of Mullins's most promising individuals until, due to being owned by O'Leary, she was rehoused in Elliott's stable.

She has already beaten a Mullins runner in two Grade Ones this season.

If she can emerge best in the 4.25, Elliott still has a chance.

Irish Independent

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