Mullins and Elliott set for trainer's battle royale Part II
The battle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott for the trainers' title may have been Irish sport's most engrossing duel of 2017, writes Eamonn Sweeney.
Yet the way Mullins overhauled Elliott in the Punchestown finale led to suggestions that normal service would be restored this season.
Yesterday at Fairyhouse provided compelling evidence that we're in for another battle royale in 2018 as Elliott became the first trainer ever to win all three Group One races at the December meeting. The clean sweep saw Elliott's odds cut to 6/4 while Mullins' drifted to 8/15.
All three winners seemed significant in relation to the battle between the big two. Cheltenham's Supreme Novices Hurdle had been a Mullins speciality in recent times before Labaik's victory for Elliott at last year's festival. Mengli Khan's easy victory in the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle makes him favourite for this year's race.
Apple's Jade scored one of Elliott's signal Cheltenham victories last year, defeating two Mullins powerhouses, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag, in the Mares Hurdle. Yesterday she had nine lengths to spare over another Mullins star, Nichols Canyon, in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle. The highly-rated Death Duty's win in the Drinmore Novices Chase also saw a Mullins horse, Rathvinden, relegated to the runners-up slot. The symbolism was unmistakable.
Yet, it was also a good weekend for Mullins who sent over Total Recall to win the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury. With Faugheen finally back in action and wonder horse Douvan returning at Sandown next weekend, the title favourite will also feel things are ticking over nicely.
This one is going all the way to the wire. Or Punchestown, as it's also known.