Friday 16 November 2018

No stopping Mullins as reinvention helps him to stay ahead of the pack

Willie Mullins with Faugheen at Closutton yesterday. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie
Willie Mullins with Faugheen at Closutton yesterday. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie

Michael Verney

The unofficial mantra of the Marines is "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome" but it's also clearly a motto which 12-time champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins has modelled his career around.

Clint Eastwood uttered those famous words to his soldiers in the 1986 military film 'Heartbreak Ridge' and Mullins may have done similar to his Closutton team after famously parting ways with Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud just over two years ago.

Ruby Walsh riding out with Un De Sceaux. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie
Ruby Walsh riding out with Un De Sceaux. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie

Mullins was left in a daunting position when 60 of his finest horses were ferried out of his Carlow yard in the autumn of 2016 and transported to his competitors but he didn't take the setback lying down.

Prolific With trainers' championship rival Gordon Elliott the main benefactor, many predicted an end to Mullins' dominance and considering the precarious position he was in, his comeback has been quite extraordinary.

Realising that one owner doesn't make or break a yard, Mullins bolstered his team significantly with a host of new owners from all parts of the country, and outside of it, and a variety of backgrounds.

The likes of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede (Footpad), Tony Bloom (Penhill), Sullivan Bloodstock Limited (Laurina), Paul McKeon (Relegate) and many others have enjoyed greater involvement with Mullins in Gigginstown's absence.

His seven Cheltenham Festival winners in March were for seven different owners, while a staggering 14 of his record-breaking 18 Punchestown Festival triumphs were for different connections.

Always shy of heaping praise on his own shoulders, the 62-year-old is delighted to have negated what looked like "a certain disaster" and bounce back better than ever thanks to those who supported him during a seamless transition.

"It's tremendous, we're delighted. From what looked a sort of certain disaster, we managed to weather it well. We were delighted with the way people rallied around and supported us and it's worked out well," Mullins says.

Having overcome a sizeable deficit to leapfrog Elliott in spectacular fashion at the end of last season, Mullins has taken no chances this year.

Despite trailing handsomely at this stage in 2016 and '17, Mullins recently smashed Elliott's record for the fastest 100 Irish winners in a season and has an astonishing 107 victories on the board at the end of October before the real jumping season commences.

With nearly €700,000 in hand on Elliott - who has decided to campaign many horses in Britain already this year with an impressive 44pc strike-rate and 35 winners - the title race already looks like a one-horse race, but Mullins insists a fast start is more to do with circumstances than planning.

"It wasn't a conscious decision, I wasn't even thinking beyond Punchestown really. When we recovered from that I looked at what was left in the yard and thought, 'Woah, we have a huge amount of good ground horses and we may as well keep them going'," he says.

"A lot of them should have gone out to grass like we would normally do and I said if we let these out to grass they're going to come in big as bulls and it's going to take us all year to get them right. I never dreamt that the ground was going to be so firm, and it still is."

After being ushered into the Cheltenham Hall of Fame last week - where he has a record 61 Festival successes - there's little left for Mullins to achieve but he has a bullseye on the Gold Cup.

After finishing runner-up on six occasions, Mullins has high hopes that Footpad may be the horse to finally break his duck after a scintillating novice campaign headlined by victory in this year's Arkle.

Mullins' thirst for success never wanes and the same can be said for stable jockey Ruby Walsh, who is fit and injury-free as the jumps season kicks into gear.

"He's a huge rider to have on your side. I actually wanted him out for the summer, I told him I wanted him for the winter not the summer," he says.

"He's planning horses' campaigns more than I am. He can't wait to get going and it's good to have guys itching to go, you know there's a hunger there."

Mullins on his leading lights

FAUGHEEN: "Very pleased with him. Not decided if he will go novice chasing or hurdling but hurdling is the favourite at the moment."

BELLSHILL: "He's one I'm going to try and make into a Gold Cup horse. He'll go the staying chaser's route.

FOOTPAD: "He can do any trip from 2m to 3m and the 'King George' at Christmas is a possibility. He's top-class whatever trip he goes."

LAURINA: "We'll go the Champion Hurdle route but if that doesn't work out, she could come back to Mares' Hurdle."

SALDIER: "We think he's a really nice horse and he may have a Champion Hurdle entry but maybe in a year's time he might be better aimed for that race."

Irish Independent

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