Wednesday 15 August 2018

Numbers game adds up to title joy for Mullins

Nina Carberry steers Josies Orders (No 4) over the ‘Big Double’ on her way to victory on Saturday, before anouncing her retirement. Photo: PA.
Nina Carberry steers Josies Orders (No 4) over the ‘Big Double’ on her way to victory on Saturday, before anouncing her retirement. Photo: PA.

Monday outlook: Michael Verney

Figures and statistics can often be a bore, but in order to get a clearer picture of Willie Mullins' extraordinary achievements at this year's Punchestown Festival they are entirely necessary.

Walking away with 18 winners from 38 races, the Closutton maestro ended the week on 118 career Festival victories and monopolised prize money to the tune of €1,757,300.

That equates to a little under 60pc of the total €3,047,500 fund up for grabs and while his Irish Trainers' Championship battle with Gordon Elliott was being billed as one for the ages, the Meath trainer had raised the white flag and conceded defeat after just two days.

Trailing by a whopping €521,414 at the start of proceedings, what followed was a pummelling of epic proportions which saw Mullins secure his 12th trainers' title - his 11th in succession - by a scarcely believable €809,524.

Champions all – Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed (third from right) with the champions from the 2017/’18 National Hunt season. From left: Eddie O’Leary (representing owners Gigginstown), Patrick Mullins (amateur rider), Donie McInerney (conditional), Lisa O’Neill (lady amateur), Davy Russell (champion jockey) and Willie Mullins (champion trainer).
Champions all – Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed (third from right) with the champions from the 2017/’18 National Hunt season. From left: Eddie O’Leary (representing owners Gigginstown), Patrick Mullins (amateur rider), Donie McInerney (conditional), Lisa O’Neill (lady amateur), Davy Russell (champion jockey) and Willie Mullins (champion trainer).

Mullins seems to abide by the Brian Cody mantra of the scoreboard only mattering when the final whistle is blown, something not lost on Rich Ricci.

Ricci was somewhat critical of his trainer's form after a fallow Christmas period, but praised the genius of the Carlow handler to have his horses peaking at season's end after Faugheen rolled back the years to take the Stayers Hurdle.

"It drives me crazy that we're still behind and that our horses aren't right until January and that it all comes down to Punchestown, but it's the way he does things and it's just magic. It works for him, and it works for us," Ricci said.

Losing 60 top-class horses from Gigginstown House Stud in September 2016 has forced Mullins to reinvent himself and the variety of owners in the yard - his first 12 winners were for 12 different owners - represent a stable that is always evolving, as he equalled Tom Dreaper by winning a dozen titles.

"I'm humbled to be alongside him in statistics. He was sort of God when we were growing up. I'm delighted for my whole team, because they take huge pride in it. We've built up a good team of people," a modest Mullins said.

"Patrick (Mullins), David Casey and Ruby (Walsh) and my wife Jackie. It's just an awesome team. I'm enjoying training as much as ever and trying to find new horses and identify them and having nice winners. It's not getting any easier - Gordon is making sure of that!"

As for Elliott, it says a lot about the measure of the man that he kept smiling even though it must have felt like sitting in the dentist's chair.

When Paul Townend gifted The Storyteller the Champion Novice Chase, it looked like the ball was bouncing his way, but normal order was quickly resumed.

Samcro's fall in the Champion Hurdle with three to jump was a picture of his week and having watched Mullins make hay in most of the championship races, it's already clear in his head what he needs to do to reach his holy grail.

Hardened

"It'll take us a couple of years. You need the older horses, the hardened, graded horses to win a trainers' championship. You see what Willie is doing, finishing 1-2-3 in those big races. That's what I need to do," Elliott remarked.

Having broken the existing prize money record - he also became the first Irish trainer to hit the 200 winner mark (it finished Mullins 212 to Elliott's 210) in a season - and still come up short is heartbreaking, but his time will come.

Another already announcing his name on the big stage is David Mullins and after guiding both Faugheen and brilliant Gold Cup winner Bellshill to glory, get used to seeing the Grand National-winning jockey's name in lights.

As trailblazers Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh exited stage left on a winning note, Rachael Blackmore proved her class yet again with Mullins correct in his firm opinion that she "should be called a good jockey, not a lady jockey".

Davy Russell was rewarded for a stellar season with a third jockeys' crown, Donal McInerney was leading conditional rider and Lisa O'Neill the champion lady pilot, while Townend was leading Festival jockey with five winners.

Bouncing back from a career-low on Al Boum Photo on Tuesday to ride out of his skin 24 hours later - his performance on Next Destination was as good as you will see - says all you need to know about him, although the handling of the incident and lack of timely information provided by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board did leave a sour taste.

Supasundae got his just desserts, taking the Champion Hurdle for Jessica Harrington, while Footpad left us all purring at the thoughts of Champion Chase clash with Altior.

The sole British winner was Caid Du Berlais for Rose Loxton in Friday's Hunters Chase but what of Barry Geraghty, who left empty-handed and with plenty of food for thought over the coming months.

Ride of the week

To go out on your own terms with a winner is one thing, but to go out by edging out Geraghty in a driving finish is symbolic of Katie Walsh's career. Picking up a spare ride on Antey for Mullins, Walsh came from a mile back before throwing the kitchen sink at her mount to score by a nose from Shady Operator. A class act to the end.

Quote of the week

"It was like Charlie when he gets Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket."

Patrick Mullins - later crowned champion amateur for a 10th time - fulfilled his ambition to partner the mighty Un De Sceaux and it was everything he ever dreamed of as the teak-tough 10-year-old strode to Champion Chase success last Tuesday.

Tweet of the week

What many of our lost friends would give to be still here riding in Punchestown taking an incorrect course. To name a few. Sean Cleary, Kieran Kelly, JT McNamara. #prospective #life

Jockey Paddy Brennan @PaddyBrennan81 puts perspective on some of the character assassinations of Townend after his bizarre final fence mistake aboard Al Boum Photo.

Gamble of the week

Having plundered the last two Goffs Land Rover Bumpers, it stood to reason that there might be plenty of interest in whatever Robert Tyner was running, so there was surprise when Design Matters was priced up as big as 100/1. That was gone pretty quickly, to be fair, but after going off 12/1 he found the Elliott string too hot to handle, finishing best of the rest in fourth after the Cullentra handler landed a 1-2-3.

Irish Independent

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