THERE is a scene in the 1980s Neil Jordan film Mona Lisa when the urbane master criminal played by Michael Caine delivers a haiku-style life lesson to the recently-released small-fry Bob Hoskins on the secret of his success. "It's all in the little things. The little things."
o sooner had Gigginstown House's Cheltenham Festival winner Don Poli crossed the line after an impressive chasing introduction at Gowran Park last Saturday than the quotes predictably began to fly for Festival 2015. His victory last Saturday came over two miles - and the ante-post questions? Would he race in the JLT? The RSA perhaps?
Willie Mullins was quick to swat aside any such notion. Don Poli already has only one target next March - the National Hunt Chase. Surely not? The four-miler for trainer hacks and those slow old boats that wouldn't outrun Benny Hill's milkcart up a hill? Yes precisely - and though race conditions have been upgraded somewhat in recent seasons, the National Hunt Chase is still only marginally more fashionable than a Val Doonican cardigan.
It's only a "little thing", but there isn't another trainer in Ireland or England who would point a horse with Don Poli's profile at the four-miler. Certainly not in mid-November.
The Don Poli case is a straw in the wind for Willie Mullins' equine might. For those who prefer the 'big things', you need simply to refer to the statistics board from the 2013/'14 season. Champion trainer Mullins' Closutton yard sent out 183 winners - a greater number than the runner-up, third and fourth-placed trainer combined. He amassed prizemoney of over €3.8m. Mullins' strike rate was a remarkable 28 per cent for the season while most senior trainers register in the low teens.
If there is one thing that has characterised the rise and rise of Willie Mullins since he took over his father's licence in the mid-1980s, it is the unflinching commitment to the philosophy of CANI (Constant And Neverending Improvement). Upgrading facilities, quality of owners, and quality of horses. Not to mention staff and jockeys. In spite of last season's almost absurd dominance, the Carlow operation has not stood still during the summer adopting the Roman principle of preparing for war during peace-time courtesy of some ambitiously wealthy owners.
New recruits appearing at Fairyhouse's showcase fixture this afternoon already occupy favouritism for the Triumph Hurdle (Kalkir) and Supreme Novices (Allez Colombieres).
Already this season Willie Mullins' strike-rate is a quite incredible 40 per cent and last weekend saw the yard win eight races from just 10 runners. Such is his supremacy, Mullins' desires have organically yet increasingly grown beyond just shopping local. France has been a regular target for a few years now; whilst the Nakayama Grand Jump victory with Blackstairmountain in 2013 was a stroke of unorthodox genius.
In an interesting aside in Mullins' Racing Post column yesterday, the champion trainer remarked: "I've said for years: bringing handicappers from Ireland to England is very difficult. We traditionally don't bring too many over, but nowadays, with the amount of horses on our hands, they have to run somewhere and most of them would have top-weight in Irish handicaps."
The result aside, you still need to admire a trainer who could get a horse like Djakadam into a Hennessy Gold Cup off a handicap mark of 142 (significantly - 5lbs below his Irish rating). The last five-year-old to try (and fail) was no less than Big Buck's - but he ran off a mark of 153.
Sure, Annie Power went lame after declaration time on Friday (for today's Hatton's Grace) and Un De Sceaux slithered to a halt at Thurles on Thursday and a few of the handicappers came up short at the Newbury Hennessy meeting. Mullins meantime hosts three favourites and one second-favourite for the four Graded races at Fairyhouse today and houses the favourite for no fewer than eight races at the Cheltenham Festival at this moment. His stature and scale shows no sign of abating. And that, for sure, is no little thing.
Sunday Indo Sport