By Kieran Murphy
AFTER a mammoth battle to the very last day, Willie Mullins claimed his 10th National Hunt Irish Champion Trainers’ title on Saturday.
Going into the Punchestown five-day festival, Gordon Elliott was a healthy €400,000 ahead of his Carlow rival and was odds-on to depose Mullins as Ireland’s leading National Hunt trainer.
That all changed on Friday when Patrick Mullins rode a brilliant treble which included Wicklow Brave in the Champion Hurdle and Bacardy’s in the Champion Novice Hurdle.
“What Patrick did riding two Grade 1 winners and going on to ride a treble has never been done by an amateur and probably will never be done again by an amateur,” Mullins told The Nationalist on Monday.
“It will be very hard to do that again and while it was disappointing to lose his amateur title, a day like that is special.”
Elliott hit back on the final day of the festival with Apple Jade’s win in the Mares Champion Hurdle but Ruby Walsh came to the rescue of the Mullins stable when obliging on 2/1 favourite Bapaume in the next race. That sealed the destination of the trainers’ championship.
In the end, Mullin’s prizemoney for the season amounted to €4,580,200 and Elliott in second place amassed €4,380,705.
While there was satisfaction in winning the title, Willie Mullins said the whole saga took its toll.
“It was a tough year. It was tough on Gordon. It was tough on our team. I didn’t get any pleasure winning it as you would,” he said.
“I don’t take any pleasure in that as I know how tough it is as a competitor.”
Mullins revealed that after the dust had settled he spoke to Gordon Elliott, the trainer who benefitted most when Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown operation pulled their horses from Mullins’ yard last year.
“We talked afterwards. It is emotionally very tough on us and our staff in the yard. Just very tough. We will just move on now.”
After Cheltenham, the 2017 champion-in-waiting said it would be very difficult to retain his title but he never gave up hope.
“We were always trying to win it as it is what we do with some of the best horses trying to win the best races.
“That is what you do when you are in sport. You have to have that ambition to do that but it was the nature of the season and the way it went.
“We lost a lot of horses early in the season and had a lot of injuries so from that point of view it was satisfying to win it. I know how tough it is on the opposition and that doesn’t make it easier.”
The Clusutton trainer revealed it would have rested on him more easily if the title had been halved by himself and Elliott.
“If we could have drawn it would have been a perfect result. I would have been happier to do that with Gordon. In the riders’ championship you can do that and that is what I would have felt would have been the best result.”
Now Mullins and his team are preparing a team of horses for the summer meetings, including Galway and Listowel.
Before that they bring the Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned Nichols Canyon to Nashville, Tennessee. Having won the Sunbet Stayers Hurdle in Cheltenham there is a bonus of $500,000 for the horse if he was to go on and win the Iroquois Hurdle on Nashville Steeplechase Day on 13 May.