Mullins – Mr Cheltenham

This year he should be adding to that total

With the National Hunt season now in full swing and Cheltenham on the horizon, an insight into one of the modern-day great trainers is in order. The subject, Willie Mullins, the leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival over the last decade and a half.

He is already the winning-most trainer in Festival history with an incredible 88 victories to his name, including Group 1 champions Hurricane Fly, Annie Power, Quevega, Al Boum Photo and Faugheen.

Growing up his dad Paddy was his biggest influence and to this day Mullins junior will credit his father with plenty of his life lessons and knowledge.

He started his racing life as an amateur jockey winning many big races in Ireland and in the UK at Aintree and Cheltenham.

But the training ranks were always his goal. After spells as an assistant trainer, firstly for his father and then with fellow Irish legend Jim Bolger, Mullins took out his own licence in 1988.

He’s not looked back. Since 2008, Mullins’ reign as Irish Champion Trainer hasn’t been ended, winning 15 consecutive National Hunt titles. Last year, he broke his own record at Cheltenham when saddling 10 winners.

It is difficult to pinpoint what makes Mullins so good. Of course, he has the horses now, and he has the owners. He has the resources to buy the big horses and he has the networks through which to do it. However, none of it would be possible without the ability to train racehorses.

David Casey, one of his current assistants, tells you that Mullins sees things that nobody else can see. That’s the thing about genius: you can’t explain it.

A case in point, Vautour’s 2016 victory in the Gr1 Ryanair Chase. His former number one rider, Ruby Walsh said that leading up to the Festival the horse had been working so poorly, if he was training him, he wouldn’t have even taken him to Cheltenham.

Mullins decided on an alternative route to get the horse ready. He threw the horse out into the field. Whatever they were doing, it wasn’t working, so he tried doing something different: nothing.  He left him out in a field for 10 days, and the first time the horse was in a stable in the last two weeks prior to the race was when he arrived at Cheltenham.

This year he should be adding to that total come March. At time of writing his Closutton yard have 12 runners priced up as favourites for various Group races including Galopin Des Champs in the blue riband Gold Cup, the unbeaten Facile Vega (son of the great Quevega) in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and Energumene in the Champion Hurdle. They are all currently odds on to succeed.

Add in the top class Allaho who goes for a hattrick of wins in the Gr1 Ryanair Chase and Mullins will be closing in on a century of Festival triumphs.

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