Saturday 30 March 2019

Willie Mullins

William Peter Mullins, usually known as Willie, has the distinction of being Irish National Hunt champion trainer 11 times and, in an illustrious career stretching back three decades, has won most of the high-profile races. He has saddled 61 winners at the Cheltenham Festival and won the Grand National with Hedgehunter, ridden by Ruby Walsh, in 2005. The one notable omission from his CV was the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which he had saddled several well-fancied runners over the years.

In September, 2016, in a shock move, which had a seismic effect on the National Hunt landscape in Ireland and beyond, Gigginstown House Stud removed around 60 horses from Willie Mullins’ County Carlow yard after a row of training fees. Around top-class 20 horses were transferred to Mullins’ arch-rival, Gordon Elliot, but Mullins still managed to secure the trainers’ title after an epic battle that lasted until the penultimate day of the season.

In the 2017/18 season, though, having played second fiddle to Gordon Elliot at the Cheltenham Festival for the second season running, Mullins headed to the Punchestown Festival in April with little, or no, chance of retaining his crown as Irish National Hunt champion trainer. However, after losing out on a winner on day one, when Paul Townend, deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh, inexplicably steered Al Boum Photo around the final obstacle in the Champion Novice Chase with the race at his mercy, Mullins saddled a stunning six-timer, including a one-two in the Punchestown Gold Cup, on day two to keep his title chances alive.

In 2019 Mullins finally found the missing puzzle piece, a Cheltenham Gold Cup, win with 12-1 shot Al Boum, ridden by Paul Townend. The seven year old gelding took control two fences out, battling past Anibale Fly in the process, gifting the 62 year old trainer a memorable victory.

"I had probably resigned myself to the fact I would not win the Gold Cup," said Mullins.

There's a lesson in perseverance there for us all.

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