Unstoppable Mullins happy to end season on a high

Willie Mullins was planning a moderate celebration on Saturday evening after a superb Punchestown Festival capped another championship-winning season.

Mullins was crowned the leading trainer for the 15th time, banking over €5million in prize money to finish well ahead of the currently-suspended Gordon Elliott in second and Henry de Bromhead in third.

The Closutton handler enjoyed an exceptional week in County Kildare, notching a record 19 victories across the five days with a slew of Grade Ones to boot.

While Mullins was thrilled to break his benchmark at the meeting, he lamented the lack of owners and crowds at the fixture due to current Covid-19 regulations.

Mullins said: “We’ve had a fantastic festival. It’s great to have the support of the owners that we have and without them none of us could keep going at Closutton.

“They are the whole part of the team really with the investment they put in every year.

“Hopefully we can get owners back and then after that crowds back to inject a lot of atmosphere that is missing at the moment.”

Mullins endured some disappointments at Cheltenham, with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi and Al Boum Photo falling short, but Punchestown firmly reversed those fortunes.

He said: “I was so disappointed with how a lot of them ran in Cheltenham and we changed a few things coming here.

“I said I’d throw the whole lot at it, which we did, and it seems to have paid off.”

Patrick Mullins is champion amateur again
Patrick Mullins is champion amateur again (Niall Carson/PA)

There may have been plenty of champagne moments for Mullins since Tuesday, but a low-key gathering would mark another fruitful campaign.

He added: “Unfortunately it’ll be the usual, around the kitchen table.

“We’ll have a glass of something and I’m looking forward to a few easy days after the season that was in it.”

Champions Jody and Paul Townend
Champions Jody and Paul Townend (Niall Carson/PA)

The Townend family had double reason to celebrate as not only was Mullins’ retained rider Paul Townend confirmed as champion jockey on Friday evening after seeing off the challenge of Rachael Blackmore, but his sister Jody also secured the title of champion lady amateur rider.

Jody Townend was presented with the Mary Hyde Perpetual Cup in a ceremony at Punchestown and they become the first brother and sister to win championship titles in the same season.

Mullins’ son Patrick was crowned leading amateur for the 13th time, with Simon Torrens taking the conditional riders’ title.

Simon Torrens is champion conditional
Simon Torrens is champion conditional (Niall Carson/PA)

JP McManus is the champion owner for the first time in seven years and for the 18th time in all, with the likes of Galway Plate winner Early Doors, Dublin Racing Festival winners Off You Go, Drop The Anchor and A Wave Of The Sea, Leinster National winner Scoir Mear and the Fairyhouse Easter Festival winners Janidil and Hearts Are Trumps helping him to victory.

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “Many congratulations to all of our National Hunt champions.

“In far from ideal circumstances, this has been a National Hunt season to remember. The outstanding successes at both Cheltenham and Aintree will live long in the memory, however the season featured thrilling performances throughout, showcasing the depth of talent on hand.

“It is a necessary that our major festivals have all taken place behind closed doors, but hopefully as the vaccination programme accelerates, we can look forward to some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Paul Townend takes fourth champion jockey title

Paul Townend has finally seen off Rachael Blackmore’s challenge to become Ireland’s champion jump jockey for a fourth time.

Townend clinched the title when Gaillard Du Mesnil, his only ride at Punchestown on Friday, gave him his 100th winner of the campaign in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.

He goes into the season finale with an unassailable lead of 100 victories against 92.

Townend said: “That’s brilliant and it’s lovely to get a hundred up for the third year in a row.

“That’s my fifth (winner) of the week. I can’t complain, the horses are running well and it’s brilliant for all the different owners getting their chance as well.”

Bob Olinger, who would have been odds-on to strike for Blackmore, was a late withdrawal from the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One.

Blackmore did land the feature Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle, as expected, but it was not enough to take the title race into the final day. She failed to add to her tally on her four other rides.

Blackmore reflected on a brilliant season that saw her crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival and win the Grand National on Minella Times for trainer Henry de Bromhead.

“We’ve had such an incredible year – Henry has, I have, being part of that team. This (Honeysuckle’s win) is just the icing on the cake for the year – it’s phenomenal. 

“At the same time it’s been a very sad year after (the death of amateur rider) Lorna Brooke. When that happens to someone in the weighing room, it’s very hard and you’d have to be thinking about those people today as well (Brooke’s family and friends). 

“I feel so lucky. It’s probably boring for people to be hearing that all again, but I am so lucky to be part of all this and getting on these horses.  

“This one in particular is just so incredibly special, and we’re all so lucky to be involved with her. 

“Every time somebody says well done to me on Aintree, I say ‘jeez, that did happen’. It still hasn’t sunk in. It was unbelievable. 

“I can’t wait for the break now though.”

Blackmore had started the week four winners adrift of Townend, but was unable to make any further inroads on the reigning champion.

Townend only returned to action at Punchestown on Tuesday following a foot injury, but he rode a winner on each of the first two days and enjoyed a double on Thursday as he reaffirmed his grip on the championship.