Tag Archive for: Willie Mullins

Vauban faces Yorkshire Cup test as Flat foray continues

Vauban will look put Melbourne Cup disappointment behind him and tee up a return to Royal Ascot in Friday’s Boodles Yorkshire Cup.

Willie Mullins’ top-class hurdler pulverised his rivals in the Copper Horse Handicap at the summer showpiece meeting last year before proving his worth at Pattern level in the Group Three Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown.

The Rich Ricci-owned six-year-old was subsequently sent off favourite to win Australia’s biggest race three months later, but was a spent force early in the home straight in the hands of Ryan Moore and passed the post a well beaten 14th.

Having been given plenty of time to recover from his trip across the globe, Vauban reappears in the Group Three feature on day three of the Dante Festival, with the trainer’s son and assistant Patrick hoping he can prove himself a genuine Gold Cup contender on the Knavesmire.

“Vauban had a nice break after going to Australia, he’s in good shape and hopefully he’s ready to start another Flat campaign,” said Mullins.

“Melbourne didn’t happen for him last year unfortunately, but he’s ready to start back, probably on the road to Ascot and maybe a crack at the Gold Cup.

“This looks an ideal place to start, it’s a very competitive race and there’s a few of them that look quite closely matched.

“We’re hoping for a good run and we think it will bring him forward.”

Tower Of London impressed in Dubai
Tower Of London impressed in Dubai (PA)

William Buick will be on board Vauban for the first time, with Moore committed to partner Tower Of London for Aidan O’Brien.

The four-year-old has enjoyed a productive winter abroad having landed the Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh and the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan.

Moore told Betfair: “I always thought a lot of him at three but he is really blossoming now. He shaped very much like a Group One-winning stayer in waiting when winning at Meydan last time, so I’d hope and expect he will be going close here, even under his 3lb penalty.

“It’s a tough Group Two, and he will need to progress again to win this, but this is an exciting horse for the season.”

Last year’s Yorkshire Cup hero Giavellotto returns to defend his crown for Marco Botti after finishing behind Tower Of London on his last two starts.

“This has been his target since Dubai and we are very happy with his condition,” said Botti.

“A mile and six is the perfect trip for him and he has run two of his best races at York, but we are hoping the ground won’t change much as we wouldn’t want to run on soft ground.

“Tower Of London looks the main danger, and we’d been hoping he would be taking a different route, but he now has to give us weight whereas we’ve been giving him weight, so hopefully we can reverse the form.”

Giavellotto also ran with real credit at York when third in the Lonsdale Cup during the Ebor Festival, involved in a thrilling finish with Andrew Balding’s Coltrane and Wathnan Racing’s Ascot Gold Cup hero Courage Mon Ami.

Gregory (left) was a Royal Ascot winner in 2023
Gregory (left) was a Royal Ascot winner in 2023 (John Walton/PA)

This time it is Wathnan’s Gregory in the line-up as last year’s Queen’s Vase winner and St Leger fifth attempts to announce himself as a player in the staying division.

“John and Thady (Gosden) seem very happy with his work and he’s done some nice work this spring,” said Richard Brown, racing adviser for the owners.

“It’s obviously his first run of the season and I’m sure he will come on for it, but we look forward to seeing him back and hopefully the ground is on the quicker side and he’s better on top of the ground.

“He’s come to hand a little quicker than Courage Mon Ami and is ready to run, so he will start here. We’ll get over this hurdle first and then worry about Ascot afterwards.”

William Haggas saddles both Naqeeb and stable stalwart Hamish, with the latter attempting to extend his impressive five-race winning sequence.

The eight-year-old will recommence his rivalry with Al Qareem having accounted for Karl Burke’s runner the last twice.

However, just a neck separated the pair at Newbury in the John Porter Stakes last month, with Al Qareem’s pilot Clifford Lee eyeing turning the tables on the Knavesmire.

He said: “He’s a lovely horse and very consistent as well. All he does is gallop and since Ascot last October he’s only been beaten by Hamish, who as we all know is pretty much unbeatable when he gets his conditions.

“We are hoping Al Qareem will strip fitter for that run, and the extra two furlongs of the Yorkshire Cup are in his favour too. There are a couple ahead of him on the official ratings, but he’s so consistent that he looks sure to go well.”



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Jack Kennedy claims first Irish jockeys’ title

Jack Kennedy survived having to sit out the final day of the season through suspension to claim his first Irish jump jockeys’ championship.

Paul Townend had topped the table for the past five years but went into the last afternoon of the Punchestown Festival trailing 123-119, with five booked rides left to turn things around.

His task was made even harder when opening mount Klarc Kent was pulled up and a smooth success for Lossiemouth only delayed matters, before Glengouly was another Townend ride who failed to complete the course.

Townend closed the gap to two when scoring on Kargese but was out of luck on his final mount Olympic Man.

Kennedy, who has struck up a formidable partnership with trainer Gordon Elliott, said: “It’s an unbelievable feeling to have won the championship.

Punchestown Festival – Day Five – Saturday May 4th
Trainer Gordon Elliott and new Irish National Hunt champion jockey Jack Kennedy (Brian Lawless/PA).

“Paul got close enough in recent weeks to give me loads of sleepless nights but I’m delighted to have hung on. I’ve had a great 12 months, leading the championship for much of the way and riding over 100 winners in a season for the first time in my career.

“There were loads of great days and riding Grade One winners in Ireland on such good horses as Gerri Colombe, Teahupoo, Farren Glory, Found A Fifty, Caldwell Potter and Irish Point was very special.

“A massive thanks to Gordon and all the owners, all the staff in Gordon’s and all the trainers that have supported me this year, my agent Kevin O’Ryan and everyone behind me. Without my family, this wouldn’t be possible.”

Elliott added: “I’m thrilled for Jack. We have been thinking about this day since he was 16!

“Unfortunately, he got a couple of hold-ups each year. Last year, he was clear but got hurt in Naas. We knew this year he was in good nick. He’s a lot stronger.

“I’m so happy. He deserves this more than anyone, with all the injuries that he’s had. He bounces back and that’s his attitude. Hopefully we’ll get another 10 or 15 years out of him.”

Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins receives his trainers’ championship award (PA)

Willie Mullins continued his domination of the National Hunt trainers’ championship in Ireland, coming out on top for the 18th time and adding to his memorable title triumph in Britain.

He said: “It’s fair to say that this has been our best season at home and abroad, and it is a credit to our hard-working and dedicated team that we are celebrating again today.

“The horses have been in some order from around November-time. They’ve just been so healthy and even this week, some of them have been putting in their best performances. When you have a healthy horse, they can keep on improving the whole season through.”

Champion owner JP McManus said: “It’s such a great honour to win this title and I feel so lucky. My sincere thanks to all the trainers, jockeys, stable staff and all who contributed so much to my success.

“I have had wonderful days out with my family, grandchildren and friends and the season has given me memories which I will greatly treasure.”

Danny Gilligan was crowned the champion conditional rider, Patrick Mullins was the leading amateur jockey and Jody Townend prevailed in the female version of that category.



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Kargese win ends Mullins’ Grade One campaign on a high

Willie Mullins extended his record haul of Grade One wins in a season to 39 after Kargese came with a flying finish to claim the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown.

The Closutton maestro had already struck with Lossiemouth earlier on in the day and Paul Townend produced this 9-4 favourite with a perfectly-timed run to add another to the tally.

Kargese provided one of those elite-level victories at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, before finishing second in the Triumph at Cheltenham and again at Aintree.

She had pulled too hard early on during those runner-up efforts but settled much better under a confident ride from Townend on this occasion.

It seemed as though the jockey may have been a touch too patient when Kargese still had four horses to pass approaching the final flight.

However, a swift jump at that obstacle meant she landed with more momentum than the other contenders and Kargese came home a length and a half ahead of Bottler’secret.

Mullins said: “She’s very tough. She was really hard on herself in Aintree, so that was a tremendous performance to come back and win here.

Punchestown Festival – Day Five – Saturday May 4th
Kargese ridden by Paul Townend after winning at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA).

“To see where she was turning from home, Paul certainly got his fractions right there and got the jump right at the last.

“I think she deserved that after the way she ran in Aintree.”

Connections now have a decision to make with regards future plans for the Kenny Alexander-owned Kargese.

“She is big enough to jump a fence,” said Mullins. “I’d imagine she will stay over hurdles but we’ll have a word with Peter Molony (Alexander’s racing manager) to see what he thinks.”



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Lossiemouth strolls to another Grade One success

Lossiemouth cruised to victory in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Bolshoi Ballet Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle to complete a Cheltenham-Punchestown double for the second straight season.

Last term, she followed up her Triumph success by battling home in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle in County Kildare.

This time, the Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old arrived at Punchestown on the back of comfortably accounting for Telmesomethinggirl in the Mares’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park.

That same rival built up a healthy lead early on under Rachael Blackmore but Paul Townend and Lossiemouth always had the front-runner in their sights when lying second and took control before entering the home straight.

Stablemates Gala Marceau and Ashroe Diamond did their best to go with Lossiemouth but the result was never in doubt and it was all plain sailing for the 2-11 favourite, who crossed the line seven lengths clear.

Townend said: “She stamped her authority on it again there. She is just superior to the other mares at the moment. It’s lovely to have her.

“It was a good test today. The only scare was up the side when Rachael was dropping back. I wanted to pop and she (Lossiemouth) had a cut at it.”

Punchestown Festival – Day Five – Saturday May 4th
Lossiemouth and jockey Paul Townend after winning at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA).

Speculation will now be rife regarding whether Lossiemouth will be given the chance to take on the boys at elite level next season.

Townend would rather see her continue on a different path to stablemate State Man and added: “It’s a privilege to ride both. I hope they stay apart for as long as possible.”

But Mullins commented: “Off that gallop, it was a great performance. Paul wanted to keep the lid on, for want of a better word.

“I think she has done enough for the year. All being well, she will go for the Champion Hurdle next year.”



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Ballyburn secures record-breaking win for Willie Mullins

Ballyburn had to work harder than expected for victory in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown but still helped Willie Mullins become the most successful trainer in Irish racing history.

Mullins moved past the great Dermot Weld with career win number 4,378, even though the latest star to emerge from his Closutton production line was a little below par.

A couple of sloppy jumps left Paul Townend nudging the 1-5 market leader on the turn for home, but he soon reeled in front-running stablemate Mirazur West once straightening up.

Jessica Harrington’s Jetara came out of the chasing pack to move into second place, but Ballyburn produced a fine leap when it mattered most at the last to quickly ease any fears of an upset.

Although not as impressive as when powering home in the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the six-year-old completed a hat-trick of Grade One triumphs with three and a quarter lengths to spare.

On his record-breaking feat, Mullins said: “Dermot pioneered going down to Australia and won the Belmont Stakes, an American Triple Crown race. He’s done superb things, so to be mentioned alongside him is fantastic.”

Mullins sent out his first winner in 1988 and has become the dominant force in the Irish training ranks, with the Closutton handler set to be crowned champion for the 18th time when the Irish season concludes on Saturday.

His latest landmark comes at the end of a truly memorable season that saw Mullins saddle his 100th winner at the Cheltenham Festival and become the first Irish trainer since the great Vincent O’Brien some 70 years ago to win the British trainers’ championship.

His big-race haul included the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Galopin Des Champs, the Champion Hurdle with State Man and the Grand National with I Am Maximus.

He added: “It’s tremendous to break Dermot’s record. Dermot broke lots of records and is a super trainer. Any time you can do something that Dermot Weld did, I’m in very privileged company.

“I imagine someone else will come and break those records, with new fixtures every year. Numbers and records are there to be broken and it’s just great to be here in this position.”

As for Ballyburn’s performance, Mullins commented: “He did it well, he’s just got a huge engine.

“I’m looking forward to whatever he’s going to do next year, whether we’ll stay hurdling or go jumping fences. I’ll have to have a word with connections, David Manasseh and Ronnie Bartlett.

Punchestown Festival – Day Four – Friday May 3rd
Ballyburn ridden by Paul Townend jumps the last (Brian Lawless/PA).

“He’s just a really exciting prospect, the way he got down there and raced over the last two furlongs.

“It looked for a stride or two ‘would he get beaten’, as Jetara was coming with a lovely run. We were delighted with the way our fella finished.

“He’s still not mature and he’s racing too much throughout the race. Once he learns to settle a bit more and use his power at the end of the race, I think he’s going to be a super horse.

“We can go either direction with him. Two miles, two and a half – and on his pedigree, he can go out to three miles.

“I was just chatting to his point-to-point rider and he said he’s a fabulous jumper of a fence, so we have all that to put into the mix and see what direction we go in the future.

“A few of ours ran a bit flat earlier in the day and we were wondering would this fella do the same, but he didn’t. Good horses just dig deep and they do it.”



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All eyes on brilliant Ballyburn at Punchestown

Given that even Willie Mullins expressed his surprise with how easy Ballyburn won at Cheltenham, his appearance in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown is hugely anticipated.

Despite having won at the Dublin Racing Festival from subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Slade Steel by seven lengths, Mullins was refusing to get carried away by the Ballyburn hype.

However, his 13-length romp in the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle forced Mullins to concede Ballyburn “could be anything” and he faces just five rivals, three of them stablemates.

His stable companions taking him on are Jimmy Du Seuil, second at Cheltenham to Ballyburn but only fourth at Aintree, Mirazur West, who missed Cheltenham and Aintree, and Predators Gold.

Patrick Mullins, assistant trainer to his father, said: “Willie has decided to keep Ballyburn at the intermediate distance.

Paul Townend celebrates on Ballyburn at Cheltenham
Paul Townend celebrates on Ballyburn at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“He won at the Festival last year when he beat Dancing City and Slade Steel, two Grade One winners. That was quite a strong bumper, ironically, as it wasn’t the Champion Bumper!

“He should be very difficult to beat again. We’ve been delighted with him since Cheltenham and hopefully he can finish his season out on top.

“This season hasn’t been straightforward for Mirazur West and he seems to be slightly better going right-handed but at this distance he would need to settle a lot more effectively than he has been.

“Predators Gold was below-par in Cheltenham, but we do think he’s much better than that and he could be an interesting outsider. I would think he’s overpriced as an each-way option and he is a Festival winner already, as he won the Goffs Defender Bumper last year.”

The field is completed by Gordon Elliott’s Staffordshire Knott, who chased home his stablemate Brighterdaysahead at Aintree and Jessica Harrington’s Jetara.

Lark In The Mornin and J J Slevin impressed in the Fred Winter
Lark In The Mornin and J J Slevin impressed in the Fred Winter (David Davies/PA)

Joseph O’Brien’s Fred Winter winner Lark In The Mornin reappears in the Uniquely Novice Hurdle, while Brides Hill takes on Allegorie De Vassey in the Hanlon Concrete Irish EBF Glencarraig Lady Francis Flood Mares Chase.

In the Event Power Champion Hunters’ Chase, the Emmet Mullins-trained Its On The Line is out again having finished second at Cheltenham and won at Aintree.

The veteran Billaway, Ferns Lock, Samcro, Lifetime Ambition and Famous Clermont take him on.



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State Man targets unblemished season with Boodles Champion Hurdle success

State Man will bid to put the seal on a faultless campaign in the Boodles Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Friday.

The seven-year-old has been pretty much blemish free since falling on his debut for Willie Mullins two and a half years ago, with the mighty Constitution Hill the only horse to deny him victory in 12 subsequent appearances.

This season State Man has successfully defended the Morgiana Hurdle, the Matheson Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle, while the disappointing absence of Constitution Hill at the Cheltenham Festival gave him a gilt-edged opportunity to claim Champion Hurdle glory in March and he duly obliged.

Faced with just three rivals, the chestnut will be long odds-on to make it back-to-back wins in the Punchestown version and the Closutton handler has nothing but admiration for a horse you can seemingly set your clock by.

“He’s in great shape and he’s just a really healthy horse,” said Mullins.

“He turns up every day and having a horse like that is wonderful for the owners as you arrive at every festival you want, you’re there on the big days and hopefully you’re good enough to win and he has been very good.

“He’s got his Champion Hurdle and he is the kind of horse you want. It’s lovely having a superstar, but sometimes a superstar can only come out one day of the year and owners have horses to have days out and to enjoy the social side of racing.”

State Man (left) beating Irish Point at Cheltenham
State Man (left) beating Irish Point at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

State Man renews rivalry with Gordon Elliott’s Champion Hurdle runner-up Irish Point, as well as the fifth-placed Colonel Mustard from Lorna Fowler’s yard.

Fowler is realistic about the chances of her stable star, but is keen to roll the dice.

She said: “Cheltenham took a lot out of him and he needed every bit of that time since to recover. We thought of bringing him to Aintree and Ayr, but he just wouldn’t have been ready. I think he’s got the tank full again having had the time.

“We know what we’re up against, but we’ll do our best and it’s as simple as that. It’s a pleasure to have a horse run in that calibre of race and he does bring it to the table every time.

“And the other thing is, it is a horse race. There are jumps involved. I know what price we are and we’re right to be that price but anything can happen, and if you’re not in, you can’t win.”

The field is completed by Mullins’ second string Sir Gerhard, who is set to turn out just six days after finishing third in the Select Hurdle at Sandown.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “We’ve been really happy with State Man since Cheltenham. He’s obviously going to bid to follow up on last year’s victory and emulate Honeysuckle, who won the two editions before that.

“Irish Point gave us a bit of a fright in Cheltenham, so reopposing with him is going to be interesting, but we think that State Man can be better than he was in Cheltenham, although Irish Point might try different tactics. It promises to be a fascinating clash.

“Sir Gerhard didn’t have an awfully hard race when third in Sandown and there’s fantastic prize-money up for grabs.”



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Redemption Day at Punchestown for Jody Townend

Redemption Day came from last to first to give rider Jody Townend a first Grade One win in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.

Trained by Willie Mullins, Redemption Day finished second in this contest two years ago before enduring a 611-day absence. But following a Fairyhouse win last month, he enjoyed his moment in the spotlight.

Stablemate Jasmin De Vaux was sent off the 6-4 favourite to follow up his Cheltenham bumper success, but Patrick Mullins was pushing along from some way out, while in contrast Townend was making smooth progress through the field having sat at the rear in the early stages.

Redemption Day was cantering over his rivals at the top of the straight and when Townend popped the question, he responded in style to run out a three-and-three-quarter-length winner.

Jody Townend celebrates a landmark Grade One win
Jody Townend celebrates a landmark Grade One win (Niall Carson/PA)

The winning rider said: “Once he settles, he has some engine. He has the turn of foot of a Flat horse. With the turn of foot he has, once he settled, I actually didn’t mind what they did.

“He went so asleep again on me again, you’d wonder what he is going to do and how much he is going to find. He did the same in Fairyhouse, he just picks up and I was still there too soon again today. Thankfully, it paid off.

“I just love the horse, I was second on him two years ago to Facile Vega here.

“I’m delighted for the owner, Tim O’Driscoll, as he gave him plenty of time when got the injury and stuff, and it has paid off.”

On riding her first Grade One winner, she added: “I can’t believe it to be honest, it is unreal!”

Mullins was delighted to see Townend strike a blow at the highest level and said: “That’s fantastic for Jody, her first Grade One.

“She’s always does her own thing in her races and it works! We often discuss what’s going to happen but when the tape goes up, Jody just does what Jody wants to do.

“She’s had some success, so we just have to take our hats off to her.

“This horse missed a year and I thought he could be Champion Bumper material. I thought that I’d rather do that than go hurdling. He can go hurdling next season.

“He followed home Facile Vega here two years ago and that sort of form stands up every day of the week. It paid off.

“He could run on the Flat over a mile and a half or a mile and six.”



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Dancing City backs up Aintree win with gritty Punchestown success

Dancing City had to dig deep to repel the challenge of fellow Willie Mullins runner High Class Hero in the Channor Real Estate Group Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.

The winner was sent off as the 7-4 favourite in the hands of Paul Townend having claimed Grade One glory at last month’s Grand National meeting at Aintree, but he had ground to find with Stellar Story, who had beaten him by just over seven lengths in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham.

Dancing City was clearly travelling well at the top of the straight and while he easily had the measure of Stellar Story, High Class Hero served it up to him after jumping the last.

Townend’s mount responded to every urging though, and while the second tried his best, Dancing City held a half-length advantage at the line.

The victory was a third at Grade One level for Dancing City, having also struck at the Dublin Racing Festival back in February and Mullins lauded the winner’s attitude.

Dancing City leads High Class Hero over the last
Dancing City leads High Class Hero over the last (Niall Carson/PA)

He said: “It just shows how tough he is that he’s been to every racing Festival, it takes a lot of doing. It all goes well for the future going over fences.

“He did quite well coming back from Aintree. We haven’t done that before – Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown. It looks achievable so we might do more of it in the future!

“He didn’t show how good he was until we went out in trip.

“High Class Hero ran very well and looked for a minute that he might upset Paul.”

Betfair make Dancing City a 10-1 chance for next year’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham

Townend added: “He was (a good winner in Aintree) and I thought he had a hard race the last day.

“He has danced every dance, so to turn up here and perform was a big performance.

“He was disappointing at the start of his career, but he is more than making up for it now.

“In Aintree, when I left the back straight, I thought I was stuffed and, by the time I got into the straight, I was back on the bridle so he is a little bit deceiving.”

He went on: “He doesn’t kill himself when he gets to the front and I got all mixed up with reins wrapped around my hand and everything, so all I could do was try to not interfere with him. He stuck it out well.

“He is indeed (progressive) and he is very deceiving. I was actually going to ride another one in Aintree and it got withdrawn on the day, so these things can work out for the best sometimes.

“I thought I bottomed him in Aintree, but he bounced out of it well and he’s a tough horse and a good horse.”



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2024 Punchestown Gold Cup Trends

Staged at the five-day Punchestown Festival in April/May 2024 the Punchestown Gold Cup is a Grade One contest run over 3m1f.

The race version we see today was first run back in 1999 and since then has been won by some leading names, including Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Imperial Call, Kicking King, War Of Attrition & Don Cossack - while the 2012 Grand National winner, Neptune Collonges, took this twice before he landed the Aintree marathon.

Last year's winner was the Martin Brassil-trained Fastorslow, who lowered the colours of that year's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs.

Did you know – 14 of the last 20 Punchestown Gold Cup winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old, while 15 of the last 20 winners were Irish-trained?

Here at GeeGeez, we take a look back at recent Punchestown Gold Cup winners, plus highlight the key stats ahead of the 2024 renewal – this year run on Wednesday 28th April 2024.

Recent Punchestown Gold Cup Winners

2023 – FASTORSLOW (20/1)
2022 – ALLAHO (6/5 fav)
2021 – CLAN DES OBEAUX (10/3)
2020 – No race (Covid)
2019 – KEMBOY (13/8 fav)
2018 – BELLSHILL (4/1)
2017 – SIZING JOHN (9/10)
2016 – CARLINGFORD LOUGH (12/1)
2015 – DON COSSACK (5/2)
2014 – BOSTON BOB (5/2 fav)
2013 – SIR DES CHAMPS (2/1 fav)
2012 – CHINA ROCK (20/1)
2011 – FOLLOW THE PLAN (20/1)
2010 – PLANET OF SOUND (14/1)
2009 – NOTRE PERE (15/8 fav)
2008 – NEPTUNE COLLONGES (9/10 fav)
2007 – NEPTUNE COLLONGES (8/1)
2006 – WAR OF ATTRITION (4/5 fav)
2005 – KICKING KING (8/11 fav)
2004 – BEEF OF SALMON (5/4 fav)
2003 – FIRST GOLD (7/4 fav)

Punchestown Gold Cup Betting Trends

17/20 – Finished in the top 4 last time out
15/20 – Aged 8 or younger
15/20 – Irish-trained winners
14/20 – Aged 7 or 8 years-old
10/20 – Had run in that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup
10/20 – Returned 2/1 or shorter in the betting
10/20 – Winning favourites
9/20 – Won last time out
8/20 – Ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last time out
5/20 - Trained by Willie Mullins (5 of the last 10)
3/20 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
The average winning SP in the last 20 years is 6/1
9 of the last 18 favourites have won
10 of the last 15 Irish-trained favourites have won
Since 1999 only 3 Irish-trained winners hadn’t won at the course before
10 of the last 24 winners had run in that season’s John Durkan Memorial Chase

 

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Power-packed finish proves decisive for Mullins star

Mystical Power finished with a flourish to reverse Cheltenham Festival form with Slade Steel in the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

Henry de Bromhead’s Slade Steel had proved too strong for the Willie Mullins-trained Mystical Power in the latter stages of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in mid-March, since when the latter had gone one better in Grade One company at Aintree.

There was little to choose between the pair in the betting for the rematch on home soil, but Mystical Power was the narrow favourite at 2-1 and ultimately took his revenge.

The extended two-mile contest was run at a strong gallop from flag-fall thanks to the Danny Mullins-ridden Ile Atlantique, but the race changed complexion quickly racing down the back straight, as both he and nearest pursuer Tullyhill back-peddled rapidly.

Slade Steel arrived on the scene seemingly travelling best rounding the final bend, but he found disappointingly little for Rachael Blackmore once coming under pressure, whereas Mystical Power – a son of Galileo out of the great racemare Annie Power – powered home from further back in the hands of Mark Walsh to score by a length and three-quarters.

Firefox, third in the Supreme and runner-up to Mystical Power at Aintree, ran another fine race in defeat to split the market principals in second.

“He showed resilience and toughness today, he’s been improving all season,” Mullins said of the winner.

“I didn’t think we had much chance at the second-last and Mark said he was going as fast as he could coming around the last bend.

“The race turned into a staying race, with the other two protagonists playing their cards going to the last, they were flat out and he just outstayed them with a good jump at the last.

“It’s fantastic that he’s progressed as the season has gone on and I think Annie Power is coming out in him.”

Mystical Power with connections at Punchestown
Mystical Power with connections at Punchestown (Gary Carson/PA)

When asked if Mystical Power would have a Champion Hurdle campaign next season, he added: “There is a lot of thinking to do between now and then but you’d certainly have to look at that. I don’t think he’ll go novice chasing, as he looks more of a hurdler than a chaser.

“He could easily step up in trip watching that performance today. Mark said he found it tough with the amount of speed that was in the early part of the race.

“It looked a real staying race there today, which would mean that he’s a two-and-a-half-mile hurdler and they are the sort of horses you probably need to win a Champion Hurdle, so maybe it’s all pointing in that direction.”



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McManus duo primed for Champion Chase challenge

Dinoblue and Gentleman De Mee give JP McManus a formidable hand in his bid for yet another big-race victory in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday.

It has already been quite the year for the leading owner, with five winners at the Cheltenham Festival followed by a treble at Aintree, including the Grand National success of I Am Maximus.

Jonbon’s victory in Saturday’s Celebration Chase at Sandown put the seal on a British campaign which saw McManus crowned champion owner for the eighth successive season and the 73-year-old will be hoping to keep the ball rolling back on home soil this week.

His two runners in the feature event on day one of the Punchestown Festival both had to make do with the runner-up spot at Cheltenham in March, with Dinoblue narrowly denied by fellow McManus-owned runner Limerick Lace in the Mares’ Chase and Gentleman De Mee second best in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Gentleman De Mee is a second major contender for owner JP McManus
Gentleman De Mee is a second major contender for owner JP McManus (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

The owner’s retained rider Mark Walsh has sided with Dinoblue on her return to an extended two miles, leaving National-winning jockey Paul Townend to partner Gentleman De Mee.

“Dinoblue is versatile trip-wise, I think – I don’t think the trip beat her at Cheltenham,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“I think she’s come out of the race quite well, it’s competitive but she never runs a bad race and is very dependable.

“Gentleman De Mee is in good form and the better the ground, the better he’ll like it. We’re happy with him and it will be an interesting race.”

Dinoblue and Gentleman De Mee are two of four runners for Willie Mullins, who also saddles Saint Sam and Dysart Dynamo in a race he has won in each of the past five renewals.

The biggest threat to the Closutton quartet appears to be Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness, who enjoyed an overdue day in the sun when triumphant in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

De Bromhead, who also runs outsider Maskada, said: “We’re delighted with Captain Guinness. We always felt he deserved to win a Grade One and the fact it was the Champion Chase was an added bonus.

“Maskada is being covered, so I’d say it’s her last run. So, we’ll give it a go and see if she can get some Grade One black type.”

Joseph O’Brien fits star chaser Banbridge with cheek pieces as he drops back in trip, with the field completed by Gordon Elliott’s pair of Ash Tree Meadow and Fil Dor.

Of the latter, Elliott said: “He ran creditably at Cheltenham and Fairyhouse, both times maybe shaping a little better than the bare result and maybe looking like a horse that might appreciate coming back to this trip.”



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Supreme stars set for Punchestown Festival rematch

Cheltenham Festival one-two Slade Steel and Mystical Power will renew their rivalry in the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

There was little to choose between the pair in the betting for the curtain-raising Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park and both came to the fore at the business end.

The Willie Mullins-trained Mystical Power looked likely to prevail after taking over at the final flight, but Henry de Bromhead’s Slade Steel roared back racing up the famous hill and was ultimately well on top at the line.

Mystical Power has since done his bit to aid his trainer’s ultimately successful bid to win the British trainers’ title by going one better at Aintree, however, setting up a mouthwatering rematch with his Cheltenham conqueror in County Kildare.

“Slade Steel is in really good form since Cheltenham, we’re very happy with him,” said De Bromhead.

“The Cheltenham form stood up at Aintree and you had Ayr as well, where Favour And Fortune (sixth in the Supreme) won the Scottish Champion Hurdle. We’re looking forward to Punchestown with him.”

Mystical Power is owned by the powerhouse trio of JP McManus, John Magnier and Rich Ricci and carries the colours of the former.

Jockey Mark Walsh celebrates winning at Aintree aboard Mystical Power
Jockey Mark Walsh celebrates winning at Aintree aboard Mystical Power (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Willie is very happy with him, it’s a competitive race but we’re hoping for a good run,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“Henry’s horse beat him well in Cheltenham, but our horse goes there in good form, so we’ll have a crack at it and hope he runs well.”

Mullins also saddles the Supreme fourth and eighth in Asian Master and Tullyhill, as well as Ile Atlantique and Fun Fun Fun.

Gordon Elliott’s Firefox was third in the Supreme before pushing Mystical Power all the way at Aintree and is in the mix once more.

Firefox in action at Navan
Firefox in action at Navan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elliott, who also runs King Of Kingsfield, said: “Firefox wasn’t that busy from his maiden hurdle through to Cheltenham, he had just the one run. He progressed from his Cheltenham run to run really well in Aintree.

“King Of Kingsfield is a horse that does like nice ground and was probably undone by the soft ground in Cheltenham. We skipped Aintree on account of the ground, so this is very much a target.”

Tom Mullins-trained outsider Fascile Mode completes the line-up.

The Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase is another competitive affair, with Spillane’s Tower bidding for back-to-back Grade One wins for trainer Jimmy Mangan and owner JP McManus.

Winner of the two-and-a-half-mile WillowWarm Gold Cup at Fairyhouse a month ago, the six-year-old tests the water over an extended three miles and a furlong for the first time on Tuesday.

Mangan said: “He’s only six and his future is ahead of him.

“We went back to two miles and he’s just not effective at two. He’s definitely effective at two-and-a-half and we seem to think he’ll get three. We’ll find it out.

“They always do a good job on the ground in Punchestown but there’s been a lot of drying and we would want a bit of soft in the ground to take our chance, but he’s ready to go if we get that.

“It’s great to be going up there with a good horse.”

Spillane’s Tower disputes favouritism with De Bromhead’s Monty’s Star, who found only the much-vaunted Fact To File too strong in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Monty's Star (left) and American Mike at Cheltenham
Monty’s Star (left) and American Mike at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He seems in good form, we’re happy with him,” said the Knockeen handler.

“It was a tough race in Cheltenham over three miles and you always have the fear of that after, but we’ll give it a go and see. He seems very well.”

Willie Mullins is represented by National Hunt Chase runner-up Embassy Gardens and recent Ayr scorer Sharjah, while Elliott has declared American Mike, Three Card Brag and Salvador Ziggy.

He said: “American Mike just didn’t fire at Cheltenham, but he is a talented horse. He beat Fact To File earlier in the season and showed a really good attitude to win the Ten Up in February. The plan after Cheltenham was to come here and that’s what we’ll do.

“Salvador Ziggy didn’t fire either at Cheltenham. Three Card Brag has had an interrupted season but is a very nice horse, so we’ll let him take his chance too.”

Sandor Clegane from Paul Nolan’s yard also features.



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Nicholls remains confident ‘we will make it 15 one day’

Paul Nicholls has vowed to dust himself down and come back stronger after falling short in his bid for a record-equalling 15th trainers’ championship.

The master of Ditcheat had dominated the National Hunt landscape in Britain over the past couple of decades, topping the table 14 times in 18 years, with six-times champion Nicky Henderson the only man to deny him during that period.

For much of last season, Nicholls led the way again, but he was knocked off top spot after his former assistant Dan Skelton banged in four winners at the Cheltenham Festival, before Willie Mullins powered past both thanks to the Grand National success of I Am Maximus at Aintree.

Mullins subsequently pressed home his advantage with an Ayr four-timer featuring the Scottish National triumph of Macdermott, and he put the seal on an incredible campaign with a final-day double at Sandown courtesy of Minella Cocooner in the bet365 Gold Cup and Impaire Et Passe in the Select Hurdle.

Willie Mullins after being crowned champion trainer at Sandown
Willie Mullins after being crowned champion trainer at Sandown (John Walton/PA)

Mullins becomes the first Irish-based trainer to be crowned top dog in Britain since the legendary Vincent O’Brien, while Nicholls had to make do with an honourable third-place finish in the final standings – but has no doubts he will become champion again.

He said: “We’ve knocked on the door in quite a number of big races and that has made it hard, but I’ve been in the incredibly lucky position of winning 14 titles and we will make it 15 one day.

“No team can keep winning the Premier League every year and it all depends on the players you have – and we just need to get a few more players in the team and up the squad a bit and we will be back.

“It’s a near-miss this year, but we have had over 130 winners, which is our most, and at a good strike-rate. We have also won very nearly £3million in prize-money – if we did that every year, we would be very happy.”

Nicholls feels Mullins’ Grand National success was ultimately the decisive blow, adding: “I could see it happening and the Grand National was always going to be pivotal.

“The Grand National did me a big favour once with Neptune Collonges when I was trailing Nicky and Nicky looked like being champion – Neptune Collonges won and it was all over.

“I’ve been concentrating on making Harry Cobden champion jockey and that has always been my sole aim this year. It would have been great if I was champion again, but we’ll move on and next year is already another year and I’m already excited for next season.

“Poor old Dan (Skelton) is feeling it a little bit, as he always thought the first time he finished ahead of me, he would be champion trainer – and then Willie has come along and trumped us both.”

Ascot Chase hero Pic D’Orhy was one of Nicholls' big winners this season
Ascot Chase hero Pic D’Orhy was one of Nicholls’ big winners this season (Steven Paston/PA)

While confident he will one day regain his crown, Nicholls admits he needs to add more firepower to his string to compete at the very highest level.

“We will do our best next season with what we’ve got and we won’t be starting the season with the sole aim of winning the trainers’ championship,” he said.

“We just like to win as many races as we can and ultimately win as many big races as we can – and this year, we’ve just been a bit light on that and knocked on the door a little bit. But it’s sport and it just depends on the team you have got.

“We always end up close to £3million in prize-money and the Grand National has proved pivotal. I’m sure if Willie didn’t win that, you wouldn’t be seeing him and the battle between me and Dan would have been interesting. I imagine it will be the same again next year.”



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Walsh hails Mullins’ achievement as rivals vow to come back stronger

Ruby Walsh described Willie Mullins as “somebody people should aspire to be” after the trainer emulated the great Vincent O’Brien by winning the UK trainers’ championship.

A Sandown double via Minella Cocooner and Impaire Et Passe provided a fitting finale to a season that has also seen the Closutton handler claim a 100th Cheltenham Festival success in March as well as winning the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season thanks to I Am Maximus’ heroics at Aintree.

Walsh, who was in the saddle for many great days in Mullins’ career and now plays a key role behind the scenes in the County Carlow operation, feels the 67-year-old has become an inspirational figure for others.

Ruby Walsh was at Sandown to watch Willie Mullins lift the jumps title
Ruby Walsh was at Sandown to watch Willie Mullins lift the jumps title (Steven Paston for the Jockey Club/PA)

“It’s huge, and from where he has started, to get to where he has ended up is massive,” said Walsh.

“I wasn’t there in the beginning, but it’s huge and when you look at things and people and then say who do I want to be and what do I want to achieve, I think he is somebody people should aspire to be.”

Paul Townend has been Closutton number one since Walsh’s retirement, winning four Gold Cups for his long-time employer and enjoying the best seat in the house during this record-breaking season.

Fresh from steering Impaire Et Passe to success, he said: “He has made my career and I went there as an apprentice straight from school and he is a genius of a man.

“Away from being a genius of a trainer, he is a lovely man to work with and very fair. I’m a very small part of a very big operation and very lucky to be where I am.”

 Willie Mullins poses with the Champion Trainer trophy alongside wife Jackie Mullins and son Patrick Mullins
Willie Mullins poses with the champion trainer trophy alongside wife Jackie Mullins and son Patrick Mullins (John Walton/PA)

Mullins’ son Patrick and wife Jackie were on hand for the Sandown celebrations, cutting a proud figure at Sandown as her husband lifted the trophy aloft.

She said: “It’s extraordinary what he has achieved and when we started off we didn’t think it would be anything like this.

“He’s very laidback and he was fast asleep during Patrick’s race at Perth yesterday – I had to wake him up.

“It’s such a team of horses and owners we have and it’s just an extraordinary time.”

Rich Ricci has enjoyed plenty of winners as an owner with Willie Mullins
Rich Ricci has enjoyed plenty of winners as an owner with Willie Mullins (Mike Egerton/PA)

Owner Rich Ricci has seen the likes of Annie Power, Faugheen and Vautour all thrive in the care of their master trainer.

He said: “It’s wonderful and I’m incredibly proud to be associated to the yard.

“I’ve been there for almost 20 years and I remembered when I first met him, I was introduced by a friend, and I sort of interviewed him and said ‘well you seem so brilliant, why don’t you have more success?’ and he said he just needed the ammunition so I said take this horse and if he continued to do well, we’ll continue to put some firepower in.

“He’s built an incredible business on the back of that investment amongst others and it is just wonderful to be a part of the whole story and that’s why we’re all here today.

“He could have turned his hand at anything and I asked him one time what would you have been if he hadn’t been a trainer and he said he would have liked to have been an architect – and you know what he would have been a good one. His attention to detail, his insistence on having things his own way, can you imagine the buildings he would have built.”

Another owner with cause to celebrate this season thanks to the exploits of Mullins is JP McManus, whose green and gold silks was carried by I Am Maximus at Aintree when Mullins registered his second National triumph earlier this month.

“He’s very talented and full marks to him,” said McManus.

“It would make it more interesting each year if he decides to give it a run. It was 70 years ago that Vincent O’Brien won it and it is a great achievement. It’s very special.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by McManus’ former jockey AP McCoy, with the 20-times champion suggesting that now Mullins has had a taste of the UK title, he could be back for more.

“It’s some achievement and not only that, he has won a Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season,” said McCoy.

“I don’t think anyone will change racing the way Vincent O’Brien did, someone who was flying horses out of Ballydoyle 50 and 60 years ago and he was well ahead of his time.

“But to do what Willie has done is phenomenal and 70 years is a long time since someone has done it.

“To beat someone like Paul Nicholls – he’s been a 14-time champion trainer – and Dan Skelton who has had an unbelievable year as well, the worrying thing is once you get a taste it could happen again.

“I imagine someone as ambitious as Willie is will be looking at doing it again. He’s a genius of a trainer and he’s trained 100 Cheltenham Festival winners. I never thought someone would do that and I know it’s very different now but you still have to go and do it.

“He has built a machine and it goes everywhere. It goes all year round and it goes to Australia, it goes to America – he’s had horses run well in the Melbourne Cup and had horses win jumps races in America.

“He’s had horses in Ireland, France and I don’t think there has ever been a more dominant jumps trainer ever and I think it will probably be another 70 years before you get someone who makes it happen again.”

Willie Mullins with his "great mate" Nicky Henderson (right)
Willie Mullins with his “great mate” Nicky Henderson (right) (Nigel French/PA)

There was also congratulations from Nicky Henderson, who was both full of admiration for what his “great mate” has achieved and also warning the British trainers will try to wrestle back the title next season.

“Willie is a great mate and you can only admire what he has done, it’s a fantastic feat,” said Henderson.

“Me, Paul (Nicholls) and Dan (Skelton) were talking before racing and we’re going to amalgamate I think so we can take him on. It will take some doing but we’ll be back next year without some little blips in the middle I hope and we have some good horses to go to war with.

“The sad thing is we couldn’t play against him at Cheltenham and if we had Constitution Hill, Sir Gino, Jonbon and Shishkin, we would have had a proper team – but we left all those races to Willie!

“We’re very lucky, or some might say unlucky to be in the same era, but it’s what it is all about and you can only admire him. Luckily we are all good mates and we can enjoy it with them. We’ll have to see if we can go and knock them out in Ireland now!”

Nick Skelton is full of respect for Willie Mullins' achievements
Nick Skelton is full of respect for Willie Mullins’ achievements (Mike Egerton/PA)

Decorated Olympian Nick Skelton knows equine excellence when he sees it and acclaimed Mullins despite his son being pipped at the post.

“We can’t complain and Dan and Harry (Skelton, jockey) have had a great year,” said Skelton.

“It’s a shame and if you end up beating Paul, then you think you are going to win and then Willie comes along. But that’s a fantastic achievement from Willie to do what he has done and especially what he has done in Ireland as well.

“Anyone who has done in sport who has achieved what Willie has achieved – and Dan and Paul – you have to give them the utmost respect and I think what these three trainers have done for the sport in the last month has been incredible.”



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