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Mullins domination complete as he celebrates first UK championship

Mullins domination complete as he celebrates first UK championship
Mullins domination complete as he celebrates first UK championship

Willie Mullins is planning to “celebrate long and hard” after becoming the first Irish-based trainer since the great Vincent O’Brien to lift the UK trainers’ championship.

The perennial Irish champion has been as dominant as ever on his home patch, but an excellent Cheltenham Festival where he claimed both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup was followed by Grand National Glory with I Am Maximus which left him within touching distance of emulating O’Brien’s remarkable feats of the 1950s.

A four-timer at Ayr which included success in the feature Scottish Grand National further cemented Mullins’ grasp on the title, with El Fabiolo’s second place in the Celebration Chase at Sandown leaving Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton with no way of clawing back the deficit.

The victories of Minella Cocooner in the feature bet365 Gold Cup and Impaire Et Passe in the Select Hurdle put the icing on the cake, with Mullins eager to celebrate the achievement with family and friends.

Willie Mullins with his wife Jackie and son Patrick
Willie Mullins with his wife Jackie and son Patrick (John Walton/PA)

He said: “I am amazed at the racing public over here, to be welcomed with such open arms everywhere we have gone. I would also like to thank the sponsors for putting on such a great day with a large prize money pot.

“It has been such a special day with Jackie (his wife), Patrick (son), David Casey, Ruby Walsh, James Nash and others from back in the day as well as a big crowd of friends all here today.

“I am sure we are going to celebrate long and hard! We will start off this evening, go on through the whole of Punchestown next week and maybe a few days after that!

“Everyone at home at Closutton, the local community and the whole of Irish racing has really been hyped by the whole thing and wishing us the best of luck for today.”

Willie Mullins (right) after winning the Coral Scottish Grand National with Macdermott
Willie Mullins (right) after winning the Coral Scottish Grand National with Macdermott (Robert Perry/PA)

As always, Mullins’ prime focus this term remained closer to home, but his nine victories at Festival in March made success in both jurisdictions a possibility and having enjoyed an equally triumphant Aintree, he has travelled the length and breadth of the UK in pursuit of the goal.

Mullins said: “We were looking at it for a few weeks before the National and we said if we were lucky enough to win a National we’re in with a shout, so we entered a bigger team for Liverpool than normal because we had to play our cards before the National and as it turned out it worked out very well.

“We won four Grade Ones and that put us right in the mix for the championship if the Grand National came up and it did come up and then there we were.

“I said to my team home this is a once in a lifetime (opportunity). I wasn’t born when Vincent did it so we said we’d just throw everything at it and see what happens.

“When you start off training you dream maybe of being Irish champion trainer, you never dream of being British champion trainer.”

He went on: “Possibly over the last few years you might have thought about it, especially in 2016 when we came very close.

“You think then that it’s achievable, but the right circumstances didn’t come around and I always believe in looking after what happens at home first and that’s why we probably haven’t gone after it since. But this year was just an extraordinary year.”

There are some 70 years separating the achievements of O’Brien and Mullins, with the master of Closutton feeling fortunate to have his name mentioned alongside one of the sport’s most famous handlers.

Mullins continued: “Vincent O’Brien is a legend of legends in racing. It’s something you never dreamed of, to have your name up beside his is extraordinary.

Willie Mullins has matched the achievement of Vincent O'Brien
Willie Mullins has matched the achievement of Vincent O’Brien (PA)

“I was lucky enough to have met him once or twice, but never dreamed one could be as good as him or anything like that.

“I looked at what he did, how he achieved it and I thought ‘can we do something similar over jumps’. He wasn’t afraid to source horses from different places and we’ve gone everywhere we can to try to source horses.”

Mullins came close to landing the UK championship in 2016 before a final day fightback from Nicholls saw the title head to Ditcheat for a 10th time.

The now 14-time champion might have expected to fight out a finish with his former assistant Skelton, before Mullins’ spring surge and the County Carlow handler admits it is pleasing to finally correct the record of his defeat eight years ago.

Willie Mullins saw off Dan Skelton to the UK trainers' championship
Willie Mullins saw off Dan Skelton to the UK trainers’ championship (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’m sure it’s disappointing for Paul and then Dan was there and then for someone to just come up the inner must be tough, but that’s what makes winning championships worth it,” continued Mullins.

“I was in the same position back in 2016, we thought we were going to go very close and we went down to the last three races I think and then mathematically we couldn’t do it.

“That’s what makes winning sweeter – you’ve got to lose a final to win a final, I think. You appreciate it more when you’ve lost one and you have to go back and win it next time.”

Mullins has achieved more in the last eight weeks than many trainers would achieve in a full career, but completing the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National treble in the same season is something he will always remember fondly.

“The Grand National is the race everyone wants to win from the time you’re knee high and it’s great to win two Gold Cups with Galopin Des Champs and then State Man getting his Champion Hurdle,” said Mullins.

“All those things are really, really good so I’d hate to pick one (highlight) out of it. They’re lifetime achievements for any one trainer and I appreciate them all.”

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