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Successful Ayr raid could go a long way to clinching title for Mullins

Successful Ayr raid could go a long way to clinching title for Mullins
Successful Ayr raid could go a long way to clinching title for Mullins

The last time Willie Mullins had a chance of winning the British trainers’ title, Paul Nicholls landed the Coral Scottish Grand National with Vicente before going on to secure top spot in the table at Sandown.

This time around, the all-conquering Mullins is throwing everything at it, with 18 runners on the big card at Ayr on Saturday, as he attempts to emulate the legendary Vincent O’Brien, something the Closutton handler’s son and assistant Patrick acknowledges would be “incredibly special”.

While the victory of I Am Maximus in the Grand National at Aintree put Mullins in the driving seat, the team are taking nothing for granted, based on what happened in 2016.

This year, they are involved in a three-way battle with Dan Skelton joining the fray, and Mullins jnr thinks if any of the three manage to win either the National or the Scottish Champion Hurdle this weekend, it will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

“We find ourselves in a position we weren’t particularly expecting, so we’re going to be putting everything we can towards it now,” he said.

Willie Mullins is aiming to emulate the great Vincent O'Brien
Willie Mullins is aiming to emulate the great Vincent O’Brien (PA)

“It’s 70-odd years since Vincent O’Brien was the only Irish trainer to win the British jumps title, so to emulate him would be something that would be incredibly special.

“In 2016, we actually came into this weekend ahead as well, I think, but Paul Nicholls pulled a rabbit out of the hat and won the Scottish National with Vicente at 14-1 and that was the difference in the end.”

Despite Mullins’ total dominance over the National Hunt scene, his victory last weekend was only his second Grand National, 19 years after Hedgehunter provided him with his first.

“There were a few sore heads on Wednesday after the (homecoming) parade, but you have to celebrate the good days,” Mullins told a Zoom call organised by Ayr Racecourse.

I Am Maximus on his homecoming in Leighlinbridge
I Am Maximus on his homecoming in Leighlinbridge (Niall Carson/PA)

“It was 19 years since we won the Grand National and to win a second is great. We had seven runners, but if I Am Maximus had come down, we wouldn’t have had any in the first six, so you need a bit of luck. I wasn’t sure if he’d adapt to the course, but he did very well.

“We’ve celebrated but we’re back on track now and focussed on Ayr, trying to bring home some sterling.”

There has never been an Irish-trained Scottish National winner since the race moved from Bogside to Ayr and Mullins has never had a winner at the track either.

He went on: “It’s an incredible statistic. I can’t wait to come over to Ayr, it always looks a brilliant crowd for the big racedays there.

“Every year, I watch the Scottish National and it looks a fantastic race with a huge crowd, we’re very excited to be coming over and hopefully we can break one, if not two of those statistics.

“We’ll be stopping off in Perth and one or two other places during the week before Sandown.

“I think Saturday will be a pivotal day. I keep thinking back to 2016 when Paul won the National. If we can get out of Ayr still ahead, that is going to be huge for us.

“If Paul or Dan win the Champion Hurdle or the National, that’s going to make it squeaky bum time as such, but if we can get out ahead, that will be huge.”

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