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United FA Cup collapse inspired Mullins to stay focused

United FA Cup collapse inspired Mullins to stay focused
United FA Cup collapse inspired Mullins to stay focused

Willie Mullins is taking nothing for granted ahead of what could be a thrilling conclusion to the British trainers’ title race at Sandown this weekend.

After following up the Grand National victory of I Am Maximus with a four-timer at Ayr that included Macdermott’s win in the Scottish Grand National, the Closutton maestro is in pole position in what is mathematically still a three-way battle with only two days of the season remaining.

Since his Ayr heroics, Mullins has notched further winners on British soil at Ffos Las and Ludlow, and while out of luck with six runners over the course of the first two days of the Perth Festival, he still holds a significant lead over Dan Skelton and 14-times champion Paul Nicholls.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with the Grand National trophy
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with the Grand National trophy (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

However, with huge prize-money up for grabs at Sandown, with the bet365 Celebration Chase and the bet365 Gold Cup each carrying a total prize fund of £170,000, there is no sign of complacency from the man who has won the Irish trainers’ title on 17 occasions.

During a Great British Racing media conference, Mullins said: “If we can keep winning some prize-money, the others are probably going to have to win two of the feature races without any reply, but it has to be done.

“As we saw the other night with Manchester United against Coventry City (in the FA Cup), you can’t count your chickens. You just have to go through and keep playing – and that’s what we’re doing. Hopefully it will work out on Saturday for us.”

After saddling four beaten favourites at Perth on Wednesday, Milo Lises and Feu Du Bresil also came up short on Thursday’s card, with the former suffering a crashing fall and the latter finishing second.

El Fabiolo is one of Mullins' big hopes at Sandown on Saturday
El Fabiolo is one of Mullins’ big hopes at Sandown on Saturday (Niall Carson/PA)

Stoke The Fire is the trainer’s sole representative at the Scottish track on Friday before he sends a nine-strong team to Sandown including Celebration Chase hotpot El Fabiolo, Select Hurdle favourite Impaire Et Passe and the bet365 Gold Cup trio of Nick Rockett, Minella Cocooner and Aime Desjy.

When asked if he had been feeling nervous this week, Mullins replied: “I’ve been good because of the position we’re in, especially after Ayr.

“We did way better in Ayr than I was expecting, I thought we might get one winner and hopefully some place money but as it turned out, we had a fantastic day. To get two photo finishes on your side in big prize-money races was just unbelievable stuff, which made this week much easier.

“I thought about running less horses, but I said when we’re in the position we’re in, just keep running them – and the results have been good.

“I know we had four favourites beaten yesterday in Perth, but there wasn’t any of the horses I thought were unlucky. Patrick had his two wins in Ludlow and Ffos Las, they went according to plan.”

If Mullins does emerge triumphant at the close of play on Saturday, he will be keen to insist he is only a small part of a well-oiled machine at his County Carlow base.

He said: “It’s done but just not dusted yet, but I’d be very proud of everyone here in Closutton if we can achieve this, and our owners too. I’ve been amazed at the support we’ve got, travelling off to the different tracks in England, it’s a real sense of Team Closutton.

“We have a great team of people, from my wife Jackie to Patrick and David Casey, and Ruby Walsh is down three mornings a week. Grainne (Whelan) in the office, Dick (Dowling) out in the yard and Ben (Delmar), our travelling head man. They do their jobs, which makes my job much easier.

“The years of experience they bring here at Closutton, it’s very hard to go out and hire those kinds of people, as they don’t exist. We have our own academy nearly, they’ve come through from the time they were younger, they know how everything works here and they just do it, so it’s very easy for me.”

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