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

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