Willie Mullins and Davy Russell crowned champions at Punchestown

Saturday, Apr 28 2018

Willie Mullins was officially crowned Irish champion jumps trainer for the 12th time on the final day of the Punchestown Festival.

Mullins started the week 521,413 euros behind his big rival Gordon Elliott, but he ended up going into the final day with an unassailable lead after an epic week in County Kildare.

Trebles on Tuesday and Thursday and a staggering six-timer on Wednesday saw him heading into the penultimate evening’s action with a lead of 424,148 euro.

The Closutton maestro sealed the championship after the Punchestown Champion Hurdle as he saddled the second, third and fourth home, with Elliott’s diminishing hopes of claiming a first title ending when Samcro fell at the third-last.

Mullins then enjoyed a Grade One double on the final day with Benie Des Dieux and Saldier, finishing on 5,968,275 euro to the 5,158,751 euro of Elliott, winning by 809,524 euro after a remarkable 18 winners during the week.

He described himself as “humbled” to equal Tom Dreaper, trainer of the mighty Arkle, in winning a dozen titles.

He said: “I’m humbled to be alongside him in statistics. He was sort of God when we were growing up. I’m delighted for my whole team, because they take huge pride in it.

“We’ve built up a good team of people – Patrick (Mullins), David Casey and Ruby (Walsh) and my wife Jackie. It’s just an awesome team.

“I’m enjoying training as much as ever and trying to find new horses and identify them and having nice winners. It’s not getting any easier – Gordon is making sure of that!”

Davy Russell claimed his third Irish jump jockeys’ championship, adding to the back-to-back titles he secured in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Ruby Walsh had been the leading rider in each of the last four seasons, but as he missed much of the campaign through injury, Russell was able to seize the advantage.

He said: “It’s been a fantastic year. I suppose we started off there just to try to get the wheels back in motion and we had a very good summer and obviously Gordon has been such a huge help to me.

“I had the support of an awful lot of people and I suppose then behind the scenes, (agent) Kevin O’Ryan is the glue that knits it all together, that’s on the racecourse.

“Leaving Punchestown last year, I didn’t think I’d be champion jockey this year.

“Willie actually got the season off to a very good start, which meant that Ruby also got off to a good start, but then Ruby got injured. The winners kept coming with a lot of support from different trainers and owners.

“I thought the day was gone when I could ride well over 100 winners in a season. It’s thanks to Gordon and all his team and all the support I’m after getting from a lot of people, including Gigginstown (House Stud).”

The triumph caps a memorable couple of months for Russell, with the popular rider having won the leading jockey award at the Cheltenham Festival for the first time in March before claiming Grand National glory aboard the Elliott-trained Tiger Roll just a fortnight ago.

He said: “The Grand National is very special, as I never thought I’d win one. That’s a career highlight and a dream come true. Presenting Percy was another very good horse for me this season, and really I’ve been very lucky.

“I’ll just try to keep it going now. It starts again on Monday and we have to go and do it all over again.”

Russell also paid tribute to his late mother, Phyllis.

He said: “We’d a tough year in some ways and we had a brilliant year in other ways, but it’ll never make up for Mam. She was a wonderful woman and she’d be the proudest woman in Punchestown were she here.”

Donal McInerney was named champion conditional rider, while Patrick Mullins regained the amateurs’ title.

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