Even the long and storied career of Willie Mullins has room for more landmark chapters to be written and he etched his name further into Cheltenham Festival folklore with an incredible Friday five-timer, writes Paul Martin.
The King of Closutton has once again been master of all he surveys at Prestbury Park, doubling his tally of winners for the week on the final day and finishing comfortably clear at the top of the leading trainer standings to take the title for the ninth
No trainer had ever won more than eight races at the greatest show on turf but Mullins’ remarkable battalion of quality and quantity tore up the record books in emphatic style.
The 65-year-old’s eventual haul of 10 put him level with all British trainers combined – having beaten them 6-5 in 2021 – and helped Ireland again finish comfortable winners of the Prestbury Cup, with all seven races on Friday going the way of Irish raiders.
Mullins finished seven clear of his nearest challenger, compatriot Henry de Bromhead, a margin which would have been eight had Galopin Des Champs not fallen at the last to leave the door open for Bob Olinger in the Turners Novices’ Chase.
But despite a couple that got away, Mullins could not fail to be impressed by the work of his stable stars after a week which raised the bar
“We’re delighted,” said Mullins. “Any winner is always good at Cheltenham and Paul [Townend, leading jockey] has ridden beautifully when you think what happened with Galopin Des Champs earlier in the week
“With Paul it seems when something goes badly for him it spurs him on even more. That’s sport, I suppose
“You could tell by the time he rode State Man he was full of confidence. He dropped him right out in a big field and came right round the outside.
“I didn’t realise no one has ever trained this many winners here, but since it became a four-day Festival things changed numbers-wise
“I’d imagine this sort of thing will happen more regularly and if they go to five days someone will do it easily
“I’m delighted with the whole team and I’m going to accept the award with all my team because they are the ones who do it in the background leaving me free."
Two of the four feature races went Mullins’ way, with Energumene gaining revenge on Shishkin to claim Wednesday’s Champion Chase and Allaho proving a dominant winner of the Ryanair Chase the following day.
Those triumphs helped him take his customary place at the top of the tree going into the Festival’s final day, when he asserted his dominance.
A hat-trick in the first three races set the tone, the impressive Vauban starting the procession by easing home in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, leaving his trainer already planning a tilt at next year’s Champion Hurdle and possibly the Melbourne Cup beyond
Townend doubled up by leading State Man through a crowded field to land the County Hurdle and Sean O’Keeffe produced a superb display on 18-1 shot The Nice Guy in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle to land his first winner in grade one company.
Fittingly, it was Mullins’ son Patrick who took his father into uncharted territory by bringing up win number nine in one of the races of the week.
Trailing Winged Leader comfortably going over the last, Mullins rallied on Billaway to win a thrilling contest by a neck and make it victory number nine.
And there was still time for Mullins to enter double figures as Elimay landed the Mares’ Chase under Mark Walsh, ensuring yet another trip into the winner’s enclosure for a true master of his craft.