El­liott v Mullins

I don’t think you should ever gloat in rac­ing

Irish Examiner - Racing - - FRONT PAGE -

The pre-fes­ti­val thoughts of Wil­lie Mullins. Ash­ley Ive­son took notes

By his own ad­mis­sion, the cur­rent cam­paign has been “tough” for Wil­lie Mullins. As well as blow­ing his ri­vals out of the wa­ter at home for the last decade, the Clo­sut­ton mae­stro has be­come in­creas­ingly dom­i­nant in Bri­tain, ev­i­denced by his ti­tanic tus­sle with Paul Ni­cholls for last year’s Bri­tish train­ers’ ti­tle. Mullins only con­ceded on the fi­nal day of the sea­son at Sandown. Mullins has won the Lead­ing Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Fes­ti­val in five of the last six years, sad­dling a record eight win­ners two years ago and seven last sea­son to take his to­tal tally to 48, leav­ing him sec­ond only to Nicky Hen­der­son in the all-time list with 55. How­ever, there has been a power shift in Ire­land this sea­son, with the wellpub­li­cised shock split with lead­ing own­ers Gig­gin­stown in a dis­agree­ment over in­creased train­ing fees a dou­ble whammy, as many of the 60 horses that left Clo­sut­ton moved to Gor­don El­liott’s bur­geon­ing Cul­len­tra base. El­liott’s im­proved ar­se­nal has helped him race into a sig­nif­i­cant lead in the race to be crowned cham­pion Na­tional Hunt trainer in Ire­land and for the first time in a long time, the peren­nial crown­ing of Mullins at the Punchestown Fes­ti­val is un­der se­ri­ous threat.

The sad demise of Vau­tour and the en­forced ab­sences of su­per­stars An­nie Power, Faugh­een and Min from this year’s Cheltenham team are fur­ther blows, but op­ti­mism is only marginally dimmed.

On ex­pec­ta­tions for this year’s Cheltenham Fes­ti­val

“I’d say we’ll have about 40 run­ners. Nor­mally we’d have around 60, so we’re back that many. Hope­fully we’ll have qual­ity go­ing over, so we’ll have to try and make it up. It’s not go­ing to be as big a team as other years, so it’s go­ing to be tougher for us I think.

“Peo­ple tell me I have four or five or six favourites, I can’t see them my­self, but maybe I’m a bit more pes­simistic. I didn’t think we’d have any­thing like that (num­ber) go­ing to Cheltenham this year and I just hope the mar­kets are right.

“If you have two or three favourites and one wins you’re go­ing well and hope­fully a cou­ple more will come out. Peo­ple ex­pect a lot from our team and we’re hop­ing rather than ex­pect­ing. When you go to Cheltenham with a strong favourite, it’s al­ways re­lief rather than joy. If you have a 25-1 win­ner that’s un­ex­pected, that’s joy.”

On the sea­son so far

“It’s been tough, but we’ve had some fantastic years and it goes up and down. I’m well used to ac­cept­ing dis­ap­point­ment in this game. Ev­ery­one in jumps rac­ing gets used to dis­ap­point­ments and hope­fully we have some nice young horses com­ing along.

“I’ve al­ways said to Pa­trick (Mullins) these things don’t last for­ever. I think he has prob­a­bly lis­tened and learned and I think what­ever hap­pens at Cheltenham, this year has been a re­flec­tion of what I’ve said.”

On los­ing the Gig­gin­stown horses

“I’ve just for­got­ten about them. They’ve gone and we just get on with what we have. You’ll get peo­ple on the out­side look­ing in com­par­ing what might have been, but it’s the way it is. I can’t do any­thing about it and it’s done. We knew do­ing what we were do­ing what was go­ing to hap­pen and we said we’d take the con­se­quences. I’m not dwelling on it.

“If you look back, you’re fin­ished. You’ve got to look for­ward. These things hap­pen in sport. I sup­pose Clau­dio Ranieri is think­ing the same! You’ve got to take it and make the best of what we have.

“The last four or five years we’ve been think­ing ‘look where we are and how well things are go­ing’. You al­ways think that can’t last for­ever. The qual­ity that went out of the yard is hard to re­place, but we’re lucky and still have a good team of horses.”

How beat­ing Gig­gin­stownowned­hors­esatChel­tenham would be spe­cial?

“I don’t think you should ever gloat in rac­ing. I’ll be sat­is­fied if I do well, from a per­sonal point of view, but I don’t think you can ever be de­lighted you beat some­one, be­cause the next day they’re go­ing to beat you.

“Ev­ery sec­ond day it’s for­ward and back, so I just en­joy my own vic­to­ries, not be­cause of who you beat, just be­cause you’ve won.”

On the bat­tle to be crowned cham­pion trainer in Ire­land

“It’s go­ing to be tough. Just the sheer weight of num­bers alone (that El­liott has) makes it hard.

“Hope­fully we’ll have horses for the fes­ti­vals. Whether that’s enough or not, we’ll have to wait and see.

“Then you look at races like the Ir­ish Na­tional. We’d need to win it with­out Gor­don fin­ish­ing in the first three to get back level, so that shows you the scale of the task we have. My good horses I’ll cam­paign the same way I’ve al­ways cam­paigned them. I don’t think it will have any ef­fect on what we run at Cheltenham. What goes to Cheltenham goes to Cheltenham — I don’t think we’ll be keep­ing one back!

“Gor­don prob­a­bly has a lot of dif­fer­ent types of horses than we have and he cam­paigned them much ear­lier, but I couldn’t see my­self chang­ing.

“Try­ing to find horses that will run ear­lier in the sea­son is not some­thing we as­pire to. We try and look for top-grade horses. Ev­ery day we get up we just look for­ward to where we can have an­other win­ner.”

On the Bri­tish hand­i­cap­per rais­ing the marks of Ir­ish horses

“Our horses nor­mally get some­where be­tween 6lb and 8lb over their Ir­ish weight. I don’t like giv­ing out about hand­i­cap­pers. You en­ter, you run and you take it or leave it. I try not to get up­set about it.”

Pic­ture: INPHO/Dan Sheri­dan

Wil­lie Mullins: Odds-on to be cham­pion trainer again at the fes­ti­val.

Pic­ture: Ram­sey Cardy

Ruby Walsh cel­e­brates after win­ning the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle aboard Vau­tour at Cheltenham in 2014.

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