PAT KEANE: Mullins’ utter domination shows no signs of abating

Willie Mullins is currently dominating Irish National Hunt racing in a manner not seen since the days of the late Tom Dreaper.

The statistics tell the full story and emphasise what a stranglehold the champion trainer has on the game in this country.

He now has 137 winners to his credit, with Noel Meade the next best on 44. After Meade come Dessie Hughes (39), Gordon Elliott (36) and Tony Martin (28). Added together their combined total only comes to ten more than Mullins.

The prize money won by Mullins inmates is quite staggering, standing at €2.1m, and with the most lucrative part of the season yet to arrive.

That is put in perspective when you consider the leading trainer in England, Paul Nicholls, has about £1.347m to his credit.

Mullins’ total is only just below what the next four in the table, on money won, Elliott, Hughes, Meade and Jessica Harrington, have managed between them.

Mullins has simply left the rest trailing miles behind and there is every reason to believe the gap will get wider, rather than be bridged by any of his opponents any time soon.

He already has a wealth of talent at his disposal and when you see him buying promising bumper horses, Moyle Park and Totally Dominant, at Cheltenham last Saturday night then that hardly indicates here is a man who will be taking his foot off the pedal at some stage in the near future.

Look through Irish possibilities for Cheltenham and you’ll struggle to come up with more than a handful of non-Mullins runners who are capable of delivering.

I landed on Jezki, Rule The World, Flemenstar and Salsify, we do have lots of options for the bumper, but there aren’t too many more.

Then glance at what Mullins has to offer and it is quite extraordinary, starting with Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle) and Sir Des Champs (Gold Cup).

But it is in the novice hurdle department where he seems to have almost an embarrassment of riches.

And his plans for those races are already more or less decided, which in itself is quite surprising for horses from this quarter.

It is Un Atout (Supreme Novices’), Port Alexandre (Neptune) and Ballycasey (Albert Bartlett).

He has a number of options in the Triumph, led by Blood Cotil and Dikali, and there’s Quevega, who will attempt a spectacular five-timer in the Mares’ Hurdle.

There will be lots of others, of course, with Aupcharlie (Jewson), surely well worth a mention in his own right.

Looking back at Leopardstown last Sunday, you would have to say the attendance was most disappointing.

It was down from 7,029 the previous year to 5,753, a drop of almost 1,300, and that is rather worrying.

I know management was blaming the poor weather, but it wasn’t poor for the early part of the meeting and there were more factors than that at work.

The main reason has to be the lack of money in people’s pockets, with Christmas still fresh enough in the memory.

As well as that Sunday’s card left plenty to be desired for the average punter. There was nothing wrong with the actual programme of races, it was just the way it worked out.

The best contests were, arguably, the first four on the card and they were, literally, of no use to the vast majority.

Urano went off at 1-2 in the opener, followed by Zuzka (2-5) Pont Alexandre (4-7) and Hurricane Fly (1-6).

Punters were more than aware from the night before that all four were sure to go off at short odds and so there was no great incentive to go racing.

Hurricane Fly was very good and there is little doubt Willie Mullins believes him more than capable of regaining the Champion Hurdle.

Ruby Walsh continues to play his cards close to this chest, Paul Nicholls will obviously be hoping he sides with Zarkandar, but you don’t need to be Einstein to work out which way he will jump if both horses face the starter.

Pont Alexandre was superb in winning a Grade 2 by 11 lengths, but one’s immediate reaction was that he was most effective on heavy ground.

But Mullins was having none of that theory afterwards, informing the press he needs good ground. It was a view with which Walsh did not disagree.

Both his successes in Ireland have been in testing conditions, but his only outing in France tells us a bit more about the horse.

In May of last year, at Cholet, he made a winning debut over flights, when scoring by five lengths. The ground was described as good to soft.

I thought Mullins unveiled yet another very promising young horse in Sizing Chile in the bumper.

He was light in the market, certainly uneasy on Betfair, but stuck to his task in good style to chase home easy winner Blackmail.

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