Willie Mullins out to join exhaulted company as he goes for trainer’s title

Willie Mullins will join exalted company should he defeat Paul Nicholls to claim what has been an enthralling race for Britain’s trainer’s title.
Willie Mullins out to join exhaulted company as he goes for trainer’s title

The Closutton handler would emulate the great Vincent O’Brien, who broke new ground when crowned champion in two successive campaigns in 1952-53 and 1953-54.

Considering what O’Brien went on to do on the Flat, no one ever imagined his feat would be repeated on UK shores.

O’Brien was a trainer without parallel and was very much a pioneer and an innovator.

For example, he was the first trainer to use flying as a means of transporting horses across sea.

He saw the advantage of horses going on an away day rather than be absent from their usual surroundings overnight or longer.

Times may have changed enormously in those 62 years, but like O’Brien in his day, Mullins is a supreme master of his trade.

Totally dedicated to the sport and always willing to learn and try new techniques, both quickly realised you have to be a step ahead of your contemporaries if you are to be number one.

Once there, you must continue with that philosophy and double your efforts.

O’Brien’s success was remarkable.

He is the only man to have trained three consecutive Grand National winners and with three different horses - Early Mist (1953), Royal Tan (1954) and Quare Times (1955).

He did the same in the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Cottage Rake who was the first to win the blue riband three years in a row, between 1948-50.

Hatton’s Grace won three successive Champion Hurdles (1949-51) for O’Brien and was also successful on the Flat, winning the Irish Lincolnshire in 1949 and the Irish Cesarewitch.

Mullins has made his mark in the Grand National and the three top Cheltenham races and he does not too badly with his little forays to the big Flat meetings.

He has had four winners at Royal Ascot, though not yet anywhere near the level of O’Brien because he concentrates chiefly on the jumps.

Amazingly, O’Brien had never been to Cheltenham before 1948 when he had the first of 23 Festival winners that spanned up until 1959 and he never drew a blank there.

In that time he won the Gloucestershire Hurdle, the forerunner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 10 times.

Strangely, after beginning the 1950s as champion jumps trainer in Ireland, he was beaten first Tom Dreaper and then Paddy Sleator as his focus turned to Britain.

That has not happened to Mullins. His dominance in Ireland is stronger than ever, despite the emergence of young trainers such as Gordon Elliott.

His first title came in 2000/1 when he split Noel Meade’s total of eight in nine years and it has been his alone since 2007-08.

This is the first season Mullins has really had a go at winning the British title, starting by tackling the big Saturday races, which the UK’s top two, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson, have usually farmed in recent times.

Cheltenham was the only meeting he really targeted until this year, when he sent a big team to Aintree without compromising his chances at the big Easter Festival at Fairyhouse and the end-of-season meeting at Punchestown in late April.

Not only do you need the right ammunition, but even the best horses have to be primed to be at their best for the big races, wherever and whenever they may be.

Mullins has proved a dab-hand at that and whatever happens today, he has set the bar staggeringly high, just as O’Brien did before him.

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