Willie Mullins sets pace after Ireland grab six winners at Cheltenham Festival

first_imgReuse this content Cheltenham Festival 2018 Read more “When you start training from a base in Ireland you’re thinking to yourself, ‘If I get a Cheltenham winner that’s going to be it.’ So I never dreamt of being the leading trainer or anything like that. That just comes as a big surprise.”Few others can have been surprised, given the rate at which Mullins has been scoring at recent Festivals. And yet it is not enough. In his moment of triumph he urged officials to create a steeplechase for mares so Laurina could run in it in future years. Are there not enough Festival prizes for him?Mullins’s dominance is one symptom of the poor health of British jump racing, roundly described by one visiting journalist as “in the shit”. Twenty-one races into this Festival, trainers based on these shores have won just six races against 15 for the raiding party. Last year’s 19 wins for Irish trainers was thought by many, in Ireland as well as here, to have been a one-off. Instead, it may be bettered just 12 months later.Some sort of inquest by the sport in Britain will surely be required. The concentration of equine talent in the stables of Mullins and Gordon Elliott explains why they are doing so well, but then what is the reason for that? Are they so clearly the best at what they do that owners have lost their appetite for sending talented animals to formerly powerful stables in this country?Mullins said: “Good horses are rewarded in Ireland, they don’t have to go handicapping. English owners are realising that. In England, it’s just a lot of handicaps. No one sets out to buy a handicapper.” It was a timely point in the moments after he won the Stayers’ Hurdle with Penhill, who carries the colours of Brighton & Hove Albion’s owner, Tony Bloom. Support The Guardian Read more Cheltenham Festival Share on Messenger news Share via Email Topics Share on WhatsApp Without realising it, Willie Mullins became the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival when his Laurina cantered to a victory of embarrassing ease in Thursday’s Dawn Run Hurdle. It was the Irishman’s seventh success of the week and took him to 61 in total, one ahead of Nicky Henderson, who had held the record for six years.“Is that right?” Mullins replied when told of the fact as he marched to the winner’s enclosure, a walk now as familiar as the path to his own front door. “It’s extraordinary. Unbelievable.center_img Harold Kirk, the bloodstock agent who buys so much fine stock for Mullins, had a pithier answer to the question of how the trainer won his Festival record. “If we told everybody that, everybody would know,” he said, and it cannot be denied.Another of the six Irish winners on this card was Balko Des Flos, giving owner Michael O’Leary a treasured first success in the Ryanair Chase, which the airline has long sponsored at his insistence. While O’Leary capered for the cameras, a more solemn scene was played out 100 yards away, where connections of Cue Card anxiously examined their popular veteran after he was pulled up a long way from home.Retirement was predicted by onlookers but the horse seemed “bright as a button” in the words of his trainer, Colin Tizzard, who blamed “deep, sticky” ground. Aintree’s Bowl next month remains an option.It has also become the target for his Ascot conqueror, Waiting Patiently, rather than the shorter Melling Chase that was thought to be his aim. Ruth Jefferson, who trains the rising star, said here that she wants to test her horse’s stamina for three miles. Festival flops by Cue Card and Frodon, another who ran at Ascot last month, suggest Jefferson made the right call in skipping this week with her best horse. Horse racing Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Willie Mullins The Recap: sign up for the best of the Guardian’s sport coverage … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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