Donn's Articles » Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott

This time last year, Gordon Elliott was over €400,000 clear of Willie Mullins in the Irish National Hunt trainers’ championship.  Elliott himself maintained the mantra that he had no chance of winning the title, that there was no way he could the perennial champ, but the people who follow these things and the markets disagreed.

You know now how the story ended.  Elliott led all the way through the season, all the way to the Punchestown Festival and into it.  It was not until the second last day of Punchestown, the second last day of the season, 363 days after competition had begun, that Mullins caught him and retained his title.

This time this year, similar story.  Elliott has won the Kerry National with Potters Point, the PWC Champion Chase with A Toi Phil, the Buck House Chase with Death Duty, the Champion Chase with Outlander, the Lismullen Hurdle with Apple’s Jade and the Florida Pearl Chase with Jury Duty.  Then last Sunday, he sent out Mala Beach to win the Troytown Chase at Navan. 

Mullins has won the Ladbrokes Ireland Handicap Hurdle with Lagostovegas, the Munster National with Total Recall, the WKD Hurdle with Melon, and the Morgiana Hurdle with Faugheen.

The pair of them have surged clear in the trainers’ championship again.  Elliott has 111 winners on the board, Mullins has 104.  No other trainer has more than 60. 

Elliott has amassed over €1.9 million in prize money, Mullins has over €1.6 million, and no other trainer has broken through the €1 million barrier.  Not yet.

You could argue that the Elliott/Mullins show leaves little room for others, that their domination of Irish National Hunt racing is detrimental to competition, that it makes it difficult for the smaller trainer to compete at the top level.  To that end, Horse Racing Ireland have extended the programme of initiatives that are designed to cater for lower grade horses, and that is a positive, those horses and those trainers and those owners are the backbone of National Hunt racing.  However, it does not get away from the fact that, in any sport, in any discipline, it should be difficult to compete at the top level.  That is what defines the top level.  National Hunt racing should be no different to any other area of competition.

And it is not a duopoly.  Mullins and Elliott have raised the bar, and others have followed.  Jessica Harrington had a season of seasons last year, she sent out Sizing John to win the Irish Gold Cup, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup, she had three winners at the Cheltenham Festival, and she won the Irish Grand National with Our Duke.

Henry de Bromhead won the Champion Chase with Special Tiara, he won the Irish Champion Hurdle with Petit Mouchoir and he won the Galway Plate during the summer with Balko Des Flos.  Noel Meade won the Flogas Chase and the Growise Chase with Disko, and he won the Ryanair Gold Cup with Cheltenham Festival winner Road To Respect. 

Joseph O’Brien won the Grimes Hurdle with Plinth and the Galway Hurdle with Tigris River.  (He also won the Melbourne Cup with Rekindling in case you missed it.)  Ellmarie Holden won the Leinster National with Abolitionist, John Ryan won three big handicaps with Kilcarry Bridge, Pat Kelly won the Pertemps Final with Presenting Percy, Alan Fleming won the Close Brothers Chase with Tully East.

Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins had six winners each at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, but there were 19 Irish-trained winners in total.  Four of the five top trainers at Cheltenham were Irish.  That was unprecedented.  It is not so long ago that we would have settled for just the other seven.

Battle re-convenes this afternoon at Fairyhouse, with Mullins and Elliott peppering the three Grade 1 contests.  It’s Nichols Canyon v Apple’s Jade in the feature race, the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, and that should be a cracker.

We have not seen Nichols Canyon since he went down by a head to Unowhatimeanharry in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April, just six weeks after he had won the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.  But we know that he goes well when he is fresh.  His record on his seasonal debut since he joined Willie Mullins reads 111.

Apple’s Jade won the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle last year, she got home by a short head from Vroum Vroum Mag in a thriller.  After that last season, she won the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, and she warmed up for today with an impressive victory in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan last month.  She receives the 7lb mares’ allowance from Nichols Canyon, and that could bring them close.

Mullins fields just one against Elliott’s three in the Royal Bond Hurdle, but Makitorix – a winner on the flat in France – looked very good in winning his maiden hurdle on his debut for Mullins at Listowel in September. 

Dual Navan winner Mengli Khan is the pick of the Elliott triumvirate, but the Joseph O’Brien duo, Le Richebourg and Early Doors, and the Noel Meade-trained Red Jack all have chances in an intriguing but open race.

Elliott fields the favourite in the Drinmore Chase in the exciting young chaser Death Duty, who was seriously impressive in winning the Grade 3 Buck House Chase at Punchestown in October.  Elliott also fields the two mares, Dinario Des Obeaux and Shattered Love, while the pick of Mullins’ two is Rathvinden, who finished third behind Faugheen in the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2014, and who has been prolific over fences during the summer and autumn, winning four of his last five races.

The story continues today.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd December 2017