Scottish Grand National success turns championship contest into coronation for Willie Mullins

Irish trainer keeps up momentum towards British trainers’ title with runner in Ffos Las on Monday

A contest that promised to bring the British jumps season to a crescendo at Sandown this Saturday has instead become a coronation march towards Willie Mullins being crowned the champion trainer.

A 4,462/1 four-timer at Ayr on Saturday, including, crucially, Scottish Grand National success with MacDermott, has left Mullins all but certain to become the first Irish-based trainer to lift the title in 70 years.

Bookmakers have mostly stopped offering odds on the three-pronged race between the Irishman and his rivals Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls. But 1/50 from those that are look to be for cosmetic purposes only.

Saturday’s Ayr results put Mullins past £3 million (€3.49 million) in prize money in Britain this season and with a £180,000 lead over Skelton.


Although there is £675,000 in prize money still up for grabs at Sandown, the champion-elect’s determination to close the deal is reflected in a series of midweek engagements for comparative peanuts before then.

There are 16 Mullins entries on Wednesday spread around Ludlow, Perth and Uttoxeter. Ten more have been made for the following day at unlikely outposts in Warwick and Huntingdon. Friday could mean more Mullins runners at Perth and Cheltenham before heading to Sandown.

“I’d say we’ve a bit to go yet. There’s still a lot of prize money to play for, but we’re in pole position and it looks very good,” he said. Even with caution to the fore, however, Mullins admitted to having one hand on a prize famously won by Vincent O’Brien in 1954.

On Monday afternoon, Patrick Mullins pitches up at Ffos Las to ride his father’s Rath Gaul Boy in the opening race at the south Wales track. The seven-year-old broke his maiden over flights at Fairyhouse’s Easter festival. Skelton has seven starters on Monday while Nicholls has four.

A single Mullins runner at Tramore, Surf Club in a Beginners Chase, may also take his trainer closer towards another landmark in a season full of them.

Having gone past a century of Cheltenham Festival winners last month, Mullins could also have rewritten Irish racing’s record books by the time next week’s Punchestown festival kicks off where he will be crowned champion trainer in Ireland for the 18th time.

The Ayr four-timer put the 67-year-old’s career tally of winners everywhere in the world to 4,364. That’s just 10 shy of Dermot Weld’s record.

Surf Club’s appearance in a restricted Beginners Chase indicates he’s unlikely to figure among the luminaries but he has a leading shot at a race where last Thursday’s Clonmel winner Whatsys Quest might be tough to beat.

In other news, in advance of what could prove to be a momentous classic campaign by even his standards, Aidan O’Brien is a 5/4 favourite with some firms to be champion trainer on the flat in Britain for a seventh time this year.

With an apparently vintage crop of three-year-olds to look forward to, the Irish man is also just 12/1 to win all five English classics.

City Of Troy, acclaimed by O’Brien as the best two-year-old he has had, dominates betting for the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas while Ylang Ylang looks set to lead the Ballydoyle team into the 1,000 Guineas. Her stable companion Content may be switched to the French version at Longchamp.

Ylang Ylang is probably the one and Content might go to France. That’s what we’re thinking, that we’ll split them up,” said O’Brien.

A Derby “sighter” at Epsom will take place on Tuesday when O’Brien sends Chief Little Rock for the Blue Riband trial. The Galileo colt will take on a handful of opponents in the 10-furlong Listed contest there. O’Brien previously won the race with Cape Of Good Hope in 2019.

One trainer looking forward to taking City Of Troy on at Newmarket is Clive Cox who will aim his impressive Royal Lodge winner Ghostwriter at the Rowley Mile Classic.

“I’m very happy with Ghostwriter and he has his Newmarket course form,” said Cox.

“I’m very pleased he has done exceptionally well over the winter and we will be going there with a racecourse gallop under his belt. He’s done very well and that is why he hasn’t run in a trial. He’s been to Kempton and he’s a very athletic, clean-winded horse who has done well over the winter and we think that will have benefited him far more than racing on testing ground, with his previous experience at Newmarket hopefully holding him in good stead.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column