Patrick Mullins secures Punchestown festival hat-trick
Willie Mullins in pole position for trainers’ title victory after son’s superb performance
Patrick Mullins and his father, trainer Willie Mullins, lift the cup in the parade ring after winning the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Wicklow Brave at Punchestown Festival. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Patrick Mullins’s readiness to go through the pain barrier looks to have put his father in pole position for an epic trainers’ title victory after the champion amateur jockey secured an outstanding 535-1 Punchestown festival hat-trick on Friday.
Willie Mullins’s 27-year-old son hasn’t given up his own hopes of tying with Jamie Codd for the amateur riders’ title when the National Hunt season ends on Saturday. Codd is a couple of winners ahead but has just one ride on the last day compared to his rival’s two.
However, it was a pair of inspired Grade One efforts by Mullins on Wicklow Brave (12-1) and Bacardys (10-1) which could yet prove decisive in the continually enthralling battle to be Ireland’s top trainer.
Willie Mullins’s three winners trumped Gordon Elliott’s single Friday victory to leave the reigning champion with a €91,295 prize money lead and it will take a barnstorming final day by the title challenger to turn the tide.
That it has flown in Elliott’s favour for so much of the winter is likely to make him only more determined and he said: “If I don’t win I’ll be disappointed but it’s great to be involved and hopefully it’ll happen some year.”
Elliott still has major chances in both of Saturday’s Grade One’s although bookmakers reckon that momentum has swung in the title-holder’s favour and Mullins is 1-6 to win the championship for a 10th year in a row.
However, it won’t need the context of a fiercely fought championship for him to look back fondly at Friday’s action where his son repeatedly got the better of some of the sport’s finest professional jockeys.
That Patrick Mullins did so despite continuing to feel the effects of a shoulder injury he picked up at last month’s Cheltenham festival made his devastating three-timer all the more remarkable.
“He had to have an operation and a plate put in his collarbone,” explained Mullins snr afterwards, adding with typical National Hunt understatement – “I’d imagine it’s fairly sore.”
The man of the hour dismissed its significance and there was no sign of it as he edged out Robbie Power by a short head when Bacardy’s beat Finian’s Oscar in a thrilling battle to the Tattersalls Novice Hurdle.
It completed an unlikely top-flight double which began when Wicklow Brave was persuaded to be on his best behaviour in the Betdaq Champion Hurdle win out.
Wicklow Brave won an Irish St Leger last September under Frankie Dettori and while Mullins mightn’t have the Italian superstar’s style his powers of persuasion worked a similar oracle on his quirky partner.
There was intense focus on whether the much more famously quirky Labaik would start in the Champion Hurdle but he jumped off fine and it was Wicklow Brave who momentarily appeared reluctant to compete.
He then raced too keenly in his first-time blinkers and it was at halfway that his partner took a race-winning decision.
“I think what happened is called getting run away with in style!” joked Mullins. “I didn’t want to fight him so I let him go on and use his jumping. To do that is fantastic, especially as it helps my father.”
At the second-last jump Wicklow Brave had built up a substantial lead and a good jump at the last ensured he kept enough of it to beat the English raider My Tent Or Yours with Arctic Fire in third.
“Prize money wasn’t on my mind. For an amateur to do that is very special,” said Mullins snr of his son who has a constant struggle with keeping weight off his near six-foot frame.
“For his size I don’t know how he does it. He’s a huge guy. He shows huge commitment and also appreciation for the horses he’s allowed ride. But I wouldn’t let him ride them if he wasn’t able. He’s able to think his way through a race and is just very good,” he added.
Codd was left looking over his shoulder after Montalbano also won and Mullins admitted: “It’s been frustrating the last two weeks because I couldn’t get a winner. Now I’ve all these. It’s just a pity the prize money doesn’t count for the amateur title!”
Bacardys touched off the English favourite Finian’s Oscar in the final strides after Mullins’s improvisational skill again came to the fore.
“The plan was to follow Ruby [Walsh] but it didn’t quite go to plan. He jumped a bit high and left and lost his position but all credit to the horse to come from where he did,” he said.
On the day that was in it, even rallying to overhaul the same Ruby Walsh wasn’t beyond the amateur star who powered the well-backed Montalbano back up to win the novice hurdle from his stable companion Riven Light.