Punchestown Festival: Willie Mullins closes in on €4m for season
Trainer will claim ninth title and looks set for another Grade 1 victory with Annie Power
Annie Power will seek to atone for her crashing fall at Cheltenham with victory in the Mares hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud will be crowned champion owners today, and Ruby Walsh will claim a record-equalling tenth jockeys’ title. Patrick Mullins is again champion amateur and Johnny Burke is clear in the conditional race.
However the scale of Mullins’s remarkable dominance isn’t so much reflected in a ninth trainer’s title but in the fact he is rapidly closing in on €4 million in prizemoney for a record-breaking season.
That’s well over three times the total of his nearest rival Gordon Elliott, who has notched almost half Mullins’s tally of actual winners but knows better than anyone how the money table reflects a depth of quality at the champion trainer’s yard that is unprecedented in this country.
A record-breaking eight winners at Cheltenham emphasised Mullins’s reach in the sport and for many the focus today will be on what tally of winners the trainer winds up this Punchestown week with: that and the rather more prosaic prospect of how much rain is likely to fall.
A trio of €100,000 races sees Mullins with yet another short-priced Grade 1 favourite in Annie Power, a team of five – not to mention the first reserve – in the big handicap hurdle, and a pair of major hopes in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
Petite Parisienne brings tried and trusted festival form to a race Mullins has won in the last two years but it is Buiseness Sivola who looks to be progressing rapidly at the right time on the evidence of a major form improvement at Fairyhouse last time.
The English juveniles look largely superior this season but the Fred Winter winner Qualando was a surprise winner at Cheltenham and may not relish ground conditions getting too soft.
Annie Power’s final flight tumble ruined what would have been a perfect first day of Cheltenham in March but a clear round will surely see the top-notch mare repeat her 2014 Grade 1 success here.
Her nearest rival in the ratings – who just happens to be her stable companion Analifet – is rated a full 20lb inferior.
Arbre de Vie can hardly be said to be lurking in the big handicap hurdle but he is Ruby Walsh’s pick and any rain won’t be a problem to a horse that followed up an impressive Warwick victory with an admirable fourth to Martello Tower in the three-mile Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham.
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Jim Bolger’s Sunday focus will be on Lucida’s Newmarket 1,000 Guineas tilt but the trainer also sends seven hopefuls to Sligo, the best of which may be Novis Adventus in the last. Vasoni could also secure a third course and distance win in the second handicap.