Willie Mullins secures trainers’ title after epic battle with Gordon Elliott

Bapaume’s Grade One success under Ruby Walsh put Mullins over the line

Ruby Walsh with trainer Willie Mullins following victory in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle aboard Bapaume. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A Grade One success for Apple's Jade at Punchestown on Saturday meant Gordon Elliott went down guns blazing but a momentous National Hunt season concluded with Willie Mullins crowned Ireland's champion trainer.

Despite that it was still a bittersweet afternoon for Mullins as his son Patrick came up agonisingly short of Jamie Codd in the amateur jockeys championship.

A 20-1 success on Open Eagle in the big handicap hurdle continued Mullins Jnr’s run of success and brought him to within one winner of Codd. But in the very final race of the season both riders were out of the money and Codd secured his first amateur title by deposing Mullins 41-40.

Ruby Walsh on board Bapaume clears the last to win the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Earlier Bapaume provided Mullins Snr with his own top-flight success on the day and after overhauling his great rival on prizemoney just the day before the man who has dominated racing for a decade eventually won out by €199,455 on the back of winning €937,075 over the week at Punchestown.


It was a 10th trainers’ title in a row for Mullins and an 11th in all, but the 60-year-old conceded none have been so hard-fought as this.

“I’m delighted to have won. I didn’t think it was possible to be quite honest but everything came together in the end,” he said before paying tribute Elliott. “Gordon has been magnificent the whole year and he’s been a gentleman about the whole thing.”

In the context of losing 60 horses over a training fees dispute with champion owner Michael O’Leary, and star names such as Faugheen and Annie Power confined to the sidelines, it was also a notably stressful campaign for Mullins.

“It’s been a funny season. It hasn’t been very enjoyable and I’m glad it’s over,” he admitted.

That Elliott spent much of the season in front, amid predictions that the 39-year-old challenger heralded a changing of the guard, meant both men’s reluctance to talk-up their struggle couldn’t prevent much of this season’s narrative being hung on the ups and downs of their struggle.

Having spent much of the winter proclaiming he had “no chance” of deposing Mullins, Elliott’s failure to secure a first title at the death left him admitting on Saturday he was “heartbroken” at the loss.

But he was also quick to point out how his 193 individual winners in Ireland this season equalled Mullins’s record tally in 2013.

“Coming here today, of course I wanted to win the thing but I thought if we got 193 winners, and equalled Willie on that, I’d be delighted,” he said.

That winner tally beat his rival’s haul of 180 but with the trainers’ title judged on prizemoney the final decisive figure was Mullins’s haul of €4,580,200.

It was Friday’s hat-trick, all of them ridden by his son Patrick, which put at least one of Mullins’s hands on the championship.

However, the man of the moment conceded: “Going into the lead for the first time this year was a bonus. I was just delighted for Patrick. We haven’t changed anything this season. We do what we normally do. Gordon is a great competitor and improving every year. So now we’ll have to up our game!”

The relentless focus on the trainers’ championship meant the jockeys’ titles got shoved to the shadows in comparison but Ruby Walsh was crowned champion for the 12th time with a total of 131 winners which equalled his best ever tally.

And Rachel Blackmore’s 32 winners meant she is the first woman to land the conditional jockeys’ title. Blackmore later took a heavy fall from Pique Sous in the big handicap hurdle and was taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays.

Walsh had endured an atypically frustrating Punchestown up to Bapaume landing the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle but hit the Grade One mark on the 2-1 favourite.

“I’m delighted I was some use to Willie Mullins this week!” joked the legendary rider. “He’s only a handy little horse but he’s delivered on a very, very important day.”

Apple’s Jade had earlier followed the script with an impressive victory in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle.

“She’s very good and that was a great performance. I doubt she’ll jump fences and the mares’ hurdle or the stayers’ are possible targets for her,” Elliott said. “That’s three Grade One this week. It’s been very good and we’ve had a great season.”

Elliott wound up the festival with five winners in all, four behind Mullins’s nine. Robbie Power was the festival’s top rider with six winners.

The final day crowd was the biggest of the week at 34,270 and it brought the overall attendance for the week to 122,557, up over 8,000 on last year.

Willie Mullins – €4,58o,20
Gordon Elliott – €4,380,705

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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