Willie Mullins wins Cheltenham trophy after it eluded him so long

Trainer savours moment of respect from English punters in Brexit-tarnished times

Jockey Paul Townend and trainer Willie Mullins with the Gold Cup following the winning ride on Al Boum Photo in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty

Jockey Paul Townend and trainer Willie Mullins with the Gold Cup following the winning ride on Al Boum Photo in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty

 

The shout came in a strong English accent: “Well done, Willie!” It was greeted by a warm cheer from the crowd in the sweeping arena around the winners’ enclosure at Prestbury Park.

In these feverish, Brexit-contaminated times in Anglo-Irish relations, it was a moment of respect from English punters at the Cheltenham Festival for Willie Mullins, one of the greats of Irish horseracing.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Until this year.

Mullins – the most successful trainer in the history of National Hunt racing’s “Olympics” – ended the curse after Al Boum Photo, owned by Cork bookmaker-turned-investor Joe Donnelly, won the trophy that seemed destined to elude him. The Carlow-based trainer had been runner-up a heartbreaking six times before.

“I probably resigned myself to that,” said the gentleman of jump racing. “I said, there are lots of people in sport who don’t win the pinnacle of the sport. They can win lots. Racing has been very good to me.”

‘Icing on cake’

Winning the Gold Cup was “the icing on the cake”, declared Mullins, who was also the festival’s top trainer this year.

The drama-filled race must have been an anxious 400 seconds for the Kilkenny man; three of his four runners failed to finish.

After four dramatic days of racing, the great Cheltenham contest ended a draw: Ireland 14-England 14.

Next year could be a trickier fixture if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal to maintain the smooth passage of Irish champion horses and contenders across the Irish Sea.

“If Brexit ever comes, I’d say Brexit will be a doddle,” Mullins told The Irish Times, comparing it with double the veterinary hurdles he had to clear this year after the equine flu outbreak in February.

Regulations and delays

Philip Reynolds, son of the late former taoiseach Albert, said the regulations meant his Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy had to travel a day earlier and four hours longer. The Galway-based horse came eighth.

“That is just going to be a taste of what’s going to come if we end up in a post-Brexit situation. I think a lot of trainers are going to wonder whether they want to go through all of that,” he said, before the race.

His father would be “absolutely horrified” by the “crazy” scenes at Westminster and Brexit, he said. “Any sensible person is horrified by what’s happened. What else could you be?”

Also among the punters was Robert Watt, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Asked about the odds on the EU and UK actually agreeing a deal on Brexit, he said: “Even money.”

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