Willie Mullins writes new book, but not a Cheltenham fairytale
Carlow trainer is champion for fourth time but Gold Cup eludes him once again
Trainer Willie Mullins shares a joke with jockey Luke Dempsey after Killultagh Vic’s victory in the Conditional Jockeys Hurdle on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
illie Mullins has rewritten the Cheltenham Festival record books after a 207-1 final day double brought his tally for the week to eight winners, surpassing Nicky Henderson’s 2012 total by one, and providing the vast bulk of 13 Irish-trained winners in 2015.
Maybe it was because it was Friday the 13th, but the fates didn’t conspire to produce a fairytale farewell to Tony McCoy – fourth on his final festival ride in the race named after him, the AP McCoy Grand Annual – or to put the cherry on top of Mullins’s week with a Gold Cup success.
Instead the champion trainer’s cherished ambition to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup will have to wait another year after Djakadam finished runner-up to Coneygree in the big race, a fifth second placing for Mullins in steeplechasing’s most prestigious prize.
However the scale of the Co Carlow-based trainer’s current dominance of National Hunt racing was further emphasised by a 25-1 success for Wicklow Brave in the County Hurdle and the 7-1 Killultagh Vic in the Martin Pipe Hurdle.
He also saddled Milsean to finish second in the Albert Bartlett to Martello Tower, trained by Mags Mullins who was married to the champion trainer’s brother Tony, with the family links emphasised by Milsean ridden by the winning trainer’s son, Danny.
With On The Fringe landing the Foxhunters for Nina Carberry and Enda Bolger, four Irish-trained winners on the final day left the visitors just one short of the home team who were awarded the BetBright Cup (14-13.)
Ruby Walsh was crowned top jockey for a ninth time, with four winners, including Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle on Faugheen, which proved the focal point of Mullins’s unprecedented four Grade 1 wins on a single day at Cheltenham, and made a fourth leading trainer award a formality.
“We’ve brought over lots of horses but it’s so competitive here,” Mullins said. “We’ve had a fantastic spring and didn’t have any issues with any of the horses, who have been able to have a great preparation. So it’s all worked out.”
Except, though, for another agonising near-miss in the Gold Cup, as Djakadam failed by a length and a half to reel in the English novice, Coneygree who scored for jockey Nico de Boinville and trainer Mark Bradstock.
There was a sting in the Gold Cup’s tail for jockey Bryan Cooper who finished third on Road To Riches. Having already picked up a four-day suspension for his use of the whip on the Albert Bartlett third, No More Heroes, the Kerry rider got a further 11-day ban for his whip use in the Gold Cup and was also fined more than €1,700 by the stewards.
It was a landmark day for the legendary British champion jockey Tony McCoy who could finish only ninth on Carlingford Lough in the Gold Cup and was applauded to the start of the final race by the huge Cheltenham crowd.
“It’s very flattering. I appreciated the clapping to the start. And when I finished fourth I got cheered back,” said the Co Antrim jockey who will retire towards the end of the season. “I’m going to miss being a jockey here.”