13 March 2024

Magical Mullins brings up 100th Festival winner with Champion Bumper success

13 March 2024

Willie Mullins reached the magical 100-winner mark at the Cheltenham Festival as the Patrick Mullins-ridden Jasmin De Vaux provided him with a 13th victory in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

It is 29 years since the master of Closutton broke his Festival duck with Tourist Attraction in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Twelve months later he trained and rode Wither Or Which to claim his first Champion Bumper success.

Wind the clock forward almost three decades and Mullins is out on his own as the most successful trainer in the history of National Hunt racing’s showpiece meeting, with his tally of 94 ahead of his return to the Cotswolds this week putting him well clear of his great friend and rival Nicky Henderson on 73. In contrast to Mullins, the Seven Barrows handler has not enjoyed a good time of things, having to withdraw a number of his leading contenders.

Having sent a terrifically strong squad across the Irish Sea, it was a matter of when, not if, he would reach the century, and following a Tuesday treble courtesy of Champion Hurdle hero State Man, Mares’ Hurdle victor Lossiemouth and Gaelic Warrior in the Arkle, the figure loomed large.

With Ballyburn and Fact To File delighting favourite-backers in the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle and Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase respectively, El Fabiolo was widely expected to be the history maker in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but he was dramatically pulled up after hitting the fifth fence and the wait went on.

The Coral Cup and Grand Annual also came and went without a Mullins winner, but it was fitting that the big one came in the Festival race he has won more than any other as Jasmin De Vaux obliged at 9-2 with the trainer’s son in the saddle.

“It’s a wonderful day, it’s fantastic. As much I enjoy what’s happening, I think of my colleague and fellow trainer Nicky Henderson and what’s happened with his yard this week,” Mullins said.

“That’s always a worry that we have in the two or three weeks coming up to Cheltenham, that something will come in and bite you from outside. As much as we’re enjoying it, I don’t know how he must be feeling.

“You want competition and it must be gutting for him. You’d like good opposition to have fun with because I’m sure he would have beaten us a few times this week.”

He went on: “I thought my lifetime achievement was when I had a winner here in Cheltenham in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back in 1995 and who ever dreamt any trainer, never mind me, could do it .

“The team of owners we have help and I can’t train winners without a team of owners who have horses and then the team from my wife Jackie, to David Casey, Patrick, Ruby (Walsh), all our head people, it’s huge for them. I think they are probably going to enjoy it more than I will. It’s extraordinary stuff.”

Paying tribute to his son, Mullins said: “For Patrick to do it makes it very special and to do it for one of my biggest owners (Simon Munir and Isaac Souede).

“The team of owners we have make the job what it is, I can’t do it without them. They all praise each other when they have a winner and share in each other’s disappointment. Without owners I wouldn’t be here, none of us would, it’s their sport.

“I was really pleased that Patrick was the one to do it because I wasn’t sure he was on the right one but he was spot on and I was wrong.

“I’m just delighted, I wouldn’t say emotional. When I started out I didn’t think anyone would ever train 100 Cheltenham winners and I certainly didn’t think it would be me.

“People were saying I should have done it last year!”

On his father reaching the century, Mullins junior said: “There are no words really because it’s not something that when you start out you think is possible, it’s not even a dream because who dreams of having 100 Cheltenham winners?

“He has redefined what is possible and I’m just very privileged to get the 100 for my father – it’s a special moment.

“I always play it back to when the Gigginstown split happened and we lost the biggest owner in racing and a third or a quarter of our horses. Willie was in his early 60s and instead of him consolidating and maybe finishing second or third he went out and got more horses, more owners, more staff and more problems and got bigger because of it. I think if that hadn’t happened, we mightn’t be where we are right now.

“The calibre of staff we have is fantastic and the owners he’s built. He started with Rich (Ricci), that was our kickstart, and now we have the Munirs, the Donnellys, Cheveley Park and others. He’s making the most of everything.

“Willie can tell you do something one day and the next day he’ll give out to you for doing it, having forgotten he told you to do it the day before!

“He’s always chopping and changing things, he’s never standing still and can’t be told no. I remember when David Casey got his appendix in and couldn’t fly to Australia for the Melbourne Cup and Willie said ‘well can we get him there by land?’. This is to Melbourne, who else would even think like that?

“He doesn’t really get down, he’s very level. He gets angry the odd time, but he doesn’t get up and down really, which is a big thing.

“His way of thinking is a bit outside the box and at times he can be like the man from the moon, but it works.”

Asked what he has learnt from his father, he added: “Never be afraid to try things, never be afraid of messing up and never fall out with anyone. The Gigginstown thing happened, but they’re back now.

“He’s taught me to believe in yourself. He’s a funny man in that if you tell him to do something the more inclined he is to do the opposite, so you have to work around that and use reverse psychology sometimes.”

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