AN incredible few hours in the race to be champion trainer in Ireland saw Willie Mullins turn around his long-standing deficit with Gordon Elliott to lead by €91,295 with just one day to go and all to play for at Punchestown.
Elliott led Mullins by €402,405 at the start of the week, but Mullins has been hitting back and did so in real style on the fourth evening, with the highlight being a Grade 1 double through Wicklow Brave and Bacardys, with both horses ridden by his son, Patrick.
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The father-son combination added a third through Montalbano, on a night where Mullins jnr kept alive his hopes of overhauling Jamie Codd in the race to be champion amateur.
Mullins said: “I’m not thinking about where we stand, I’m just trying to get our horses to run as well as they can.
“We have been hitting the bar, but it’s starting to come together and hopefully it will last for the next 24 hours.
“It’s been the way the season has been going for us. The last few days of Festivals have been good to us, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
“It’s huge for Patrick to ride three winners for us today. His riding has got us back in front in the championship. If it comes to pass that we win the championship then Patrick’s winners today will make it all the more special.”
Kicking off €126,830 down, it was so nearly a flying start for Mullins in the €100,000 EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase, but not for the first time this week Jessica Harrington had one too good as Woodland Opera saw off Arbre De Vie by three-quarters of a length, although it did have the effect of cutting the deficit to €106,830.
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That was soon negated, however, as teenage sensation Jack Kennedy booted Definite Ruby (7-1) home in the Hanlon Concrete European Breeders Fund Glencarraig Lady Mares Handicap Chase, bagging over €44,000 to take the Elliott advantage to €148,080, although Mullins did manage fourth with Retour En France.
Elliott, who looks like needing all the help he can get from the former Mullins-trained Apple’s Jade among others on Saturday, said: “There’s plenty of pressure obviously, but we’ve had a great season no matter what happens.
“Willie is virtually impossible to beat, but we’ll give it a rattle and won’t go down without a fight.
“We’re still in front and if I can go into tomorrow anywhere near him at all, I’ve got a lot of guns to fire.”
That joy was to prove short-lived for Elliott, as a sensational performance from Wicklow Brave (12-1) in the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle saw him recapture all the sparkle that had him winning the Irish St Leger last season.
Mullins jnr kicked for home a long way out and his mount dug deep to hold the gallant My Tent Or Yours by a length and a half.
With stablemate Arctic Fire third and Labaik fourth for Elliott, Mullins incredibly took over at the head of the table, to lead by €19,420.
Reacting to a seventh win in the last eight runnings of the race, Mullins said: “There are a lot of races still to go. I thought because we were only first and third, that was the trainers’ championship gone, but then someone told me we were in front. I’m not counting!
“It’s tough racing here all week. Jessie (Harrington) is having a fantastic season and a fantastic week, which is good.
“Then you’ve got Colin Tizzard doing well and other quality English horses coming over.”
Once the Mullins machine gets rolling it is very hard to stop and that was perfectly illustrated in the very next race as Mullins jnr got 10-1 chance Bacardys home from the gallant Tizzard-trained Finian’s Oscar in the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle.
After being behind for so long, Mullins was stretching his newly-acquired lead to €77,420.
Montalbano (11-4) had been joined and headed by stablemate Riven Light and Ruby Walsh in the novice hurdle, but his rider would not be denied and drove his mount back up to a neck success. In doing it extended the Mullins advantage to €94,295.
Mullins did not have a runner in the concluding bumper, and while his son did he was out of the places on the David Pipe-trained Warthog behind Dermot Anthony McLoughlin’s Carnardier (8-1), who just held Codd on Elliott’s Its All Guesswork.