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Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

The Perfect Storm

Willie MullinsWillie Mullins
© Photo Healy Racing

Weather has always been the number one topic of conversation in Ireland which is most odd considering we don’t actually get extreme weather events like other countries and for the most part we don’t even have seasons.

Up to last Saturday it had rained almost every day since July, but that hasn’t stopped our population discussing the weather incessantly. Weddings, funerals, business meetings, casual encounters in the street, every conversation starter is invariably about the weather.

“Not a bad day” “soft day thank God” “it’s due to brighten up later” “they’ve issued another yellow wind warning” “have you ever seen the likes of it”

In the racing stronghold of the Curragh where I live, horses are often the next thing we talk about after the weather. Almost everyone has some connection with the sport and around this time of year the talk normally turns to Punchestown. People asking are you going over to Punchestown? or have you got any tickets?

But, more recently it’s Willie Mullins that is dominating every racing conversation. He would have always got a mention around this time of year with his unrivalled success at the Punchestown festival and his Cheltenham exploits are already legendary, but he has moved to a completely new level recently with his challenge for the British Trainers’ Championship.

“Have you ever seen the likes of it” is now as likely to be a comment about him as it is about the weather. And in truth we have never seen anything like this before.

So far this season he has won every Grade One race at the Dublin Racing Festival, a further eight Grade One races at Cheltenham, including the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, and smashed through the 100 winner barrier for the Festival. He has since won the Aintree Grand National, plus another four Grade One races at that meeting, before last weekend adding the Scottish Grand National to his incredible haul.

Next month Willie Mullins will be crowned Irish trainers’ Champion for a remarkable 18th time and with him now virtually assured of winning the British trainers’ Championship for the first time he is rewriting almost every record in the jumps game.

With an average Punchestown by his standards - he trained 17 winners during the Festival last year - he looks set to top €10 million in prize money earned between Ireland and Britain. A staggering sum for a national hunt trainer.

He is currently just 10 winners shy of Dermot Weld in the all-time Irish trainers’ list with 4,364 wins worldwide and will no doubt hold that record shortly.

Despite ample evidence of Climate Change across the globe we still have plenty of naysayers preferring to believe everything is cyclical, but when it comes to the Willie Mullins dominance of National Hunt racing most are now facing up to the fact that this represents a seismic shift for the sport.

This is not merely a fleeting winter storm that will soon abate, this is a relentless perfect storm that national hunt racing finds itself in the middle of and all the indications are that it is only getting stronger.

One man winning everything is not good for any sport, but while in most other sports the athletes have a relatively short shelf life at the very top, Willie Mullins could conceivably have another decade or more at the helm in Closutton. Even then, it will probably be just a case of passing the baton to his eminently capable son Patrick and the dominance will continue indefinitely.

Willie Mullins is simply brilliant at what he does, not just in how he trains his horses, but also in his ability to surround himself with such a talented team that each bring their own area of expertise into the mix.

The progression in his stable’s performance is quite staggering. He first won the Irish Trainers’ Championship in 2007/2008, which coincided with the first time he trained more than 100 winners in a season, 110 to be exact. And his numbers of horses and winners have increased every year since then.

In reaching 110 winners in 2007/2008 he raced 130 individual horses during the season. This season the final number will be almost 300 horses.

This season he has trained 245 winners in Ireland, already surpassing last season’s record tally of 237, and he still has Punchestown to come.

Mullins is never going to win every Grade One race through a season (note to self - never say never when it comes to Willie), but he will easily win enough of them to be crowned Champion in Ireland again in 2025 and now that he has the taste for the British Trainers’ Championship I wouldn’t bet against him winning that again next year too.

Twenty years ago you’d have been laughed at if you even suggested an Irish jumps trainer could train 200 winners in a season. This season he will surpass 260 winners in Ireland and if you throw in his British wins the final tally will be within touching distance of 300.

Success certainly breeds success and the way things are heading it’s almost certain that Willie Mullins will have an even stronger team of horses next season. What that means for the rest of the trainers and the sport in general is already getting quite scary.