Willie Mullins (left) and Paul Nicholls went head to head for the trainers' title in Sandown today. Julian Herbert
falling just short

Nicholls claims trainers' title as Mullins left to rue three second-place finishes

The County Carlow handler will have to wait at least another 12 months to claim a first crown across the Irish Sea.

PAUL NICHOLLS HAS retained his British champion trainers’ title to prevent Willie Mullins from becoming the first Irishman to achieve the feat since the late Vincent O’Brien in 1953/54.

The pair were split by just £53,392 (€68,500) ahead of today’s season-ending meeting at Sandown.

A number of Mullins’ stable stars were in action today but he ultimately failed to claim the victories that he needed to close the gap on Nicholls.

Mullins recorded three second-place finishes in the opening three races at Sandown Park through Voix Du Reve, Valseur Lido and Un De Sceaux. But the County Carlow handler needed wins today to give himself a chance of reeling in his rival.

It was in the fourth race of the day, the bet365 Gold Cup Chase, that Nicholls’ lead became mathematically impossible for Mullins to erode when the former saddled Just A Par (second) and Southfield Theatre (fourth) to place money.

Following that race Mullins decided to withdraw one of his many stable stars, Vroum Vroum Mag, from the bet365 Select Hurdle, with next week’s Punchestown Festival in mind.

The day then got even better for Nicholls with a 1-2 finish in the Listed race when Petit Zzig (7-4f), with Sam Twiston-Davies in the saddle, made the most of Vroum Vroum Mag’s absence to claim the win with two lengths to spare over Silsol (9/2).

Earlier in the day, Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre wrote another chapter into his incredible comeback story with victory in the Celebration Chase.

The 11-10 favourite, who won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month, had 15 lengths to spare over Un De Sceaux (5/4). Nicholls’ Dodging Bullets (12/1) made up the minor placings.

Menorah (5/1) claimed the honours in the bet365 Oaksey Chase for newly-crowned champion jockey Richard Johnson.

Mullins’ Valseur Lido (4/5f) was the odds-on favourite but could only claim second place under Bryan Cooper. Rocky Creek (25/1) picked up third for Nicholls under Sean Bowen.

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