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'Mullins had his 15th championship in the bag before Punchestown but it didn’t stop him dominating'

Donn McClean takes a look back at the 2021 Punchestown Festival and Willie Mullins’ 19-winner haul.

GOING INTO THE Punchestown Festival in 2018, one week to go in the 2017/18 Irish National Hunt season, and Willie Mullins trailed Gordon Elliott by over €500,000 in the trainers’ championship.  

You knew that Willie Mullins would be strong at Punchestown but, even so, it was a fair gap, and the bookmakers made Gordon Elliott favourite to claim his first title.

willie-mullins-after-winning-with-stormy-ireland Willie Mullins Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That was the year that the Willie Mullins-trained future dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo ran out at the final fence in the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase on the first day, took Finian’s Oscar with him, and left the way clear for a Gordon Elliott 1-2-3 in the race.  After that, you thought that maybe it was the year that Willie Mullins would loosen his vice-grip on the trainers’ title.  He didn’t. He had a record 18 winners at the 2018 Punchestown Festival, and he claimed the trainers’ championship for the 12th time.

Mullins had his 15th championship in the bag long before the Punchestown Festival rolled around again last Tuesday, but it didn’t stop him dominating the week once more.  A 19-winner haul broke his previous best by one.  And among the 19 winners were nine Grade 1 winners and several potential stars of the future.

Stand-out performance among the Mullins 19?  There are many candidates.  Chacun Pour Soi bounced back to his brilliant best after his defeat in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham and landed the William Hill Champion Chase on Tuesday, while Colreevy upstaged the big two, Monkfish and Envoi Allen, and landed the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase on the same day.  She will be missed on the racecourse, she will now head for the paddocks, in foal to Walk In The Park, but her offspring should be worth the wait.

Capodanno and Kilcruit and Asterion Forlonge and Dysart Dynamo.  Echoes In Rain added ballast to the notion that she is a mare who could take a high rank among the top two-mile hurdlers next season when she danced in in the two-mile Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, and Galopin Des Champs stepped forward again when he stepped up in trip and landed the three-mile Grade 1 novices’ hurdle.  He would be a really exciting staying novice chaser next season, should connections decide to go down that road.

Energumene was dominant in the Ryanair Novice Chase.  We didn’t get to see him take on Shishkin in the Arkle at Cheltenham, a setback ruled him out of that one, but hopefully the match-up will happen at some stage next season, all going well.  And Stormy Ireland was brilliant in winning the Mares’ Champion Hurdle, going from the front, the only way the diminutive mare knows, and flicking over her hurdles, every one of them in one of her many strides.

paul-townend-and-willie-mullins-celebrate-winning-with-chacun-pour-soi Jockey Paul Townend and trainer Willie Mullins celebrate winning with Chacun Pour Soi. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

But the accolade for training performance of the week probably goes to the champion trainer for Klassical Dream’s return in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle.  We know that Klassical Dream has bundles of talent, he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019 and he followed up by landing the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown six weeks later.  We hadn’t seen him though since he had finished fifth of five behind his stable companion Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown in December 2019.  And he had never gone beyond two and a quarter miles in his life.

The step up to three miles was a step into the unknown, but the pre-race market was laced with expectation.  Available at big prices in the morning, Joanne Coleman’s horse was sent off as 5/1 joint second favourite, and he duly justified the market confidence, winning easily under Patrick Mullins.  The Dream Well gelding will obviously be one of the leading staying hurdlers next season if he remains over hurdles, but he has been widely talked about as a chaser too, and he was declared for a beginners’ chase at Leopardstown in December before he was withdrawn.  These are nice problems to have in your in-tray for the summer.

willie-mullins-celebrates-after-winning-with-chacun-pour-soi Willie Mullins finished with a 19-winner haul at Punchestown. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was a week for the extended Mullins team too.  Paul Townend rode five of the 19 Mullins winners and claimed the jockeys’ championship for the third time in a row and for the fourth time in total.  The challenge that Rachael Blackmore mounted was real, a treble at Kilbeggan on the Friday night before Punchestown taking her to within four of Townend, but that was as close as she got.  The champion rode through the pain of his injured foot, that pain eased, no doubt, by those five winners that took him to the 100-winner mark again for the season.  Townend had just nine rides at the 2021 Punchestown Festival, and he won on five of them, four of them in Grade 1 races.

Patrick Mullins rode four of his dad’s 19 winners, and he won the bumper on Friday as well on My Mate Mozzie for Gavin Cromwell, and claimed the amateur riders’ championship for the 13th time, seeing off a spirited challenge from Jamie Codd.  Jody Townend capped a memorable season too, a season during which she won her first graded race on Grangee at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival and her first chase on Port Rashid at Tramore, by landing the Lady Amateur Riders’ championship.  She got in on the week as well by landing the Land Rover Bumper on Tuesday on Adamantly Chosen for Willie Mullins.

Actually, 11 different riders rode winners for Willie Mullins during the week.

JP McManus had three winners during the week, Guiri, Sully D’Oc AA and Capodanno, which saw him reach another milestone: 100 winners at the Punchestown Festival.  He was also crowned champion owner for the season for the 18th time.

And Simon Torrens, who rode Guiri and Sully D’Oc AA to victory in the JP McManus silks, and who also had his biggest winners earlier this season in the same silks on A Wave Of The Sea and Drop The Anchor and Scoir Mear, was crowned champion conditional jockey.

Honeysuckle starred again.  When Henry de Bromhead’s mare won the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Friday, she was winning for the 12th time in 12 attempts, 13 from 13 if you include her point-to-point.

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She had never run at Punchestown before, and she had to have had a hard race at Cheltenham six weeks earlier, when she won the Champion Hurdle, and Henry de Bromhead had had a blank few days at Punchestown up to that point, but none of that was relevant in the end.  Sent to the front by Rachael Blackmore on the run to the home turn, Kenny Alexander’s mare stretched clear of her rivals.  She did slow a little into the final flight, and it looked like she was giving Sharjah a chance, but she picked up again on the landing side and came away from her old sparring partner to win by over two lengths. 

Jeff Kidder stepped forward again to land the Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle on Saturday.  Noel Meade’s horse has been a revelation this spring, winning the Fred Winter Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Grade 2 Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Hurdle at Fairyhouse before coming on to Punchestown.  He had to improve again, taking on Quilixios and Zanahiyr and Haut En Couleurs, and he did.  He stayed on strongly for Sean Flanagan to get home by three parts of a length.

And then there was Clan Des Obeaux.  It was a brave call by trainer Paul Nicholls and by Clan Des Obeaux’s owners to sidestep Sandown and come on to Punchestown for the Punchestown Gold Cup, an away game for the visitor and taking on some of the top Irish staying chasers in training.  It was a strong performance too by the Kapgarde gelding, as he and Sam Twiston-Davies got the better of Melon, then saw off Kemboy, then Fakir D’Oudairies, and finally got the better of a duel with Al Boum Photo that lasted from the landing side of the third last fence to the approach to the last, when Clan Des Obeaux went on and Al Boum Photo had no more.

Clan Des Obeaux was the first of four British-trained winners, followed, as he was, by Sully D’Oc AA on Thursday and Bob And Co on Friday and Pure Bliss on Saturday, at a meeting at which the visitors are always welcomed.

Philip Rothwell had three winners, two of them supplied by the Walshes’ Singing Banjo, who won the Fr Sean Breen Memorial Ladies Cup over the banks on Tuesday under Barry Walsh, who was riding his first winner on the track, and who returned on Thursday to win the Mongey Communications La Touche Cup over the same banks, with Barry Walsh riding his second.  Jessica Harrington also had three winners, Guiri and Lifetime Ambition and Rapid Response, while Emmet Mullins had two, both ridden by Philip Byrnes: Crowns Major in the bumper on Tuesday and Carrarea in the bumper on Saturday, the final act in a fantastic week.

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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