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Press Release 13th March 2023 Cheltenham

By Nick Seddon

It doesn’t take very long to run out of superlatives when trying to summarise the impact of Willie Mullins on The Cheltenham Festival, and it’s one which hit new heights 12 months ago.

The fact that Mullins’ record haul of 10 winners matched the entirety of the British challenge across the four days is one thing, though it becomes even more remarkable when you consider that half of those came on a spectacular Gold Cup Day for Closutton, his Carlow yard.

Significant moments came before that, of course, thanks to trademark brilliance from Allaho in the Ryanair Chase and a long-awaited first victory in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with Energumene, though, as it transpired, they would serve as a taste for a final day of the ages.

Victory in the first three races on the Friday of the meeting for each of Vauban, State Man and The Nice Guy triggered the inevitable hints that Mullins could do the unthinkable and go through the card. And while things didn’t quite go to plan in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, successes for Elimay in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase and Billaway with son Patrick in the St James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase rounded off a near-perfect week.

There’s always room for improvement, though, and it’s perhaps a mark of the man that Mullins is keen to stress that he was merely content with his tally of five winners from the opening three days.

He explains: “It was a fantastic week, but we had five winners over the first three days which really was just OK. It’s amazing though - to get one winner on the board is always fantastic for any trainer and when we go there every year, we’re hoping to get our name on the board.

“When you have a day like that Friday it all sort of goes by in a flash, as you can’t believe what’s happening. It’s a rollercoaster as you go from the parade ring to the winner’s enclosure and then chatting to the media. You’re just hoping that someone is saddling the next runners - and the same goes on.

“For it to happen three times in a row at the start of Gold Cup Day was unbelievable, and I’ve got a great team. They keep things ticking along by weighing out the jockeys and saddling the horses and things like that.

“It may sound simple, but when you’ve got so many runners on a big day like that with everything going on, it’s very easy to slip up. It’s huge for me to have a team like that doing what they do at Cheltenham, and I let them get on with the show and try not to interfere.”

The conversation soon starts to move back through the years, all the way through to Mullins’ first Cheltenham winner as a trainer, with Tourist Attraction in the 1995 renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Mullins had made his mark on The Festival before that, of course, winning the National Hunt Chase with Hazy Dawn as a jockey in 1982, and as he lists his Cheltenham alumni it soon becomes apparent that there are too many memories to cram into one feature.

It’s something of a thankless task to ask him to pick his favourite from a list which contains the likes of Hurricane Fly, Al Boum Photo and Faugheen, to name just three, though he does admit to holding a certain soft spot for the 2008 Champion Bumper winner Cousin Vinny – who provided his son Patrick with his first Festival winner in the saddle.

Patrick was just 18 at the time and, having picked up his first Festival ride on Adamant Approach in the previous year’s Pertemps Final, he nearly didn’t get his chance to shine as the weather was causing chaos.

Mullins explains: “The race was very nearly run in the dark, as a big storm had led to that race day [the second day of the 2008 Festival] being cancelled. Cheltenham were fantastic to put 11 races together the following day, but we were fretting and sweating all day whether there’d be enough time to run the Bumper before the evening closed in.

“If there was one stewards’ enquiry or a couple of false starts we’d probably had to have missed the Bumper, so we were there on tenterhooks all day!

“We were hoping that he’d run well, not thinking he might win, but to see Patrick turning for home with two top jockeys at the time [Ruby Walsh and Davy Russell] was hugely exciting for Jackie and I as his parents.

“It brought together a lovely story. We won the Champion Bumper ourselves as owners and breeders with Joe Cullen in 2000, and Patrick was on the rostrum collecting the trophy with us.

“Sophie Weatherby was there, and she went down to give him a peck on the cheek. Being a typical kid Patrick then waited until he thought nobody was looking and gave it a big wipe afterwards! It was very funny, and little did he think that eight years later he’d be back on the rostrum as the winning rider, so that was very special and it’s something we look back on fondly.”

The next question draws a wry smile from Mullins, as he is asked whether he knows the identity of the seven races he is yet to win at The Festival as a trainer – which, for the record, are the Ultima Handicap Chase, the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase, the Pertemps Network Final, the Festival Plate Handicap Chase and Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Unsurprisingly he passes this test with flying colours, and while he is slightly pessimistic about his chances of completing the set, there is one race on that list which stands out more than most.

He explains: “I don’t think it’s going to happen as we can’t seem to win handicap chases in England and we don’t set our horses out to win them. It’s not a worry though, we’ve won the Graded races and if the handicap races arrive that’s great, but it’s not something that I’ve set out to achieve.

“I would like to win the Kim Muir, though. It’s Patrick’s goal to win the three amateur races at the Cheltenham Festival. It may be harder to do at his weight, but I’m sure he’s going to have a good go and I’d hope that if he can win it that it would be on one of mine.”

There is something of a serendipity around the fact that Mullins has a plethora of favourites for the 2023 Festival, which when added to his current tally of 88 winners would take him rather neatly to a century.

Even the mention of an impending century has long been something of a commentator’s curse in cricket, and as you’d perhaps expect, Mullins is keen to sweep such talk away towards the boundary.

“I don’t ever think about accolades or records and I’m always amazed when people tell me stats about what we’ve actually won,” he says.

“Getting winners is a relief. We’re not aiming to beat 10 or anything like that, just to get on the board if we can and hopefully a few of the right horses win. Only half of the favourites tend to win at Cheltenham as a rule of thumb, so that [six] wouldn’t be a bad number if we get somewhere near it!

“People expect us to have winners, but we never go there expecting. We go there hoping, and it’s a relief if we can get a winner or two.

“You forget until you get back to Cheltenham that every inch of ground is fought for from the start to the finish. Throughout the year you might get a normal race where three of four would have a serious chance of winning, whereas in a race at Cheltenham you can have many times that number lining up thinking they have a chance.

“The competition is immense and there’s no given when you’re over there. That’s what makes it special and what makes it so hard to win there.”

Mullins’ week starts with four runners in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, headed by Facile Vega, winner of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper last year. If one of these balls hits the wicket, then that century becomes a real possibility.


Willie Mullins’ record 88 Festival winners


1995 Tourist Attraction - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle


1996 Wither Or Which - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


1997 Florida Pearl - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


1998 Florida Pearl - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

1998 Alexander Banquet - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


2000 Joe Cullen - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


2002 Scolardy - JCB Triumph Hurdle


2004 Rule Supreme - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase


2005 Missed That - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


2007 Ebaziyan - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle


2008 Fiveforthree - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

2008 Cousin Vinny - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


2009 Quevega - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2009 Mikael D’Haguenet - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

2009 Cooldine - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase


2010 Quevega - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2010 Thousand Stars - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle


2011 Hurricane Fly - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2011 Quevega Close - Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2011 Final Approach - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

2011 Sir Des Champs - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle


2012 Quevega - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2012 Champagne Fever - Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2012 Sir Des Champs – Turners Novices’ Chase


2013 Champagne Fever - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2013 Hurricane Fly - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2013 Quevega - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2013 Back In Focus - National Hunt Chase

2013 Briar Hill - Weatherbys Champion Bumper


2014 Vautour - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2014 Quevega - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2014 Faugheen - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

2014 Don Poli - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle


2015 Douvan - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2015 Un De Sceaux - Sporting Life Arkle Chase

2015 Faugheen - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2015 Glens Melody - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2015 Don Poli - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2015 Vautour - Turners Novices’ Chase

2015 Wicklow Brave - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

2015 Killultagh Vic - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle


2016 Douvan - Sporting Life Arkle Chase

2016 Annie Power - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2016 Vroum Vroum Mag - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2016 Yorkhill - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

2016 Black Hercules - Turners Novices’ Chase

2016 Vautour - Ryanair Chase

2016 Limini – Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle


2017 Yorkhill - Turners Novices’ Chase

2017 Un De Sceaux - Ryanair Chase

2017 Nichols Canyon - Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle

2017 Let’s Dance - Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

2017 Arctic Fire - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

2017 Penhill - Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle


2018 Footpad - Sporting Life Arkle

2018 Benie Des Dieux - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

2018 Rathvinden - National Hunt Chase

2018 Bleu Berry - Coral Cup

2018 Relegate - Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2018 Penhill - Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle

2018 Laurina - Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle


2019 Klassical Dream - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2019 Duc De Genievres - Sporting Life Arkle

2019 Eglantine Du Seuil - Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

2019 Al Boum Photo - Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup


2020 Ferny Hollow - Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2020 Min - Ryanair Chase

2020 Concertista - Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

2020 Burning Victory - JCB Triumph Hurdle

2020 Saint Roi - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

2020 Monkfish - Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

2020 Al Boum Photo - Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup


2021 Appreciate It – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2021 Monkfish – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2021 Sir Gerhard – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2021 Allaho – Ryanair Chase

2021 Colreevy – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase

2021 Galopin Des Champs - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle


2022 Stattler – National Hunt Chase

2022 Sir Gerhard – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

2022 Energumene – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

2022 Facile Vega – Weatherbys Champion Bumper

2022 Allaho – Ryanair Chase

2022 Vauban – JCB Triumph Hurdle

2022 State Man – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

2022 The Nice Guy – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

2022 Billaway – St James’s Place Festival Hunters’ Chase

2022 Elimay – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase


The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Leading Trainer at The Festival awards (9): 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022


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