Big Willie Style! Mullins Forges Ahead at Punchestown as Race for Top Trainer Prize Heats Up

Top Trainer AwardNow that the US, Syria and Russia seem to have called some kind of truce – how long that lasts is anybody’s guess – we can all focus on enjoying the finer things in life.

Few things can match an afternoon at races, and a small town in Ireland is hosting five of them in quick succession this week!

The Punchestown Festival kicked off yesterday and continues right through until Saturday, and most of the finest horses from the UK and Ireland will be in action.

Proceedings commenced on Tuesday with a riotous day of racing. The opening trio of renewals were the stuff of legend for the bookmakers (and shrewd punters) with 16/1, 25/1 and 12/1 winners, before the day’s feature race – the Champion Chase – was won by the mercurial Un De Sceaux ahead of stablemate and odds-on favourite Douvan.

The action continues on Wednesday, with the Punchestown Gold Cup being the stand-out race, as well as a stacked ‘undercard’ which features plenty of punting opportunities.

And for the two men in the hunt for the prestigious Top Irish Trainer trophy, there are four days left in which to accumulate some much-needed prize money.

Mullins vs Elliott: The Tale of the Tape

Behind every great horse is a good man, so the old saying (sort of) goes. A top-notch trainer can spot a diamond in the rough and fine tune them for greatness, and in modern horse racing few are better than that than Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.

Mullins, the Cheltenham Festival specialist, and the versatile Elliott, who took the spoils at the Grand National with Tiger Roll, have been going head-to-head all season long, and in the race for that Irish Trainer’s gong they could scarcely be any closer.

Elliott led the prize money stakes by around €500,000 (we’re talking euros in Ireland, remember!) heading into the Punchestown Festival, but after a strong day one Mullins has closed the gap significantly.

He watched on as his charges Draconien, True Self and Un De Sceaux were victorious in their races to ensure he trousered winner’s cheques in the region of €260,000 – and it could have been so much better.

Mullins’ steed Al Boum Photo was clear of the field in the Champion Novice Chase with Paul Townend on board, and looked likely to cap a fantastic day for the Irishman’s yard.

But at this tweet testifies, Townend bizarrely veered off course heading into the last fence, rounding it before crashing into the security fencing. He took out Finian’s Oscar in the process, leaving Elliott to claim a much-needed one-two-three with The Storyteller leading home Monbeg Notorious and Jury Duty. That win, coupled with a triumph in the Land Rover Bumper, netted Elliott in excess of €120,000.

So it’s all to play for heading into the rest of the week, and it will be fascinating to see how this intriguing festival sub-plot plays out.

Punchestown’s Big Ones

There are a number of big races still to come at Punchestown, with some rather hefty paycheques likely to determine the winner of the Mullins vs Elliott duel.

On Wednesday the headline act is the Punchestown Gold Cup, and Mullins looks well poised with a trio of horses – Bellshill, Killultagh Vic and Djakadam – likely to vie for honours with the bookies’ favourite, Road to Respect.

Elliott’s best hope, meanwhile, appears to be the out-of-form Outlander; not ideal given the €160,000 winner’s cheque.

Thursday’s big race is the Stayers’ Hurdle, and Mullins once again looks primed for a big payday courtesy of his outstanding charge, Penhill.

The seven-year-old’s triumph in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham was hugely impressive, and punters expect him to double-up here; hence his 7/4 favouritism. Elliott’s best hope according to the sportsbooks is the French horse, Diamond Cauchois, a 10/1 jolly.

The Punchestown Champion Hurdle is Friday’s highlight, and while we still await the final declarations it appears as if Melon, another Mullins fancy, will lead the betting market ahead of Supasundae. We await to see if Elliott posts any of his premier horses in this one.

The festival comes to a close on Saturday with a cracking card. Elliott’s Jade’s Apple is fancied in the Annie Power Mares’ Champion Hurdle, while the Celebration Chase could well be dominated by Altior, the outstanding Nicky Henderson raider.

The bet365 Gold Cup, meanwhile, should be hotly contested – but not necessarily by Mullins and Elliott!

The former RSA Chase champion, Blaklion, takes favouritism for the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard while Missed Approach, from William Greatrex, may just be fancied following his exploits at Cheltenham last month.