Co. Carlow trainer Willie Mullins has won the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship and the Leading Trainer Award at the Cheltenham Festival five times in the last eight years so, hopefully, requires little introduction. Admittedly, Mullins has found life more difficult since Gigginstown Stud, owned by Michael O’Leary, removed all 60 of its horses from his yard in September, 2016, following a dispute over training fees. Nevertheless, when Laurina effortlessly went clear to win the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle by 18 lengths in 2018, to record his seventh success of the week, he officially became the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 61 winners, one ahead of Nicky Henderson.
Mullins saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Tourist Attraction, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995 but, despite his impressive total, it hasn’t all been plain sailing in the interim. Between his forty-eighth winner, Limini in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2016 and his forty-ninth, Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase 2017, he actually racked up 25 consecutive losers although, in typical style, he subsequently saddled the winners of three of the remaining six races on the card.
Mullins has won the Champion Hurdle four times, with Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2013, Faugheen in 2015 and Annie Power in 2016 and the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Nichols Canyon in 2017 and Penhill in 2018. He has yet to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Cheltenham Gold Cup but, in the case of the latter event, has saddled the runner-up six times, including On His Own in 2014, who was beaten a short head after being carried across the course by the eventual winner, Lord Windermere, in the closing stages, but wasn’t awarded the race.