‘Game on’ says Mullins after National glory as he targets title

I Am Maximus's Grand National win puts Willie Mullins on course to emulate fellow Irish le

Irish trainer Willie Mullins’s win in the Grand National sets him up nicely to be crowned British champion jumps trainer and emulate legendary compatriot Vincent O’Brien 70 years ago.

I Am Maximus’s impressive victory on Saturday at Aintree resulted in Mullins rising to the top of the standings, over £50,000 ($62,000) ahead of Dan Skelton with three-time defending champion Paul Nicholls close behind.

The British season reaches its climax with Finals Day at Sandown on Saturday week.

Whilst Mullins views I Am Maximus as good enough to win him a third successive Cheltenham Gold Cup next year — though his two-time champion Galopin des Champs might have other ideas — his immediate goal is more modest fare as he seeks to tick another box in his lengthening list of achievements.

“It’s game on I think, isn’t it?” said a hoarse-voiced Mullins, who added he needed “some celebratory lubrication” to put it right.

“Sandown, Ayr, Perth, wherever we can see a prize — I think we have to go for it now.

“I’m getting as much fun out of having a go at it now as anyone.”

The 67-year-old is in the box seat for an 18th Irish trainers title — he leads perennial runner-up Gordon Elliott by over 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) — but he said the British crown had not been a target.

However, nine winners at the Cheltenham Festival — including the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle — and the National puts him on course to become only the second foreign-based trainer to land the coveted prize.

O’Brien, who was to go on to become one of the greatest trainers of all time on the flat, won back to back titles in 1953 and 1954.

Mullins also broke a career century of winners landmark at the Cheltenham Festival

“Fantastic. We never set out to have 100 winners at the festival,” he said.

“No one thought it was possible. We’re gobsmacked it happened.

“I would love to win the trainers’ championship.

“I didn’t set out at the start of the season to win the championship.

“Vincent O’Brien did it in the 50s, and it’s something different to do, and I would like to win it.”

‘Would be mad’

Mullins, who remains humble and is prone to praising his “wonderful staff for the success”, said he had been encouraged by I Am Maximus’s owner JP McManus to go for the title in the past three years.

However, he said ensuring he did not take the eye off the ball back in Ireland had been his priority.

“I always think, just mind how things go on at home rather than spread yourself too thin and come to England every second weekend, and maybe leaving yourself wide open to have a bad season.

“Playing away games, as I call them, takes a lot out of a horse, especially early in the season, and I don’t do much travelling then, because I think you might leave bigger prizes behind.

“I’m going to have to look at some of the smaller races in Britain now as well, and that’s more difficult.

“I find the English programme very hard to navigate, a lot of it is about handicaps in England and that’s tough on horses.”

Mullins, whose operation is very much a family affair with son Patrick his assistant, says if someone had suggested he would win the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and National in the same season “they would be mad.”

“You might have favourites for all three of those races, but you never win all three.

“We can’t believe at home, at night time, myself and Jackie (his wife) going through the horses, we’re gobsmacked looking at the talent we have in the yard.

“When I was a younger, smaller trainer I would’ve been proud to have one of my barns. It’s just extraordinary.”

For the moment Mullins hopes to feel the same sensation of being on “cloud nine” for a year after Hedgehunter won in 2005.

“That’s the way the Grand National makes you feel,” he said.

“That you’re the Grand National winning trainer.

“I hope to have the same feeling again this year.”

Authored by Afp via Breitbart April 13th 2024