Cheltenham Festival 2015: Mullins puts on Brave face with record win tally

Willie Mullins brought up a record eight wins at the fixture with two more victories yesterday

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The Independent Online

Djakadam could not quite pull off a first Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph for Willie Mullins here yesterday, but the Irish trainer was not about to complain as he reflected on his record-breaking week.

Instead, he was more than happy to applaud the connections of the winner Coneygree for their “huge and brave decision to run a novice” and offered no excuses for his own horse’s narrow defeat.

Wicklow Brave’s procession in the County Hurdle and Killultagh Vic’s scramble in the Martin Pipe Hurdle brought the Mullins tally at the Festival to eight winners, one more than Nicky Henderson’s 2012 total.

Paul Townend did the steering job on Wicklow Brave, his third win of the week, while 18-year-old Luke Dempsey was notching his first Festival victory aboard Killultagh Vic and came in for special praise from Mullins for snatching the race out of the fire.

 

“I never thought about having this many winners,” the trainer said. “You always come here just hoping that you can get one on the board and then you take what happens after that. My staff have been so important this week. You can see I haven’t been doing much, I’ve been too busy talking to all of you!”

Mullins is likely to return next year with a team perhaps even stronger, including two of this week’s winners, the novice chasers Don Poli and Vautour (whose victory in the JLT Chase was the trainer’s personal favourite moment of the week), joining Djakadam in a fearsome challenge for the Gold Cup.

The Triumph Hurdle has always been good to Henderson – his first of five previous victories in the race came back in 1985 – but never quite as good as yesterday when Peace And Co led home a 1-2-3 for his Lambourn stable.

The approach to Cheltenham’s last jump is racing’s “squeaky bum time”, but seldom can anyone have watched the final stages of a Festival race play out in so much comfort as did Henderson, as Peace And Co, Top Notch and Hargam fought only each other for supremacy, clear of the rest.

“Anything Willie Mullins can do, eh?” shouted Barry Geraghty to Henderson – in reference to the Irish trainer’s clean sweep of the Champion Hurdle podium on Tuesday – as the jockey guided Peace And Co through the swarm of well-wishers and into the winner’s enclosure to the extra cheers of appreciation reserved for a well-backed favourite.

This has been a relatively low-key week for Henderson, but the Triumph Hurdle was a race that had to be won, as the trainer underlined. “Our horses had been running well enough, but we knew we’d be struggling if we couldn’t win this with the strong hand we had,” he said. “It’s quite nice when they come to the last like that and you’re not having to go, ‘Oh please…’ It’s bad luck that you have to go beating up your own troops, but this is the [four-year-old] championship and they were all entitled to go for it.

“We know Michael Dickinson had the first five in the [1983] Gold Cup and Willie Mullins has been monopolising all week, so it’s nice to do something totally ridiculous.”

Peace And Co, though only a narrow winner from Top Notch, is regarded by Henderson as the most likely to progress to the top, a view echoed by the bookies who made him third favourite for next year’s Champion Hurdle, behind Mullins’ formidable pair Faugheen and Douvan.

“He has enormous size and scope and would jump fences if he had to, although I don’t suppose he’ll be doing that for a while,” said Henderson, still the Festival’s most successful trainer with 53 career wins.

There was yet another winner for a Mullins, but this time it was trained by Mags Mullins, whose Martello Tower finally wore down her brother-in-law’s Milsean in a war of attrition for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle.

On The Fringe was such a ridiculously easy winner of the Foxhunter Chase he looked like he had joined in at the second-last – welcome consolation for jockey Nina Carberry, after she was forced off the track by a rival when seemingly poised to win Wednesday’s Cross-Country Chase.

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