Can Willie Mullins win the British trainers’ championship?

Prior to the recent Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins was nowhere to be seen in the running for the British trainers’ championship. The renowned Closutton trainer had won just three races on the opposite side of the Irish Sea, the biggest being the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, but he swept up over the course of the four days at Prestbury Park — winning a record 10 races at the Festival. 

Picking up a jaw-dropping £1,273,783 in prize money at jump racing’s highlight meeting, Mullins was propelled up to fourth in the Champion Trainer standings and is now only around £600,000 behind 12-time winner Paul Nicholls, who is setting the pace ahead of the upcoming Grand National Festival with £2,184,862. 

While County Tipperary man Aiden O’Brien has tasted his fair share of success on the flat, winning the British flat racing Champion Trainer accolade six times since 2001 — holding his own against the likes of John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute and Charlie Appleby — an Irish trainer has not won Britain’s top trainer award since Vincent O’Brien dual success in 1953 and 1954. 

However, Mullins, who was narrowly beaten by Nicholls to the accolade back in 2016 — when the Somerset native banked just £97,000 more in prize money than the 88-time Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer — has stated that he would like to have a crack at ending that drought by sending a decent team to Aintree for the three-day meeting in early April. 

“We’re thinking about it at the minute. It’s a nice position to be in,” the 65-year-old said shortly after his dominant display at the 2022 renewal of the Cheltenham Festival. “We’re weighing up a few options and seeing how horses are coming out of Cheltenham.

“It’s a very tight turnaround from Cheltenham to Aintree,” he continued. “Two and a half weeks wouldn’t be my favourite turnaround, but it’s there to play for all right. It’s a possibility but we haven’t got around to sitting down and discussing it.”

While it’s not entirely clear yet who Mullins will actually send back across the Irish Sea, especially with the Punchestown Racing Festival — dubbed Ireland’s own version of Cheltenham —due to take place later in April, a huge appeal for trainers in the Emerald Isles, those who bet on horse racing today will be well aware of the wealth of strength and ability of Mullins’ contingent. 

Even with the likes of Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Champion Chase victor Energumene, who ended Mullins’ drought in the day two championship race, most likely going to remain on home soil, the Cheltenham Leading Trainer can still send a good enough team to compete with the likes of Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Dan Skelton at Aintree. 

Of course, to make up the £600,000-odd deficit that Nicholls currently holds over him, Mullins will likely need a victory in the Grand National itself — a race he has only managed to win once in his handling career, and you have to go all the way back to 2005 in the Paddy Power horse racing results to find the Trevor Hemmings-owner Hedgehunter, ridden to victory by Ruby Walsh. 

The 65-year-old still holds five entries in the Grand National, with Burrows Saint his best shout at 20/1 — well ahead of Augusta Gold, Brahma Bull, Class Conti and Stones And Roses, all 66/1 shots, in the current ante-post market. 

Without a win since December 2019, a run that now spans seven races, Burrows Saint was fourth last year, 27 lengths behind Minella Times, and it’s hard to see him faring any better this year.

At this stage, Mullins has arguably left himself with too much ground to make up in the British trainers’ championship. But after his success at Cheltenham, it would be foolish to rule him out entirely. 

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