Willie Mullins was humble in victory after clinching his 12th Irish trainers’ championship on the penultimate day of the Punchestown Festival.
Mullins started the week 521,413 euro behind his big rival Gordon Elliott, but trebles on Tuesday and Thursday and a remarkable six-timer on Wednesday saw him head into Friday’s action with a lead of 424,148 euro.
That increased to 485,148 euro after Kemboy justified 11-4 favouritism in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase and Elliott needed the previously unbeaten Samcro to prove his worth in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle to keep his diminishing hopes of claiming a first title alive.
However, Samcro departed three flights from home and while Mullins did not manage to claim victory – with Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae coming home in front – he saddled the second, third and fourth home in Wicklow Brave, Bleu Berry and Coquin Mans respectively.
That result moved Mullins into an unassailable 550,648 euro advantage that meant he would retain his crown.
He ended the day on 5,680,900 euros, some 541,148 euro clear of Elliott.
Mullins told At The Races: “It’s nice to do it. It’s tough, as I feel for Gordon. He’s had a fantastic year and he was hoping this year would be his year.
“We all thought it would be his year. Certainly coming out of here on Tuesday evening I thought our chance was totally gone.”
Mullins added: “It’s a little bit cruel, but I suppose Gordon has ended the year with over 200 winners and over 5million euro in prize-money, so it’s probably not too bad!
“I’m happy to win it and I’m very happy for my staff.
“It’s great competition and great for racing. Racing is the bigger winner than anything else, especially jump racing.
“It’s been a huge narrative throughout the year and it’s better for the game.”
It is the second year in a row that Elliott has held a big lead heading into the final week of the season only to be denied by a late charge from the relentless Mullins machine.
The Cullentra handler was magnanimous in defeat and reflected on an excellent campaign during which he has won the Irish Grand National for the first time with General Principle, claimed a second Grand National at Aintree with Tiger Roll and been crowned leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year in succession.
Elliott said: “It’s been an up and down week, but that’s the game we’re in and it’s great to be involved in the whole thing, I’m delighted.
“We’ve had a rough couple of days, but to be honest if you’d said a couple of years ago I could come here and train two Grade One winners and a Land Rover Bumper winner I’d be delighted.”
He added: “I suppose so much is expected now, but I’ve had a great year and I’ve got to keep my head up and keep smiling and keep kicking.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t win because if you don’t want to be champion you shouldn’t be training horses, I think.
“It’s been an unbelievable season, I’ve got brilliant owners, brilliant horses and brilliant staff so we’ll enjoy it.”
Paying tribute to Mullins, Elliott added: “We’re in a great sport and it just shows the strength of Willie Mullins and what he can do. To be somewhere near him is brilliant.
“To come here the last two years with a chance of it is brilliant and I’m nearly glad I knew on Wednesday this year (that his chance had gone).
“Willie is about 23 years older than me and we have come a long way in the past 10 years.
“I’m only 40 years of age and hopefully some day I might be able to do it.”