Even by his own staggering standards, Willie Mullins has enjoyed a spectacular start to the 2018/19 season.
By the end of October last year the perennial champion trainer had saddled 86 winners, which translated to his best ever start to a campaign.
However, wind the clock forward 12 months and he ended October with a magnificent haul of 107 victories, smashing his own personal best and comfortably beating his great rival Gordon Elliott’s record for the fastest century in a season in Ireland.
In the last couple of seasons, Elliott has been well clear in the title race at this time of year, only for Mullins to finish like a steam train at April’s Punchestown Festival to bag his 11th and 12th titles.
The fact that Mullins is this year the best part of 700,000 euros clear of Elliott and around a million clear of third in the list Henry de Bromhead looks ominous for that pair and the rest.
On Wednesday Mullins welcomed the press to his Closutton base in County Carlow to preview the winter campaign and and our man Donal Murphy was on hand to gauge his thoughts on some of the big issues in Irish racing.
Mullins on the season season so far
“We’ve had a fantastic start to the season, we’ve never had anything like it. We have a lot of horses that went on the summer ground and hopefully a few of them will even last into the winter.
“Anytime we buy these type of horses (from the Flat) we always look to see could we get another turn out of them on the Flat later in their career. It’s something that we target.
“We go jumping with them first and hopefully they are good enough to be top-class horses, but sometimes when they are not, then at least you have a second option.”
On the recent dry spell and how Irish racecourses have coped
“The dry weather is not frustrating at all for me. Last year was so frustrating with all the rain we had, every morning from last August.
“It’s Ireland and rain will come soon enough. The season will be long enough once it gets going. I’m probably one of the few guys not that worried about the weather.
“We must congratulate Irish race tracks for giving us this type of ground. The watering and maintenance that the management of Irish race tracks are doing at the moment is fantastic.
“I don’t think there is any other country in the world that would be able to match them. Our tracks race only once every so often, so it’s a huge effort and costs a lot of money maintenance wise to prepare these tracks and have them safe for jumping horses. Not so much for the Flat, as Flat horses are well able to manage it.
“We have a lot of mixed meetings and I think our race track management has reached huge new levels over the last 20 years.
“You need money to do that, and obviously the HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) media deal has provided the money for the race tracks to do that, and it’s streaming down to the rest of us, so we have ground that we can run our horses on.
“If you remember the last time we had such a dry summer, we only had three or four runners per race. Now we had full cards nearly every meeting this summer and I think it’s a huge testament to the race track management and to HRI for providing the money.
“I don’t think they got on as well in England, but our system works very, very well.”
On Ruby Walsh’s return from injury and the rest of his team
“Ruby is a huge rider to have your side and hopefully he stays injury-free. He got a freak fall down in Killarney and it kept him out for a lot of the summer. I wasn’t too worried because I want him for the winter and not for the summer on this kind of ground.
“I have a brilliant team between Patrick (Mullins), David Casey and Ruby. With the amount of horses we have the moment, it’s a huge asset to have people of that calibre around.
“Ruby is planning campaigns for horses more than I am! They are all looking forward to the season and can’t wait to get going. It’s good to have guys like that, they are itching to go and you know there is a hunger there then.”
On the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February
“I think the Dublin Racing Festival was the best initiative I’ve seen in Irish racing for a long, long time. I was amazed at the atmosphere, and amazed at the amount of people in England who are looking forward to that day again. It’s something that has hit the ground running and hopefully HRI and Leopardstown can build on it.
“I don’t think we should be worried whether UK trainers bring horses over. They feel it’s probably time enough to meet us at Cheltenham on home ground. They are not going to bring something over unless it’s really good because the competition in Ireland at the moment is so good. They are not going to travel over for an away game.
“The amount of quality horses in Ireland is good enough for the meeting anyway. We are lucky enough that we have all those horses based in Ireland.”