Willie Mullins: Career Profile

Willie Mullins has been the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in four of the last five years
Willie Mullins has been the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in four of the last five years
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Willie Mullins is a record-breaking horse racing trainer and former jockey. Here, Russell Smith profiles his achievements in the sport...

"Setting up on his own in 1988, Mullins has been Irish champion jumps trainer on ten occasions, including the last eight years."

Early morning mist lifts slowly on the racecourse gallops at Cheltenham on the first day of the Festival. Out of the gloom emerges a seemingly never-ending string of racehorses.

But this is no ordinary collection of thoroughbreds. These are the Cheltenham challengers from Willie Mullins' Closutton stables in Bagenalstown, County Carlow.

Their morning exercise has become a familiar sight in recent years. And it's one that puts hope into the hearts of punters across the land, while striking fear into the bookmakers'.

Such is the strength in depth of Mullins' raiding party, the 59-year-old handler is as short as 1/16 to be top trainer at the Festival - a position he has secured in four of the last five years, capped by his record-breaking eight winners 12 months ago.

His stellar cast this March is set to include leading fancies Faugheen (Champion Hurdle), Djakadam (Gold Cup), Un De Sceaux (Queen Mother Champion Chase), Vautour (Gold Cup or Ryanair Chase), Douvan (Arkle Trophy), Min (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) and Annie Power (OLBG Mares' Hurdle).

Hailing from a racing dynasty, Mullins was born to become the dominant training force in the National Hunt game. Originally from Goresbridge in County Kilkenny, he was a six-time champion amateur rider in Ireland, with his biggest successes coming on Atha Cliath in the Fox Hunters' Chase at Aintree in 1983 and aboard Wither Or Which, a horse he also trained, in the Cheltenham Festival Bumper in 1996.

He learnt his trade as an assistant to his late father, Paddy Mullins, trainer of the legendary Dawn Run, the only horse to win the Champion Hurdle (1984) and the Gold Cup (1986).

He also held the same position with Jim Bolger, the top Irish Flat trainer, whose greatest success came with New Approach in the Derby at Epsom in 2008.

Setting up on his own in 1988, Mullins has been Irish champion jumps trainer on ten occasions, including the last eight years.

Tourist Attraction gave him the first of his 41 Cheltenham Festival winners when taking the 1995 Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

It was Florida Pearl who was one of Mullins's big early stars though. The bay gelding provided one of his eight triumphs in the Cheltenham Bumper when triumphing under Richard Dunwoody in 1997, before returning to Prestbury Park the following year to take the RSA Chase.

Florida Pearl also went on to bag a King George VI Chase at Kempton in 2001, beating Best Mate in a thrilling finish.

But the Gold Cup proved elusive with the best of his three attempts being when he finished second to Looks Like Trouble in 2000.

That was one of five agonising near-misses Mullins has experienced in chasing's blue riband with Hedgehunter (2006), Sir Des Champs (2013), On His Own (2014) and Djakadam (2015) all occupying the runners-up berth. Hedgehunter, though, did give him his greatest success in 2005 when capturing the Grand National at Aintree in the hands of his long-time ally, Ruby Walsh.

Djakadam is favourite to end the Gold Cup hoodoo this year, while Mullins also has other leading fancies in Don Poli and Vautour.

The Closutton trainer has enjoyed better fortune in the Champion Hurdle with Hurricane Fly grabbing the glory in 2011 and 2013 - two of the gelding's world record 22 Grade 1 wins.

And last year he became the first trainer to send out a 1-2-3 in the hurdling showpiece when Faugheen led home stablemates Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly.

Mullins's Cheltenham record also includes saddling the remarkable Quevega to win the OLBG Mares Hurdle six years in a row from 2008-2014.

Now, as the 2016 National Hunt season continues, the Irish maestro looks determined to add to his impressive list of achievements with yet another successful Cheltenham Festival.

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