herald

Saturday 22 September 2018

Mullins' success should be seen as a plus

Champion trainer may dominate jumps racing here but he guarantees that there are quality horses on our shores

IT'S amazing that despite witnessing (or at least having the potential to witness) greatness in the form of Hurricane Fly, that people still find something to pick holes in.

The hot topic among racing folk at the moment is that jump racing is now as bad as flat racing in that Willie Mullins is dominating, just like Aidan O'Brien does on the flat.

Yes, it is far from ideal that Mullins is a dominant force as, from a competitive point of view, race days will often be lacking and he is a major certainty to be champion trainer this season, as is Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle.

In saying that, though, almost 4,000 people went to Punchestown on Sunday to see Hurricane Fly win a 17th Grade One in a Morgiana Hurdle that featured only Willie Mullins' horses, with Michael Bowe's Akatara joining them.

From a crowd point of view you can be certain that more would have turned up if Jezki or Our Conor had been there, and certainly if both had been there. But how many more?

Not a whole lot I would have thought. More than 3,800 is as good as it's going to get at this time of year, and that's the reality.

Let us take a step back for a second. Despite having an abundance of novice chasers, Mullins had no runner in Sunday's Grade Two novice chase over 2m6f and it's looking increasingly likely he won't have a runner in the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase.

Is it Willie Mullins' fault that nobody was willing to take him on in Sunday's Morgiana Hurdle? I'd say we can have little doubt that anyone with a good two-mile hurdler was regretting not taking on Hurricane Fly since Marito warmed his backside as the line came nearer, and, by Mullins' own admission, Hurricane Fly was at his least impressive.

But look at any sport. The GAA has been dominated by Kilkenny in hurling for many years and, realistically, the football is continually going to go to one of just three or four counties.

Look at Manchester United's dominance and Liverpool's before that. How many of those giving out about Willie Mullins' dominance support Celtic? Golf crowds didn't drop when Tiger Woods was at his prime and look at Sebastian Vettel in Formula One and Phil Taylor in darts. Imagine if Ronnie O'Sullivan had the mentality of Steve Davis. Every sport will have dominant figures. And the same goes for O'Brien, who numerically had an incredible season. However, at Group One level domestically he won as many as any other trainer – just one.

This term Gordon Elliott has already and will probably train another Grade One winner and Tony Martin will be hoping to achieve a similar feat with his am-munition and so to could Pat Fahy on the evidence of Sunday. Jessica Harrington, Dessie Hughes and Henry de Bromhead will all have high hopes of scoring at the very top level also and they have the horses to do so.

Willie Mullins could end the Cheltenham Festival as the leading trainer but he won't be the only Irish man to train a winner there in 2014. Yes, he is a dominant force, but he's not unstoppable.

In just a couple of weeks, a Grade One is likely to be run without Mullins having a runner and that will be a big chance for someone to claim a lucrative prize. The weekend's big one wasn't the head to head we would have liked, but a lot of water has to pass under the bridge in the coming weeks and a lot of good racing to go with it.

For one, the Hatton's Grace with Jezki, Solwhit and, possibly, Annie Power promises to be a cracker.

At the end of the day, aren't we lucky to have a 17-time Grade One winner on our shores?

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