Mullins champion for 11th time after epic duel with Elliott
Never in doubt! Well actually it had been in serious doubt at the start of Punchestown festival week and was by no means signed, sealed and delivered after three races on the closing card of the season. But Willie Mullins duly emerged champion trainer after a terrific tussle with Gordon Elliott, successfully defending his crown by a margin of just under €200,000.
It was only after Bapaume's victory in the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle that Mullins could breathe out. A tenth consecutive title was his.
He said: "I'm delighted to have retained the championship and after a few narrow defeats early in the week everything came together on Friday when Wicklow Brave and Bacardys won Grade 1s.
"Gordon has been magnificent all season and has been a gentleman about the whole thing. He's a great competitor and is improving every year, so we'll have to up our game in future.
"It's been a funny season for us and I can't say I enjoyed it all, but we got there in the end."
Elliott, who started the week €400,000 ahead of Mullins, said: "I was broken-hearted leaving here on Friday night when I realised our chances of winning the title were all but gone. But we've had a very good season, and Apple's Jade winning the Grade 1 mares’ hurdle today was special.
“Willie is a legend but maybe we'll top the list next season. We'll be starting off the new season at Down Royal on Monday."
Apple's Jade was Elliott's 193rd winner of the season in Ireland, so equalling the record set by Mullins in 2012-2013.
Trainer's son Patrick pipped
Mullins’ son Patrick, who had ridden a treble on Friday and added another winner yesterday, had also been involved in a mighty scrap for a title, in his case the amateur riders’ crown. But unlike his father he was just beaten, failing by one to peg back Jamie Codd, whose 41 winners were enough to net him a first championship.
Codd said: "It was my target all season to try to win the title. Patrick ran me very close but it's a fantastic feeling to have won it.”
Ruby Walsh, champion jockey for the 12th time, ended the campaign on 131 winners, equalling his best previous score for a season in Ireland, set in 2007-2008.
Walsh said: "It's great to be champion again, although it has been an up and down season. It was good numerically but I had plenty of misses, including a few this week. The main thing is I got through it in one piece and we'll keep soldiering on.”
Rachael Blackmore, 27, made history by becoming the first female rider to win the conditional riders’ title. She partnered 32 winners.
"I never envisaged being in this position and I owe a lot to many people, especially Shark Hanlon, who persuaded me to turn professional, and my agent Garry Cribbin,” she said.
Unfortunately, Blackmore suffered concussion when her final mount of the season, Pique Sous, fell in the Ballymore Handicap Hurdle.
Nina Carberry, who ended her season in September when announcing she was pregnant, was leading female amateur rider, while Gigginstown House Stud topped the owners’ list for the fifth time, and for a third season in a row.
How it finished
Willie Mullins €4,580,200
Gordon Elliott €4,380,705