Mullins v Elliott: where the championship could be won and lost at Punchestown
There were parallels to be drawn between Liverpool’s 3-0 thumping of Manchester City in Wednesday’s first-leg quarter-final in the Champions League and the epic Irish trainers’ championship that is building nicely towards its crescendo at the Punchestown festival.
Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal style of football saw his Liverpool side quickest out of the blocks at Anfield and they now travel to the Etihad Stadium with a healthy cushion.
By the same token Gordon Elliott, who has been trailblazing Willie Mullins for most of the season, heads to Punchestown with a lead of €550,801 over the ten-time champion.
But can Elliott keep up this Un De Sceaux-like gallop out in front? The 40-year-old, who became the first Irish trainer to send out 200 winners in a season on Easter Monday, was only caught in the dying strides at the 2017 festival but looks to have a stronger team to go to war with at the end-of-season highlight.
Elliott went into Punchestown last year with a lead just shy of €400,000, but ultimately lost out by a little under €200,000 after Mullins sent out nine winners in the week, five of which were Grade 1 successes.
With more than €3 million in prize-money up for grabs, including €275,000 in each of the four features, the championship still hangs in the balance.
It is worth noting that Mullins managed to claw back the deficit at Punchestown last season despite being chinned in two of the features – Nichols Canyon in the Stayers Hurdle and Djakadam in the Gold Cup – and the reigning champion arguably has stronger credentials in the showpiece events this season.
The BoyleSports Champion Chase on the opening day – Tuesday, April 24 – is the first of the big four races and Mullins could be represented by the likes of Douvan, Great Field, Min and Un De Sceaux, while Elliott’s only real live contender would be Doctor Phoenix.
There doesn’t seem to be much between the entries of both trainers in the Punchestown Gold Cup, but Mullins could have an edge in the Stayers Hurdle, with Cheltenham winner Penhill plus Bacardys, Coquin Mans and Faugheen all in the mix.
Elliott could, of course, supply the potential favourite for the race if deciding to switch Apple’s Jade from the €100,000 Mares Champion Hurdle.
Melon would be a strong Mullins representative in the Champion Hurdle, while the stable could also call upon last year’s winner Wicklow Brave and 2015 Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen.
Mick Jazz, third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, could lead Elliott’s squad, while unbeaten novice Samcro, who may even run against Mullins’ brilliant mare Laurina at some point during the week, is a fascinating entry.
Paddy Power, who were as short as 1-3 about Elliott lasting it out after he broke his duck in the €500,000 Irish Grand National on Monday, have reeled in those odds after seeing support for Mullins off the back of the Punchestown entries being released.
The firm are now 1-2 about Elliott, while Mullins is 6-4 after being as big as 11-4 on Tuesday, and PR man Paul Binfield said: “We’ve seen good cash for Mullins since Fairyhouse because when you look through the Grade 1s at Punchestown the cards look to be completely stacked in his favour.
“It still might not be enough, but Punchestown’s prize-money does mean Willie has a right good chance.”
Ladbrokes are still offering 9-4 about Mullins but are taking no chances about Elliott and have the master of Cullentra House chalked up at 1-3.
If Punchestown are not selling hats and scarves with Team Mullins and Team Elliott printed on them, they are surely missing a trick. It promises to be a fascinating tussle with everything to play for across five magical days.
Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins' 2017 Punchestown Grade 1 wins
Mullins: 2m Champion Novice Hurdle (Cilaos Emery), Champion Novice Chase (Great Field), Champion Hurdle (Wicklow Brave), 2m4f Champion Novice Hurdle (Bacardys), Champion Juvenile Hurdle (Bapaume).
Elliott: 3m Novice Hurdle (Champagne Classic), Champion Bumper (Fayonagh) and Champion Mares' Hurdle (Apple's Jade).
Elliott and Mullins Grade 1 entries for Punchestown
Mullins: Deal D'estruval, Draconien, Duc Des Genievres, Getabird, Nessun Dorma, Sayar, Sharjah, Uradel, Whiskey Sour and Laurina
Elliott: Cartwright, Hardline, Mengli Khan, Pallasator, Roaring Bull, Samcro and Vengeful
Mullins: American Tom, Ballycasey, Douvan, Great Field, Min and Un De Sceaux
Elliott: A Toi Phil, Clarcam, Doctor Phoenix, Tell Us More and The Game Changer
Mullins: Al Boum Photo, C'est Jersey, Invitation Only, Kemboy, Koshari, Pylonthepressure, Rathvinden, Some Neck and Up For Review
Elliott: Dounikos, Fagan, Jury Duty, Monbeg Notorious, The Storyteller, Tombstone, Tycoon Prince, Shattered Love and Dinaria Des Obeaux
Mullins: Ballyward, Brahma Bull, Carter McKay, Epicuris, Minella Beau, Next Destination, Pleasant Company, Antey, Burrows Saint, Deal D'estruval, Duc Des Genievres, Real Steel, Scarpeta and Redhotfillypeppers
Elliott: Blow By Blow, Burren Life, Gun Digger, Monkshood, Pallasator, Samcro, Cartwright, Delta Work, Dortmund Park, Flawless Escape and Lackaneen Leader
Punchestown Gold Cup (3m1f)
Mullins: Bellshill, Djakadam, Killultagh Vic, Pairofbrowneyes, Total Recall and Yorkhill
Elliott: A Toi Phil, General Principle, Lord Scoundrel, Outlander, Tiger Roll and Shattered Love
Mullins: Abbyssial, Bacardys, Bleu Berry, Bleau Et Rouge, Coquin Mans, Faugheen, Killultagh Vic, Penhill, Shaneshill, Yorkhill, Bapaume, Augusta Kate, Benie Des Dieux and Let's Dance
Elliott: Blow By Blow, Diamond Cauchois, Diamond King, Jury Duty, Lieutenant Colonel, Pallasator, Delta Work, Dortmund Park, Apple's Jade and Barra
Ryanair Novice Chase (2m)
Mullins: Bon Papa, Footpad, Invitation Only, Kemboy, Montalbano, Saturnas, Up For Review, Demi Sang and Asthuria
Elliott: Tombstone, Tycoon Prince, Dinaria Des Obeaux and Shattered Love
Mullins: Bleu Berry, Coquin Mans, Faugheen, Melon, Min and Wicklow Brave
Elliott: Mick Jazz, Hardline, Mengli Khan, Samcro, The Game Change and Apple's Jade
Mullins: Ballyward, Brahma Bull, Burrows Saint, Carter McKay, Deal D'estruval, Draconien, Duc Des Genievres, Epicuris, Getabird, Minella Beau, Next Destination, Scarpeta, Uradel, Whiskey Sour, Laurina and Real Steel
Elliott: Blow By Blow, Burren Life, Cartwright, Delta Work, Dortmund Park, Flawless Escape, Gun Digger, Hardline, Monkshood, Pallasator, Poli Roi, Roaring Bull, Samcro, Lackaneen Leader, Farclas, Mitchouka and Veneer Of Charm
Mares Champion Hurdle (2m4f)
Mullins: Ashthuria, Augusta Kate, Benie Des Dieux, Karalee, Lagostovegas, Laurina, Lets Dance, Meri Devie, Pravalaguna, Redhotfillypeppers, Eoline Jolie and Stormy Ireland
Elliott: Apple's Jade, Barra, Dinaria Des Obeaux and Lackaneen Leader
Mullins: Mr Adjudicator, Msassa, Saglawy, Saldier, Eoline Jolie and Stormy Ireland
Elliott: Commentariolus, Farclas, Kuraka, Mitchouka, Pete So High and Veneer Of Charm
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