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Willie Mullins’ milestone win is inevitable result of predictable day at Cheltenham

Patrick Mullins won the Champion Bumper and brought up his father’s 100th winner at the Cheltenham Festival  (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)
Patrick Mullins won the Champion Bumper and brought up his father’s 100th winner at the Cheltenham Festival (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

It was always going to happen this week. Irish trainer Willie Mullins arrived at the Cheltenham Festival needing six wins from the 28 possible races to bring up a landmark no other trainer has accomplished: 100 victories at the Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins has been the leading trainer here in nine of the last 11 years, he’s prolific and with a brilliant jockey, in Paul Townend, riding his best horses there was an inevitable feeling about him reaching the figure.

Three winners on the opening day certainly helped and when British trainer Nicky Henderson announced on Wednesday morning that he was withdrawing up to six horses from the rest of the Festival, many that could have challenged the Mullins stable, that inevitability became a certainty.

Style Wednesday lived up to the name as Mullins’ jockeys, Townend, Mark Walsh and son Patrick, combined for another three winners in what turned out to be as predictable a day as you can get in horseracing with the only major shock coming in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Willie Mullins celebrates his 100th winner after son Patrick won the Champion Bumper (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
Willie Mullins celebrates his 100th winner after son Patrick won the Champion Bumper (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Adverse weather caused the Cross Country Steeple Chase to be cancelled leaving Mullins just six opportunities to bring up the landmark but his stable got off to the perfect start.

The Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle opened proceedings with Townend in control of the favourite, Ballyburn, who was touted for success well before the Festival began. As he did yesterday, the leading jockey held his mount just off the leader and allowed the rest of the field to jostle for position behind him.

Ile Atlantique and the 66/1 Jimmy Du Seuil kept to the back to hold energy in reserve but made their moves too late to sweep through the field. As they moved up, Ballyburn went early, easily reeling in leader Mercurey, and took to the front with one fence to jump. The two chasers kicked on but were no match for the favourite who finished over 13 lengths ahead of both.

Ballyburn and Paul Townend kicked off the day in predictable fashion (David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA Wire)
Ballyburn and Paul Townend kicked off the day in predictable fashion (David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA Wire)

Mullins’ second winner followed immediately in the Brown Advisory. Walsh took charge of Fact To File in a small field of six as Paul Nicholls’ Stay Away Fay was the quickest away and set the early pace at the front of the field.

In contrast to how Townend marshals his mounts, Walsh held Fact To File in fifth place and dropped four to five lengths behind by the turn to the straight on the first lap. After American Mike awkwardly hit a fence in front of the grandstand Fact To File leapt past him into fourth and the crowd began to get excited.

With three to jump all six where contending the lead and Monty’s Star went wide. Fact To File came through the middle and jumped the last with a slight lead before holding on under pressure from his rival to earn the win.

So far so good for Mullins. Then came the upset.

Mark Walsh steered Fact To File to victory in the Brown Advisory (Action Images via Reuters)
Mark Walsh steered Fact To File to victory in the Brown Advisory (Action Images via Reuters)

The Queen Mother Champion Chase was primed for a fairytale ending. Mullins’ El Fabiolo was the odds-on favourite to triumph and in the process bring Mullins his 100th win. The story wrote itself, only it didn’t.

In the biggest shock of the day, El Fabiolo, who was well placed in the middle of the field, hit the fifth fence heavily and stopped dead. With the remaining horses pulling away, Townend pulled up the favourite and it looked as though Mullins’ chance was gone. Rachael Blackmore guided the 17/2 Captain Guinness home to raucous applause from the grandstand who were itching for some non-Mullins related excitement.

Either side of the champion race Dan and Harry Skelton recorded a wonderful day for Britain with victories in the Coral Cup, their second such in as many years, and the Grand Annual Handicap which left only the Champion Bumper for Mullins to bring up the record.

His son, Patrick, took the reins of Jasmin De Vaux, but started quietly. Sticking with the middle of the pack across the two mile flat race the 34-year-old heeled his mount into an extra gear down the final hill and caught the leader, Romeo Coolio. With legs, energy and pace still in supply they bounded to finish line and secured the win.

It was an unexpected yet perfect ending to the day’s races. Who could have predicted that?