Punchestown Festival: Willie Mullins set to unleash star-studded squad after missing Grand National | racing news
Having been conspicuous in his absence at both Fairyhouse and Aintree, Willie Mullins is in line for a return to the spotlight at his beloved Punchestown Festival.
The Closutton handler was forced to watch both the Irish and English Grand National Festivals from home as he recovers from a hip operation, but has declared himself fighting fit ahead of the five-day meeting which brings the Irish jumps season to a close.
“I was in Tramore the other day and I’m on the gallops every morning,” said Mullins. “I’ve missed very little time. It’s fantastic what surgeons can do nowadays and I was amazed. Three weeks ago (Monday) I went in, and they kicked me out of the hospital on Wednesday morning.
“I was back on the gallop the next morning. I missed a few mornings – I did a little too much early on and when I came off the painkillers it soon settled me back! But it’s coming along nicely so hopefully I’ll be well able for Punchestown.”
At the end of the Punchestown Festival Mullins will be crowned Irish champion trainer for the 17th time and he looks to cap a fine season that has seen him pass the 4,000 career winners mark, dominate at the Cheltenham Festival and also pick up a third Cheltenham Gold Cup, by showing his vast array of Closutton talent at the meeting.
Cheltenham heroes Galopin Des Champs and Energumene will spearhead Mullins’ squad, while Impaire Et Passe, El Fabiolo and Lossiemouth are other Cheltenham scorers bidding to follow up their Prestbury Park exploits in Kildare.
The big names will all be partnered by Paul Townend, whose tactics on Facile Vega and Lossiemouth at the Dublin Racing Festival were questioned by his long-time boss but has since earned glowing reports for his performance aboard Galopin Des Champs in the blue riband and for the way he nursed I Am Maximus to Irish National glory on Easter Monday.
“I didn’t call it criticism at the time,” reflected Mullins. “I just thought it was a tactic that didn’t go right. Put it the other way around. What I asked him to do on I Am Maximus in the Irish National, I had tied him down to instructions because he’s a particularly awkward horse that doesn’t like going right-handed.
“I’d asked him to go down the inside so he could keep horses on his outside the whole time but after a circuit, Paul changed his mind. He did the exact opposite and went down the outside and it worked.
“In Cheltenham, Paul was a jockey in the Gold Cup. In Fairyhouse, Paul was a horseman in the Irish Grand National. All he’d gleaned from pony racing, from hunting, from just riding, he put into use on I Am Maximus .
“I thought it was a fantastic ride. Whatever we thought about Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup, I thought his riding in Fairyhouse was excellent, something top drawer.
“I always think a good jockey is a guy that can pull a race out of the fire and win on horses that he shouldn’t win on. That’s the difference between great jockeys and good jockeys, I think. And he pulled that one out of the fire. That was an absolutely extraordinary ride.”