In the modern era, Willie Mullins has established himself quite firmly as the ‘King of the Cheltenham Festival’.
Ireland’s perennial champion trainer has become the most successful handler in The Festival’s history, with his tally now at 78 winners following the 2021 renewal.
Mullins was first crowned leading trainer at the 2011 Festival, with four winners, and he has since been the leading man in the Cotswolds seven times in nine years since 2013 – his progress only interrupted by Gordon Elliott in 2017 and 2018.
Seeing the Mullins battalion of horses out working on the track early in the mornings during Festival week has become a ritual at Cheltenham.
The Gold Cup for many years was the prize that consistently eluded Mullins, but that all changed when Al Boum Photo scored in 2019 under Paul Townend.
Of course, Ruby Walsh was synonymous with Mullins’ success for many years. The Cheltenham Festival’s all-time leading rider was such an integral part of the fabric at his Closutton yard.
It seems unlikely the Mullins bandwagon will cease rolling any time soon and, who knows, he could even be approaching a century of Cheltenham Festival winners before he’s done.
Here we remember five of the best from Mullins’ incredible winning tally at Cheltenham.
Al Boum Photo – 2019 Gold Cup
Given the lengthy list of near misses in the biggest prize of the week, Mullins’ quest to win the Blue Riband had reached torturous levels by 2019. In a contest where Mullins also saddled Invitation Only, Kemboy and Bellshill – the mount of Ruby Walsh – it was Townend and 12/1 chance Al Boum Photo that came home strongly after a patient ride to finally give Mullins a coveted Gold Cup. The same partnership retained the crown in 2020.
Hurricane Fly – 2011 Champion Hurdle
Hurricane Fly was already a seven-time Grade 1 winner in Ireland by the time he got to Cheltenham in 2011. Fate had conspired to see him miss a couple of Cheltenham Festivals and there were plenty of doubters as he went off 11/4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle. He would prove his class under Walsh, jumping to the lead at the last flight and storming up the hill. He lost the crown in 2012 but regained it a year later and he also finished third behind stablemate Faugheen in 2015.
Vautour – 2015 JLT Novices’ Chase
Vautour won at three successive Cheltenham Festivals from 2014 onwards and did so impressively on each occasion. In the middle of those years, he produced a wonderfully pleasing round of jumping under Ruby Walsh and careered some 15-lengths clear up the Cheltenham hill in a display that captured for him many supporters. He would win a Ryanair Chase in 2015 before his untimely passing.
Quevega – 2014 Mares’ Hurdle
Mullins’ utter domination of the Mares’ Hurdle was spearheaded by Quevega, the teak-tough performer writing her name into Festival history via six straight wins in the race from 2009-2014. She was as reliable a performer as could be found in the Cotswolds and, in truth, a class above most of the rivals she faced. However, in her final year it looked as if she’d left herself too much to do before she found another gear having jumped the last to overhaul stablemate Glens Melody and win by a half-length, much to the pleasing of her adoring Cheltenham crowd.
Appreciate It – 2021 Supreme Novices Hurdle
The Festival curtain-raiser has become a speciality for Mullins, with five wins since 2013 bringing his tally to seven. Tourist Attraction won this in 1995, a first-ever Festival win for Mullins, but few have been more impressive than Appreciate It was in 2021 – slaying his rivals by 24-lengths in a truly masterful performance under Townend.
See how our tipsters are ranking Willie Mullin’s horses in the upcoming meeting with our Cheltenham Festival tips.