Willie Mullins is currently doing for jump racing what Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona did for the world of football.
His recent obliteration of Cheltenham Festival reminded me of the way the Catalan side decimated European opponent after European opponent during a spell which saw them lift 16 trophies in just four years.
For all of his more recent trials and tribulations, Tiger Woods had a similar spell of dominance in the golf world, as did Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher and Michael Phelps in their respective sports.
The reason that these sustained spells of intense success are of such importance throughout the world of sport is because they so often act as a catalyst for evolution, forcing the opposition to either raise their game to new level or give up and go home.
Willie Mullins is certainly no newcomer to horse racing – the Irishman has been at the forefront of horse racing for a number of years having been named Champion Trainer on seven separate occasions – but his current stable roster has a depth of quality which has rarely been seen before.
This year at Cheltenham, Mullins eclipsed Nicky Henderson’s record of having seven winners at one festival by producing eight, landing himself six of the 13 Grade 1 contents on offer.
On day one, Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen all came home impressively although Annie Power’s fall at the last when comfortably clear in the OLBG Mares Hurdle left a feeling of what could have been.
Estimates vary, but the fall is thought to have saved bookmakers upwards of £50,000,000.
In spite of the odds-on favourite going down, the stable’s second string, Glen’s Melody, was able to capitalise and pick up the winner’s trophy in her place.
Over the remaining three days, Don Poli, Vautour, Wicklow Brave and Killutagh Vic all found their way into the winner’s enclosure.
This striking success is a far cry from the scene of Mullins’ debut season in 1988 after nearly being refused his trainer’s licence, such was the poor quality of the facilities at his disposal.
His exposure to horse racing began from an early age thanks to his father, Paddy Mullins, who he still quotes as his biggest influence.
A hugely successful trainer in his own right, Paddy won the Champion Hurdle in 1984 and Gold Cup in 1986 and this pedigree led Willie to pursue a highly fruitful career as a jockey, becoming Ireland’s best amateur six times and winning the Fox Hunters’ Chase.
After gradually building up his stable over a number of years by buying and selling young horses with plenty of potential, Mullins has now won almost every major jumping title that he has available to him.
In 2005, he saw Hedgehunter win the Grand National, while Cheltenham has given him six OLBG Mares’ Hurdle titles with Quevega and a Champion Hurdle double with Hurricane Fly.
Having achieved so much already in a lifetime dedicated to the sport, he has benefitted from exceptional investment over recent years from owners looking to take advantage of his exceptional knowledge, passion and manner.
Looking ahead, it’s frightening to think that Cheltenham 2016 could see him target Vautour, Djakadam and Don Poli with the Gold Cup, Faugheen and Douvan with the Champion Hurdle, a fit Annie Power with the World Hurdle, and Un De Sceaux with the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
You’d be brave to lay the clean sweep, although it would be a truly remarkable achievement for one of horse racing’s living legends.