William Peter ‘Willie’ Mullins has won the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship thirteen times in total and has been perennial champion since 2007/08. He is also the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival but, until recently, the glaring omission from his CV was the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, having saddled the runner-up in the so-called blue riband of steeplechasing six times, Mullins finally laid his Gold Cup hoodoo to rest when Al Boum Photo, ridden by Paul Townend, stayed on well to beat Anibale Fly by 2½ lengths and carry off the historic trophy for the first time in March, 2019.
Based at Closutton, Co. Carlow, Mullins has been the dominant force in Irish National Hunt racing for over three decades. He saddled his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Tourist Attraction, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995 and, in the meantime, has accumulated a total of 65 winners, one more than Nicky Henderson. Indeed, Mullins has won the leading trainer award at the Cheltenham Festival six times, in 2011, 2013-216 and 2019 and, in 2015, saddled eight winners across the four days, setting a record equalled by compatriot Gordon Elliott in 2018.
Of the main ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival, Mullins has won the has won the Champion Hurdle four times, with Hurricane Fly (2011, 2013), Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016), the Stayers’ Hurdle twice, with Nichols Canyon (2017) and Penhill (2018) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup once, with the aforementioned Al Boum Photo (2019). The Queen Mother Champion Chase remains elusive, but Mullins went as close as he ever with Un De Sceaux, who was sent off at 4/6 to win the two-mile chasing championship in 2016, but finished second, beaten 3½ lengths, behind Sprinter Sacre; Mullins finished second again with Min in 2018.
In September, 2016, following a dispute over training fees, the Michael O’Leary-owned Gigginstown House Stud – the leading owner in National Hunt racing in Ireland on seven occasions – removed its entire string, which amounted to 60 or so horses, from Mullins. A significant number of those horses, including subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Apple’s Jade, were transferred to Mullins’ arch rival Gordon Elliott, with the others dispersed among Henry De Bromhead, Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, Joseph O’Brien and Noel Meade.