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12th Apr 2018

Irish still fare well on Aintree opening day despite Mullins and Elliott no show

Niall McIntyre

It just goes to show how dominant the pair are.

After the Cheltenham festival, all the talk was about the success of Irish trainers in comparison to the struggling English. For the second year in a row our handlers raided the home trainers in their own back yard to land the Pretsbury Cup again.

There are a number of reasons for Ireland’s recent dominance over their English counterparts. Owners like Michael O’Leary, Rich Ricci, JP McManus have a huge part to play. These men have been purchasing the best young horses over the last few years and they’ve been providing them to the Irish trainers.

Most of them to Gordon Elliott and to Willie Mullins.

There aren’t as many well-off owners over in England. The fact that the prize money for National Hunt racing is greater in Ireland than across the water is as good a reason as any for that.

There was even some nonsense talk that the English would introduce barriers to keep the Irish in check and in order to level the playing field.

It all seemed a little bit ridiculous. A knee-jerk reaction no doubt. After all, 15 of Ireland’s 17 Festival winners were trained by two men, by the Sport of Kings’ most powerful pair of Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins.

It is true that Elliott and Mullins have more ammunition than the rest of them, with Elliott backed by the ferocious firepower of  Gigginstown’s finest thoroughbreds and Mullins retaining the cream of Ricci’s crop, but at the same time, it would be an insult to these two men to insinuate that any old horse man could steer horses the right way so consistently and to enjoy so much success in the game.

They’re getting the best horses because they created the best reputation for themselves.

The Punchestown Festival goes to post in less than 12 days and yet again the most fascinating sub plot will be the titanic tussle of the two heavyweights as they slug it out for the trainers championship crown.

Last year, the Clonsutton ace pipped Navan’s finest right at the death to land his 11th title, and with Elliott holding a €550,000 advantage this time around, he’ll be eager to seal the deal early.

With over €3million in prize money on offer over the course of five blockbuster day’s racing, the game’s most iconic saddlers will be going gung-ho for the Kildare showpiece.

With all eyes on Punchestown, something had to give. That something was the Aintree Festival which began today and will run until Saturday.

On the opening day’s racing, neither Mullins or Elliott saddled a runner in Liverpool. Instead their efforts were focused on a stacked card in Limerick.

Indeed, the Irish were slow to get going in Liverpool without their most decorated artistes. English trained horses landed the first four prizes of the day, with Might Bite going one better than he did in Cheltenham to take the Betway Bowl. Even money favourite and Ireland’s hope of the day Supasundae was overturned by Nicky Henderson’s L’ami Serge in the Aintree Hurdle.

It soon got better for our travelling crop who did brave the journey. Balnaslow was first passed the post in the Foxhunters’, after yet another smashing ride from the best amateur jockey in the game in Clare’s Derek O’Connor. The 11-year-old is trained by the Antrim based Graham John McKeever.

We finished with a flourish, too, with Getaway Katie Mai taking the Grade Two bumper, for Wexford jockey JJ Codd and Waterford trainer John Queally.

You can’t keep us down for long.

Mullins and Elliott have a few entries for the Friday card. Min is down for an assault on The Melling Chase, and while both men have strong hands in Saturday’s Grand National, for the most part, they are saving their stable stars for Punchestown.