Willie Mullins gives himself hope in quest to pip Paul Nicholls to National Hunt title
Willie Mullins is one of life's great competitors.
So the Kilkenny native based at Closutton in Carlow will be desperate to do everything possible to claim this year's National Hunt trainer's title ahead of Paul Nicholls.
The season comes to close on Saturday with a monster day of action at Sandown.
Whichever trainer claims either the Celebration Chase or/and the Gold Cup will almost certainly take home the title, but Friday's racing action could see the gap lengthen, or shorten, dramatically.
Currently, there is just £53,556 between Nicholls and Mullins; with the Irishman trailing after Nicholls took home three significant wins on Thursday afternoon.
The gap isn't insurmountable by any means, but if Mullins is to have any hope, he will need a massive run of luck beginning his afternoon.
He only saddled one horse today, and Rolly Baby dull delivered in the 3.40 at Perth, the McCarthy & Stone Chase.
The 11-year-old was an unknown quantity on better ground but came home to secure the £9,097, which is a good start to the weekend for the Kilkenny native
Unfortunately, the odds are still stacked in the Englishman's favour, as he saddles four horses this afternoon.
The Alex Ferguson horse, Rainy City, lost out in the 4.30, but the Evan And Megan Brace Memorial Novices' Hurdle at 5pm on the same track is much more likely to yield success.
A recent win over Rock the Kasbah has this mount marked as a hot favourite for success, and after coming home third at Cheltenham, Nicholls could well steal a win here.
At 6.05, again at Chepstow, Ruben Cotter has shown little to no form to encourage even the most optimistic of punters.
Last of the Nicholls mounts for today, Whispering Storm, runs in the 8.05 race for a pot of £2,599.
It's not a lot of money, but it is the last chance for Nicholls to stretch his lead before Saturday's action, and he may be competitive in a race that should be dominated by Aston Cantlow.
Depending on all those results, Saturday should still be set for a monster showdown between both men at Sandown.
'If Willie Mullins is crowned champion trainer on Saturday I will be first to shake his hand and say well done’’ - @PFNicholls (Betfair)
— Francis Keogh (@HonestFrank) April 19, 2016
Nicholls, looking for his 10th title, runs 19 horses, while the short journey across the Irish Sea for Mullins will see him arrive with 10 mounts, the most prized being, of course, Un De Sceaux.
The Grade 2 Oaksey Chase will see Valseur Lido hold Mullins' hopes as well as Ballycasey. Nicholls' opposition takes the form of Saphir Du Rheu, Wonderful Charm and Rocky Creek.
Vroum Vroum Mag is where most Irish hopes will lie in the Select Hurdle, and if Mullins can claim £28,475 on offer, he will be well set for a late assault on the bank balance of Nicholls.
The Gold Cup is the ultimate prize on offer, and whoever claims this will surely be buying drinks for the weekend.
There is £84,405 on offer, and Nicholls is double-handed with heavy favourite Southfield Theatre and last year's winner Just A Par.
— All Sport Insurance (@Allsportinsure) April 20, 2016
Mullins' challenge is led by fan favourite Sir Des Champs and Measureofmydreams, coming off a fall at Ayr last week in the Scottish Grand National.
The Celebrations Chase worth £71,187 is the last big money chance for either trainer to secure the trainer's title you would feel, and it is set up for a grandstand finish.
Mullins goes all in on Un De Sceaux while Nicholls has three to choose from with Dodging Bullets, Solar Impulse Ulck Du Lin all set for the trip.
Nicky Henderson, of course, runs Sprinter Sacre, and if you get a chance to see any race this weekend, make sure it is this one.
— PA Racing (@PAracing) April 22, 2016
Nicholls triple effort means if all horses come home safely he will pick up prize money worth £23,387 and this could well prove decisive, regardless of the other day's results.
The Triumph Hurdle is worth £31,280 and Nicholls' Tommy Silver faces Mullins Voix Du Reve.
Mullins has no runner in the penultimate race while Nicholls saddles three for the prize money of £30,000.
The last race of the season should not count for much, apart from pride, but if it has to, we're backing Nicholls to take home the title again, as he saddles four to Mullins' three.
Alcala, Chartbreaker, Qualando and Red Hanrahan are the Nicholls quarter, while Mullins is prepping Bellow Mome McKinley and Burgas for a last gasp effort.
We'd love to see Willie pick up the crown for the first time ever, but logic (and our ever diminishing bank balance) suggest Nicholls has too much too much in the bank already to make up the difference.