Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Mullins leads way in great season

The Hurricane Fly team after his Cheltenham victory in March

A record-breaking Cheltenham Festival for Team Ireland and another incredible campaign for the all-conquering Willie Mullins team will go down as the major highlights of another superb National Hunt season.

Heading into the Prestbury Park jamboree in mid-March the travelling army certainly looked to have a formidable raiding party - but few could have expected that 14 of the 27 races would go to Irish-trained runners.

Mullins typically set the tone with an opening day hat-trick and five winners in all, with Hurricane Fly regaining his Champion Hurdle crown and the wonder mare Quevega winning the OLBG Mares' Hurdle for a remarkable fifth consecutive year.

Even more incredibly, 20 of the Festival heroes were Irish-bred, and Irish-born jockeys steered home a total of 19 winners.

Back on home soil Mullins was an irresistible force, saddling close to 200 winners and accruing the best part of 4m euros in win and place prize-money, and he fittingly closed the season with two more Grade One victories at Punchestown.

Hurricane Fly was once again the stable flag-bearer, with victories in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown among his four seasonal wins in Ireland.

Irish Hennessy and Punchestown Gold Cup hero Sir Des Champs, prolific mare Annie Power, Back In Focus and Arvika Ligeonniere were others to secure notable prizes, ensuring the trainers' championship would be retained by the master of Closutton once again.

Rebel Fitz was one of the season's highest-earning horses for his County Cork-based trainer Michael Winters, largely due to his memorable victory in the lucrative Galway Hurdle last summer.

Dot Love enjoyed the biggest day of her training career as her 50-1 shot Liberty Counsel claimed the Irish Grand National, while Henry de Bromhead's stable star Sizing Europe won four of his five Irish starts, his only defeat coming at the hands of the awesome Sprinter Sacre at Punchestown.

Honourable mentions also go to the Mouse Morris-trained Baily Green, a winner of seven races this season, Jessica Harrington's top-class novice hurdler Jezki, who rocketed into the Champion Hurdle picture at Punchestown, Peter Casey's Flemenstar and Dessie Hughes's exciting juvenile Our Conor.

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