Prolific Mullins tightens title grip thanks to Faugheen triumph
Willie Mullins stole the show again at the Punchestown Festival as he increased his lead over Gordon Elliott in the battle for the Irish jumps trainers' championship to €424,148 with just two days of the season remaining.
In what was an astonishing turnaround, the 11-times champion fired in a sensational six-timer to overhaul Elliott for the first time during the campaign, and headed into day three with an advantage of €48,161 - having started the week €521,413 in arrears.
And the script for the Closutton maestro could hardly have been written better 24 hours later, as former Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen rolled back the years to lead home a Mullins one-two-three in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.
The victory over Cheltenham winner Penhill and stablemate Shaneshill meant the Mullins march had grown to €322,461 - but chief among it all was the joy at the return of Faugheen (11-2) to his brilliant best.
Mullins admitted: "He worked the other morning and this was going to be a last-chance saloon. Ruby (Walsh) was with me on the gallops and we looked at each other and said that's him gone.
"You always take a chance and run, and just hope on the day maybe good weather and a nice bit of grass underneath will bring him back to life.
"If he had finished down the field today we probably would have said it was time to retire him, but it didn't happen!"
Mullins nearly followed up in the next race with Ainsie Va La Vie just denied in the Alanna Homes Handicap Hurdle, but even so the momentum continued with the lead standing at €335,661 - a figure soon to rocket once more thanks to budding superstar Footpad in the Ryanair Novice Chase.
The red-hot 2-5 favourite stamped his class from the start and confirmed he has a huge future, in the process moving his trainer to €418,461 at the head of affairs.
Mullins said: "I didn't dream that he would improve that much. That was some performance, and probably better than Cheltenham, I thought."
After the pain of Wednesday, Elliott had initially been a relieved man when he struck in the opener, with Park Paddocks and Jack Kennedy landing the JLT Handicap Hurdle as the 6-1 favourite, reducing the gap at that stage to €30,161.
Elliott said: "It's racing, and you have to smile and keep your head up. Willie is an amazing man and it just goes to show what he can do.
"If you give up in this game you're in trouble. We are on the back foot and we'll enjoy the rest of the week whatever happens."
Mullins hit straight back through the Danny Mullins-ridden Cadmium, who was an emphatic 12-1 winner of the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase and helped stretch the lead to €73,711.