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Russell, Mullins assured of titles

Article Date: 11-April-2012

As of Thursday morning, April 12th, just 10 meetings and 68 races remain in the 2011/12 National Hunt season.

When the season ends at Punchestown on Saturday, April 28th, Davy Russell looks set to be crowned the country’s leading rider for the very first time.

Having ridden his 100th winner of the campaign at Fairyhouse this week, Russell holds a commanding lead of 18 wins over Ruby Walsh and few will begrudge the Youghal man the prize.

The 32-year-old has finished runner-up in the race for the title in each of the last five seasons, which is sure to make this breakthrough success all the sweeter for him with his highlight so far sure to be Quito De La Roque’s Grade 1 victory in the Champion Chase in Down Royal last November.

Another title that is already wrapped up is that of champion trainer, with Willie Mullins (127 winners and €2.2m prizemoney) continuing the utter domination of his profession.

Mullins has saddled more than double the number of winners of his nearest pursuer (Noel Meade, 59 winners & €916k prizemoney) and is certain to secure his fifth consecutive trainer’s Championship.

There could well be another championship making its way back to the Mullins household, as Willie’s son Patrick (38) currently leads Nina Carberry (33) by five winners in the race for the title of champion amateur rider.

Mullins has got the better of Nina in this championship in each of the last four seasons and Nina will have to produce a very strong late effort to wrestle the championship from Patrick’s grasp.

The race for the title of champion conditional rider looks sure to go right down to the wire with Eddie O’Connell (26 winners) narrowly leading Paddy Mangan (25 winners) and Declan Bates (23 winners).

Kildare native O’Connell made a particularly fast start to the season and rode out his claim in November, meaning any additional winners since then have not counted in this title, so he’ll be playing a waiting game to see if he can maintain this lead for the next 10 race meetings.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Paddy Mangan, son of the Aintree Grand National-winning trainer Jimmy, has ridden a remarkably steady stream of winners throughout the season and having finished second on Out Now in the Irish Grand National earlier this week, he looks sure to make a strong challenge for this prestigious title.

Declan Bates, a 23-year-old rider that is attached to the Philip Rothwell stable, has taken by far the most rides of the three main contenders for the title and with him being sure to maintain that work rate, he could well launch a very serious bid in the closing weeks of the season.

The champion owner title has been fiercely contested in the last couple of seasons, with Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud wrestling the title away from JP McManus (who had won it for the previous 14 years in succession) in 2009/10, only for McManus to reclaim the title last season.

Gigginstown held a narrow advantage over McManus of €10,000 prior to the McManus blitz of winners at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival and at the time of writing the advantage has swung over €100,000 back in McManus’s favour and every race for the remainder of the season is sure to make a difference.

Thus far, the Irish National Hunt season has been another tremendous one. The Willie Mullins domination at all levels has been the story of the campaign, though there were few more poignant underdog stories than the win of the Tom Gibney-trained Lion Na Bearnai in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday.

Regarding the all-important Cheltenham Festival, it was always going to be a very tough task for the Irish to come close to matching their record-breaking 2011 tally of 13 winners and the all-important bounce of the ball rarely went the way of the Irish during the 2012 festivities.

The disappointing final tally of five Irish-trained winners (three trained by Willie Mullins) did not tell the full story, as there were no less than 13 Irish-trained runners-up during the week.

Despite the reversals at Cheltenham, the final weeks of the season look to offer substantial opportunity for the Irish to finish the season strongly. As well as the majority of Ireland’s star performers being set to run at the Punchestown Festival, Irish-trained horses also occupy seven of the top 10 positions in the market for the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree on Saturday.

Presentations will be made to the NH Champions on the final day of the Punchestown Festival (Saturday, April 28th). Created by Siobhan Bulfin, perpetual bronze sculptures of three horses jumping, inscribed with all title winners since 1947, will be presented to the champion trainer, jockey and owner while perpetual silver trophies made by Alwright and Marshall Silversmiths will be awarded to the leading amateur rider and claiming professional.

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