History looks set to be made on bet365 Jump Finale at Sandown Park tomorrow with Willie Mullins on the verge of becoming the first Irish-based champion Jump trainer in 70 years. Vincent O’Brien was the last such trainer to achieve the feat in the 1953-54 season.

Although it is mathematically possible Dan Skelton could overhaul him, it appears unlikely and Mullins is set to saddle nine runners at Sandown Park versus Skelton’s five.

The County Carlow-based 67-year-old has saddled fewer than 30 winners in Britain this season but has won the Crown Jewels of Jump racing – which is based on prize money - with victories in the Unibet Champion Hurdle (State Man), Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Galopin Des Champs) and Randox Grand National (I Am Maximus).

Discussing when he first thought the championship was a serious possibility, Mullins said: “We had been looking at it a few weeks before the Grand National and I said if we are lucky enough to win it then we would be in with a shout.

“We therefore entered a bigger team than normal for Aintree and it turned out well with, I think, four Grade 1s and the Grand National. I then said to the team this is a once in a lifetime chance – I wasn’t born when Vincent won it - and we will throw everything at it. We might get a taste for it and this whets the appetite. We had a way better time at Ayr (where he won the Scottish Grand National with Macdermott) than I thought, which was unbelievable and has made this week easier.

“But as we saw the other night with Manchester United and Coventry, you can’t count your chickens – you just have to go through and keep playing. Hopefully it will work out on Saturday for us.”

Modesty at its finest

Always keen to pay tribute to those around him, Mullins continued: “I have a good team in the office and they do everything in spite of me! They know what they are doing and everything just goes on. David Casey does the entries and Grainne works out the logistics of sending horses and staff to Britain – we haven’t lost anyone yet!

“The type of people we have around the place including my wife Jackie, son Patrick, David Casey, Ruby Walsh, Grainne in the office, Dick out in the yard and Ben our travelling head lad. They just do their job and go with it which makes my job a lot easier. The years of experience they bring to the table at Closutton – it’s hard to hire people like that as they don’t exist. They have come through our own academy, so to speak, and know how it works. We are not people who change our minds easily and go with what works.”

Of Vincent O’Brien, Mullins said: “Vincent was a legend of legends in racing and to have your name up against him is something you could never dream of, it’s just extraordinary.

“I was lucky enough to have met him once or twice but I never imagined I could be as good as him or anything like that. I looked at what he did and how he achieved it and wondered if we could do something similar over jumps. He wasn’t afraid to source horses in different places and we have gone everywhere we can to source horses, which I think is an important part of what we have achieved at Closutton.

“I won’t be totally switching to Flat racing like he did though, it’s a whole other game – I don’t think I want to have 100 yearlings! We just like to have a few horses which we can mix up with staying races on the Flat.”

As to what winning the UK championship would mean, Mullins concluded: “When you start off training, you maybe dream of being Irish champion trainer but never British champion trainer. In the last few years, we began to think it was achievable and we came very close in 2016 when I think it went down to the last three races. It’s an old saying that you have got to lose a final before you win a final – it makes you appreciate it more.”

High hopes for Harry

The 2022-23 champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls is likely to finish third this time around but takes great pride in playing a huge role in making his stable jockey Harry Cobden the likely champion Jump jockey and is already looking ahead to a bid for his 15th trainers’ title next year.

He said: “Hopefully we can keep Harry in the driving seat – it’s thoroughly deserved. It’s fantastic for Harry and the team. He’s been riding very, very well this year and fortunately stayed injury-free, with plenty of winners for us and others. He is still relatively young and the complete jockey. There have been lots of standouts and he’s riding very well. He’s a great team player.

“Sean Bowen is a very good jockey who also spent time at Ditcheat. I think it was inevitable they were going to be up against one another at some point.

“We are up against it but we have some nice horses to run. Realistically, we are going against Dan (Skelton) for second place.

“We have won 14 championships and it would be nice to get to 15, which we will do one day. We have been incredibly lucky and you can’t win the Premiership every year. You need the players and we just need a few new ones to up the squad a bit.

“We have still had over 130 winners, a good strike rate and around £3 million in prize money. If we did that every year, we would be very, very happy. We were just a bit light on horses for the big races.

“It doesn’t hurt because I could see it happening. The Grand National was always going to be pivotal, as it was the year I won it with Neptune Collonges (2012) and overtook Nicky Henderson. It was all over then.

“We move on to next season and I’m already looking forward to it. This competition is great for racing. I feel for poor Dan Skelton. He thought when he finished above me he would be champion trainer and then Willie has come along and trumped us both! It’s sport and it depends on the team you’ve got.”