The Irish trainers’ title continues to be a closely-run affair between current leader Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins, who has held the crown since the 2008/09 season.
Elliott has saddled 141 winners in Ireland this season for a total of €2,761,550 in prize money, while Mullins is currently on 123 winners and €2,420,238. But, Elliott has saddled far more runners – some 837 – while Mullins has had just 336. Unsurprisingly based on those numbers, Mullins is dominating his younger challenger in terms of strike-rate.
His is an impressive 36 per cent while Gordon Elliott’s just 17 per cent.
With a couple of valuable handicaps at Leopardstown on Sunday, the feature Leopardstown Handicap Chase worth just shy of €60,000 to the winner, as well as a Grade 3 Novice Chase, it looks another key day in the Irish title race.
Mullins could strike in the first in the mares’ maiden hurdle at 1:10pm with Bargy Lady, who holds leading form claims on her second to Montana Belle at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day. She had the re-opposing Toe The Line back in fourth that day, and with that mare looking like a return to further than two miles would suit her ideally.
Bargy Lady should again be able to push Toe The Line out of the way.
If he wins the first, Mullins could easily double up in the Grade 3 novice chase at 2:10pm an event he’s won with the likes of Sir des Champs, Djakadam, Vautour and Killultagh Vic in recent years. That is some roll of honour, but Mullins’ higher-rated runner this time around, Yorkhill, could potentially be another superstar chaser himself.
Yorkhill recorded a Grade 1 three-timer in Britain last season, and as a rangy point winner, he could be headed for the very top over fences. Yorkhill faces his well-touted ex-stablemate Gangster, as well as Drinmore runner-up Anibale Fly, but should have too much class for those rivals.
Elliott has plenty of ammunition in the feature Leopardstown Handicap Chase at 2:40pm including A Toi Phil, who, ironically, won a Grade 2 for Mullins last term. This is A Toi Phil’s handicap debut, and he seems to have been handed a fair mark on his win in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl at Punchestown in November.
The biggest threat could come from Mullins’ Rolly Baby, who was outrunning big odds under an amateur rider in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas before making a late error. He should have come on for that reappearance and Ruby Walsh (who is three from three on the gelding) takes over in the saddle.
Unbelievably, neither Elliot (1) nor Mullins (4) seems to have an obvious leading contender in the 3:10pm, a Grade B handicap hurdle.
Step forward Tony Martin, who looks set to saddle his Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup second Heartbreak City, as well as Golden Spear, who won the Irish November Handicap at Leopardstown and stayed on in eye-catching fashion (if we can say that given the race was shrouded in fog) when a well-backed fourth for a warm handicap hurdle at Ascot last time.
Heartbreak City is top rated in the race by 1lb from his stablemate, with both clear of the rest of the field.