Willie Mullins is targeting more rich festival pickings in Paris later this month after his record-breaking domination at Punchestown.
A total of 19 winners, almost half the races up for grabs over the five days, put an emphatic final stamp on a campaign that saw Mullins crowned champion trainer in Ireland for a 15th time on Saturday.
Now he has his sights set on a bumper weekend at Auteuil (May 22nd-23rd) which could yield a first ever success in France’s equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The 2019-20 Blue Riband winner Al Boum Photo has been lightly raced in recent seasons but could remain active in the coming weeks and make the line-up for the €850,000 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.
That takes place on the Sunday of a weekend that will also include the French Champion Hurdle, the Grande Course De Haies d’Auteuil, on the day before.
“They’ve done something like the Dublin Racing Festival and made a gala weekend,” explained Mullins on Sunday on the back of a domestic season that saw him break the €5 million barrier in prize money.
“We are certainly looking at going [to France] but with a smaller team than usual. We have to find out about restrictions and pandemic protocols.
“Al Boum Photo and Burrows Saint are the two at the top of my mind [for the Grand-Steeple]. Al Boum has come of his race [runner-up to Clan Des Obeaux on Wednesday] very well.
“We might campaign him a bit more this year. As he gets older, Paul [Townend] was saying he might need more competition.
“That was one of the comments he made to me when he got off the other day, that he might need more competition to bring out the best in him,” he added.
No overseas runner has won the Grand-Steeple since Mandarin in 1962, although more Irish and British trainers have targeted it in recent years.
Burrows Saint did best of a handful of Mullins runners when fifth to the Davy Russell-ridden Carriacou in 2019.
There could be other Irish interest this time as Rachael Blackmore is set to team up with the local star Ajas.
Auteuil’s Champion Hurdle has proved much more rewarding for raiders, including Mullins who has won it five times including with Benie Des Dieux two years ago.
Two of his nine Grade One winners at Punchestown, Klassical Dream and Stormy Ireland, could make the trip to Paris for that prize.
Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam are in the mix to line up for the €250,000 Prix Alain Du Breil, France’s equivalent of the Triumph Hurdle, which Mullins has won twice before.
Mullins’s Punchestown haul of 19 winners beat his previous 2018 record by one and remarkably came for 15 different owners.
“I’ve always made sure that I keep plenty owners, even the smallest owners. To me it’s never been all about the fella that could spend mega-money to buy horses.
“My experience growing up, and probably looking more on the flat in England, was looking at trainers with one owner and when that owner either dies, or gives up racing, or falls out with the trainer, they’re left with problems,” said the man who famously split with Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary in 206 in a dispute over training fees.
“I’ve always liked a good spread of owners. I get as much fun winning an ordinary race for genuine owners who go down to Tramore or Ballinrobe and win with a home-bred or a horse they bought themselves.
“Little fish can be sweet. That’s the fun part of racing,” he added.
Saturday’s season finale at Punchestown also saw a little bit of history as siblings Paul and Jody Townend were crowned champion jockey and champion lady rider.
Simon Torrens was champion conditional with 34 winners. Patrick Mullins was top amateur for a 13th time having reached a half-century, five ahead of Jamie Codd.