We saw an absolutely thrilling finish to the National Hunt Trainers’ Title this season with Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls locking horns.
Usually Nicky Henderson and Nicholls contest the title –which is decided on prize money – and after Aintree we often know which man is going to take the trophy.
However, this year, Mullins has continued to improve his string and once more dominated the Cheltenham Festival.
Not only that, he was bringing more horses over to the UK on big Saturday afternoons.
When it came to Aintree, the Irishman had made it clear his team were going all out for the title and they sent the likes of Douvan, Annie Power, Vautour, Yorkhill and Apples Jade over to name a few.
He enjoyed a fair bit of success at the Liverpool venue too and may thought he was a good thing for the title after this meeting.
That said, you won’t meet a more determined or competitive man that Paul Nicholls and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
It is safe to say that the Nicholls yard isn’t at its peak in terms of quality of horses. They have landed a couple of Grade Ones this season with Adrien Du Pont and Silviniaco Conti, but struggled to land a blow in those big Cheltenham races.
The three wins during the Festival came in handicaps. Three winners at Cheltenham though, no matter what races they’re in, is very good going.
After Aintree, Nicholls felt like his chance to retain his title was slipping away. He sent a team to Ayr for their Scottish Grand National without any real “good things” but landed the big race with Vincente and managed a fabulous four timer, which put him right back in the driving seat.
It all then came down to the final day of the season and Nicholls once again had a few chances, but nothing really you’d want to be putting your mortgage on.
Mullins, however, had Un De Sceaux and Valseur Lido in two big races and victories in those would leave him in poll position you’d feel.
Valseur Lido didn’t do much wrong at all and was beaten by course specialist Menorah, whereas Un De Sceaux made a fair few jumping errors and was no match for the mighty Sprinter Sacre.
That all but sealed the deal and when Nicholls saddled the second and fourth in the Bet365 Gold Cup, it really was game over.
For me, to win the title without a real star in the stable is one of the best training performances we’ve seen for some time.
Mullins went all out for this trophy, but Nicholls placed his horses extremely well and got them in form for the big days.
Gone are the days of Big Bucks, Kauto Star and Denman basically winning you a title on their own for Nicholls, but this is a yard in transition at the moment and he has a number of really exciting young horses.
Paul Nicholls is a true great of the game and this season showed just how good he is. He’s just a superstar away from dominating the British Jumps scene once again and it would be great to see him, Mullins and Henderson lock horns in the 2016-17 title.