The Christmas racing at Leopardstown, Limerick, and Kempton provided plenty of entertainment over the festive period as well as some clues as to what might happen later in the year.
The spoils were unequally shared, but it wasn't Mullins who dominated, it was Gordon Elliott.
Of the seven Grade One races at Leopardstown, Elliott took home four, an incredible achievement from the Summerhill man. Arguably his only disappointment over the Christmas period was Samcro who was downed at Limerick by the evergreen Faugheen.
Elsewhere it was dominant performance after dominant performance with arguably the best horse, or at least the most exciting one, Envoi Allen still to run. He will be in action at Naas in their Lawlors Hotel Grade One Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
There was also the Paddy Power chase win for Elliott with Roaring Bull providing the best commentary of Christmas racing as well as the biggest handicap pot of the festival for Cullentra House Stables.
What a finish... and what a commentary! 😲
Race caller Jerry Hannon discovers a whole new octave as the enigmatic Roaring Bull comes from nowhere to land the €200,000 Paddy Power Chase at @LeopardstownRC - now someone go and get that man a glass of water! 🥤 pic.twitter.com/lFRoJsjnzz
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 27, 2019
As 2020 breaks Elliott looks ahead to Cheltenham with the favourites for the three major novice races, Apple's Jade back in the winners' enclosure, having looking bound for retirement and a €300k lead at the top of the trainers' Championship.
That was a serious haul of Christmas presents for Gordon Elliott.
While Waterford based trainer Henry DeBromhead regularly points his horses for lofty targets at major festivals, even he will have been pleasantly surprised with the success he and jockey Rachael Blackmore enjoyed in late December.
👑 Cracking battle in this G1 contest but A Plus Tard comes out on top for Rachael Blackmore & Henry de Bromhead Over Chacun Pour Soi pic.twitter.com/O5B6UssP3W
— ODDSbible Racing (@ODDSbibleRacing) December 27, 2019
There were a pair of Grade Ones and a Grade Two win while it could be argued that Monalee was a shade unlucky in the Savills Chase behind the resurgent Delta Work.
That was a haul that took DeBromhead past the million euro mark in prizemoney for the year and it could have been even better. Minella Indo was a non-runner due to the ground and Honeysuckle wasn't in action during the Christmas racing.
It was a fitting end of a year to remember for Blackmore and the trainer, who could have as many as five single-figure chances come the Cheltenham festival. The pair combined for half a dozen top-level victories in 2019.
Notebook, A Plus Tard, Minella Indo, Honeysuckle and Aspire Tower will have them wishing away the days down Waterford way.
It wouldn't be Christmas without a reflection on the son of the Lord, in the case of horseracing, that's Joseph O'Brien. Before considering the festive period for O'Brien, it is worth pointing out at the turn of the decade, Joseph was 16 years old.
The man has redefined precocious achievement as the youngest trainer of a Melbourne Cup winner and the youngest trainer of a Breeders' Cup winner. His transition to full-time flat training is looking more inevitable than ever.
Like himself, O'Brien's jumps stock is generally precocious. While his Grade One winner Fakir D'oudairies had his colours lowered by Notebook, there was plenty of optimism for the future from the Owning stable.
There were four bumper winners over the Chrismas festivals for Joseph including the impressive Risk Factor and Eric Bloodaxe.
They should be enough to keep the trainer interested in the National Hunt game for another couple of seasons at least.
Inevitably at this time of year, there is much reflection about who and what is best of the year and decade. There is little doubting Willie Mullins placement at the very top of that list having been champion trainer in Ireland every year since 2008.
Sharjah and Faugheen were all-too-rare highlights for the team.
👏🏻 Oh it didn't disappoint!
🏆 The Machine is in working order alright
⭐️ Superlatives fail to do Faugheen justice! At the age of 11, he records an 11th G1 victory & his first over fences, getting the better of Samcro in a thrilling race @LimerickRaces
🏇 WHAT. A. HORSE. pic.twitter.com/gI8jJMaIUV
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 26, 2019
The closing month of 2019 has not been particularly kind to the master of Closutton. A double on New Year's Eve was necessary to take the team beyond the 20 winner mark for the month of December.
This is the stable's second-lowest total amount of winners for December since 2010. In 2010 Willie only ran 55 horses, this year he ran 128 in Ireland.
There were short-priced defeats for Chacun Pour Soi, Klassical Dream, The Big Getaway, Ferny Hollow and Kemboy among the festive lowlights.
Just as one swallow does not make a summer, one bad month does not mean the spring will be fallow for Mullins, but perhaps the power is shifting, even just slightly.
Mullins continues to lead, but the chasing pack look to be getting closer.
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