Sport Horse Racing

Monday 24 April 2017

Bred for the big-time

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

At Thurles last week, Emmet Mullins rode out his claim when he won on Skorcher for his uncle Willie. Unusually, it was the second time he achieved this feat.

For many jockeys, their formal graduation to the fully-fledged ranks turns out to be a career high, and it is a rite of passage that fills even the most prodigious of riders with a deserved sense of satisfaction when it is attained. Fair going to do it twice, then.

However, while it may have been an unusual coup for Mullins to realise, he is not unique in doing so.

A December change in the rules meant that a handful of riders had their apprenticeship status reinstated, the win total that elevates a jockey to the rank of full professional increasing from 55 to 60.

Mullins, Philip Enright and Denis Hogan all made swift use of the renewed three-pound, to the extent that it has now disappeared once more. They were all good value for it.

Mullins will be hoping that the momentum that saw him ride three winners from three rides last week, and five in 10 days, will aid a smoother transition this time.

Soon after hitting the target of 55 in August, he was sidelined with a broken collarbone. He returned to the saddle six weeks later, but more than four months passed between winners 56 and 57.

The racing landscape is fraught with hard-luck stories that begin in such a fashion, champion jockeys that would have been, but for an untimely break.

In the event, it's not out of the question that being reallocated his claim prompted Mullins to up his game, a reminder that losing it qualifies you for nothing. It also helped that Ruby Walsh was out of service.

Following a win on Flat Out at Sligo on May 2, Mullins didn't ride for his champion-trainer uncle until a week after Walsh's break at Down Royal on November 6. Walsh, Paul Townend and the trainer's son Patrick are the incumbents at Closutton.

With Walsh injured, a gap appeared. Following a bleak month without a ride, and with his three-pound claim restored, Emmet became flavour of the month with Willie.

The handler had clearly decided that leaving his nephew on the bench was no longer good for business. More importantly, the rider decided it was time to grasp the nettle.

A man of few words, Emmet doesn't deny that it is a relief to be back in the game. "It is," he said simply. "There were a few months there where I earned little or no money nearly, so it was good to get going again."

Emmet Mullins' revival is on the verge of being something far more than a turnaround in fiscal fortunes. At the risk of overstating things, it is little less than a sensational confirmation of an incredibly high-calibre talent. He looks the real deal.

His five recent winners for Willie have showcased the full extent of his potential -- something which he has already shown at Cheltenham by guiding The Midnight Club into third place at the last two Festivals.

Much like Ruby Walsh, the most technically refined of practitioners, Mullins' finest attribute is not what he does in the saddle, but what he doesn't do.

You will rarely see Walsh animatedly ride a horse into a fence on a long stride for a big jump, or rein them back, for that matter.

Mullins is remarkably similar. Horses just seem to meet every fence right for him, as though by chance.

Of course, it has nothing to do with chance, and everything to do with presentation, vision, balance and timing. The net result is that Mullins doesn't interfere, allowing horses to maintain their rhythm through a race, thus increasing their chances.

Likewise, in a positional sense, he doesn't complicate matters, generally jumping off handily and judging the pace from there.

For all the world, it is race-riding simplified, though few can boast such an attribute as their stock in trade.

Because Mullins rides shorter and sits taller on a horse than Walsh, he has a distinctly different style to the benchmark rider of the day. It is in a technical capacity that they compare.

"He gets horses jumping," Willie affirmed of his brother George's only son. "They gallop for him and he seems to have a sense of pace.

"There have been occasions recently when he has taken control of races, and the ride he gave Sweet My Lord at Limerick was the one I was most impressed with. He's a horse that had jumped badly in three of his last five runs.

"After the first hurdle, Emmet felt they were going too slow, so he went on with him and he absolutely pinged hurdles. It was by far Sweet My Lord's most impressive round of jumping."

He continued: "Emmet did a lot of showjumping and I think you can see that in the way he gets a horse to jump. He eventually decided that he'd go into racing instead, but the showjumping has certainly paid off. And he is taking his chances.

"I don't know what his strike-rate is for me, but I'm sure he has a fantastic percentage."

He certainly has, with six winners from 17 rides this term equating to a 35pc success rate. Indeed, his overall strike-rate is impressive at 14 from 86 for 16pc, and it is of note that he is the only one of the top 35 paid jockeys to have had less than 100 rides.

HINDERED

Part of the reason for such a low ride count is down to Mullins' injuries, and broken bones have undoubtedly hindered his development as he tried to establish himself over the past couple of years. "This season started really well for me," said Mullins.

"I rode five winners in the summer for (uncle) Tony, including my first at Galway. So that was great. Then I broke my collarbone for a second time, and things quietened down when I came back.

"The first time I broke it was just after I turned professional (in 2008), and I missed Cheltenham last year because I broke ribs, so the timing of my injuries hasn't helped."

With the cards now appearing to fall more favourably for him, Emmet Mullins should continue to excel. Of course, at 20 years of age and still untested on the big stage, the grandson of the legendary Paddy Mullins is far from the finished article, but you would struggle to name another youngster better equipped to go right to the top. It will be fascinating to see how he progresses.

Irish Independent

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