Mastermind of '86 Gold Cup triumph will be sorely missed by an entire generation
When reports of Paddy Mullins' death filtered through yesterday morning, my initial thoughts were for his family, some of whom I have been lucky enough to get to know in a professional capacity over the years.
For all that Paddy was a great horseman and trainer, it's well established that he was a family man first and foremost, and the apples didn't fall far from the tree in that regard. He will be sorely missed.
Once the news was absorbed, however, fond memories of Paddy's era-defining achievements with the iconic Dawn Run came flooding back. Growing up in a non-racing household, I can still vividly recall RTE evening news bulletins relaying Dawn Run and Jonjo O'Neill's famous Gold Cup triumph at Cheltenham in 1986.
At the time, theirs was the only racing story to engage any interest in our house. As I entered my teens and became involved with horses, that stirring climb from the last fence at Cheltenham, as the mare reeled in Wayward Lad, became an indelible part of my consciousness.
My first taste of the racing game came at the Clonakilty base of Lisselan Farms, the owners of Imperial Call, Ireland's next Gold Cup winner after Dawn Run in 1996. Many were the mornings that myself, Thomas O'Leary and Ray Hurley, all hopeless dreamers at the time, rode out alongside each other to a poor rendition of Dessie Scahill's rousing commentary of the run from the last in the 1986 Gold Cup.
Of course, the mock narration quickly changed after Imperial Call's day in the sun. Nonetheless, such is the enduring magic of Dawn Run's unlikely feat, as a mare, a Champion Hurdle winner, a novice and still a beaten docket well after the last fence, that Scahill's epic score will forever remain a cherished part of racing folklore.
Paddy Mullins, the mastermind behind the momentous feat, has been a towering icon of the National Hunt game throughout. In so many ways he was an inspiration to all, and the mystical aura that prevailed in the wake of Dawn Run's glorious victory stirred something inside every starry-eyed young jockey.
Ultimately, what he accomplished with Dawn Run in 1986 was to instil the prospect of hope in an entire generation. Paddy was the one who allowed us to dream.