Training will have to wait for quietly ambitious Mullins
Champion amateur rider won't be jumping ship any time soon
Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30
Leopardstown has long been a source of joy for Patrick Mullins, not least today's Irish Gold Cup spread.
It was at the Foxrock venue over Christmas 2012 that the 26-year-old broke Billy Parkinson's 1915 amateur riders' record of 72 wins in a calendar year when steering Zuzka to victory for his father, Willie.
A year later, in Mullins' select but prolific (eight wins from 24 runs) guise as an owner, Rockyaboya, a cheap buy that he sourced out of a field at seven years of age after five dismal runs, plundered a €106,800 winner's prize in the Paddy Power Chase.
Twelve months ago, Mullins's judgement was again to the fore when he secured a first win in the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters Chase on Prince De Beauchene, which he had recommended as a fun horse for a bunch of his school friends. Come St Stephen's Day 2015, he practically owned Leopardstown.
The eight-time champion amateur was parachuted in at the 11th hour to partner A Toi Phil, before then being confirmed as the chosen one for Douvan in the Arkle.
"I suppose it was a bit like going home from a night club with a supermodel; if it happens once in your life, you've done well," Mullins quips by way of illustrating what it meant to partner such a mesmerising young chaser. He completed a treble on Bacardys in the bumper, and has since netted two further wins there.
All this, and then the stable's nine triumphs in what now trades as the Irish Gold Cup. Heady memories.
Today, Mullins will seek to synchronise his Leopardstown good fortune and that of his father Willie's in the illustrious €150,000 Grade One. He partners On His Own, on which he enjoyed thrilling experiences when fifth in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and fourth in the Lexus.
Intriguingly, there are two odds-on shots for today's four Grade Ones, neither of which is trained by Willie Mullins, who has hitherto won each of the five Grade Ones originally scheduled for this term.
It is almost feels like an aberration. The Closutton outfit's domination of the highest echelon is mind-boggling.
A subdued sequence of results between Wednesday and Saturday last week sounded mostly facetious alarm bells.
Things have turned since, but it was a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in the capricious world of jump racing.
With horses like Yanworth and Barters Hill impressing in tandem, stratospheric Cheltenham Festival expectations have been tempered slightly. Now they are just sky high.
"Dad and I talked about it on Saturday night," Mullins says of the fleeting below-par spell.
"We went through what reasons there could have been and was there cause for concern. We drew our conclusions and moved on. Obviously Myska had a cough, but we just felt it was one of those weeks. You are going to have days like that.
"We are in the middle of a perfect storm at the minute; between owners, jockeys, staff and horses - and trainer! - so we are making the most of it . It won't last forever.
"When I was growing up, Noel Meade was dominating. I remember listening to mum and dad saying, 'Sure we might beat Noel on prize money this year but we'll never beat him on winners', because Noel had so many winners consistently.
"Then you had Paul Nicholls winning three Gold Cups in a row; he had a 1-2-3 one year, a 1-2 another year; four World Hurdles; consecutive Champion Chases with Master Minded; I've lost count of how many King Georges he won! (Nine) It turns, and I've seen that even from my short time in the game."
Is it possible to decipher what makes his father so good? "Well, he had a great mentor from the start in my grandfather Paddy, and the fact that Ruby is around so much now is massive. He is the best jockey ever in my eyes, so having him here is a huge addition.
"Dad is well able to delegate. We have a great team led by Gail Carlisle, Dick Dowling and Virginnie Bascop, and I don't think the pressure gets to him like it might others.
"My mother (Jackie) also deals with a lot of the small details that all add up, which leaves dad to worry about the bigger issues. He sees horses a bit differently to others, too.
"Like, I am with him every day, and I see him deal with a horse one day and I might see what he does, and I say, right, one plus one is two.
"A week later, something similar might happen and I will say, well, one plus one is two, and he will say 'no', and it turns out it's two plus one is three.
"He reads the game a bit differently as well. For example, he doesn't run horses unless he thinks they can win. He doesn't run horses for the sake of it and just think, 'Ah, we'll get a run in here'. If it's not ready to win, it doesn't run.
"I know it's easy to say now, 'Oh, they don't need to be worrying about getting horses well handicapped', but I think that has always been dad's way.
"We don't win a lot of handicaps in the winter, but then we win more come the spring because we'll have good ground horses that were running during the winter, and they have something up their sleeve.
"So that's a big thing with him - if they aren't ready to win, they don't run."
Mullins, as humbly phlegmatic as his father, never fails to come across as anything other than intelligent and articulate. He holds a degree in Equine Business from NUI Maynooth, and has expressed a desire to train in his own right.
Leaving his father now, though, would be akin to disembarking the school bus at the stop before Willie Wonka's chocolate factory.
"It's something I would love to do," he confirms, before adding with a slightly nervous laugh, "but it's down with marriage, mortgage and kids - it's for later in life.
"I am very much enjoying what I am doing and I have no doubt it is much easier than training. I look at (cousin) Emmet training now, and he is doing very well, but it's a lot more stressful than riding."
Asked what his take is on the current state of the wider jumps industry in Ireland, Mullins is frank.
"It's obviously a different landscape now than it was before," he says.
"We have big owners after coming in with big strings. Whether or not it's good or bad, it's the way it is right now, so maybe things need to adapt a bit. And it might take the game a few years to adapt to how it has evolved. There are upsides and downsides and I can see both sides.
"At Cheltenham last year we had eight winners, but six of the seconds in the 13 races won by Irish horses were Irish as well. At the minute, it does seem very top-heavy but, as I say, these things are cyclical."
And if he were king for a day?
"For me, TV is how we market our sport to the outside audience and our coverage is behind the times. The day in Thurles last year, when they had the car beside the track, made it look so exciting.
"That hasn't been capitalised on; our TV coverage is the same as it was in the 1990s. There should be overhead views, cameras in cars, jockey cams, cameras at fences.
"It's a high-speed, exciting, contact sport, yet it's covered in a very sterile way. It hasn't evolved with the times."
The father-son axis hasn't been quite as prolific this term in the bumper sphere. "We have been quieter on the bumper front, but I think the whole country has," he reflects.
"We obviously have quite a few horses coming from France that have run over hurdles and that is a factor, and the Gigginstown horses don't tend to come into the equation for Cheltenham, although, if we really liked one, I think it would.
"The funny thing is, last year we had four or five good bumper horses and they weren't mapped at Cheltenham. I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. You only need one, so hopefully we can find one.
"The way the weather was this season, so dry in the autumn and then so wet in the winter, I think our bumper horses will improve. I don't think they were as ready for their first runs as they would be in other years."
Despite his relaxed demeanour, Mullins possesses the same quiet determination to succeed as his father.
He is ambitious, and getting his name on the roll of honour for each of the three amateur riders' events at Cheltenham is an expressed target.
He needs to plunder the Kim Muir and the Foxhunters to complete a treble that only John Oaksey has achieved before. Emulating another icon of the unpaid ranks, Ted Walsh, is also on the list of things to do.
"Ted has 11 amateur titles and I think he holds the record for winners ridden on 525, so they are two things on the horizon to keep aiming for. I am around the 430 mark, so we'll keep chipping away."
Likewise, if he were to steer home his father's 10th winner in the Irish Gold Cup, that would do just fine, too. No amateur rider has triumphed in the race before.
Should he prevail, then, he really would be out On His Own at Leopardstown.
Patrick Mullins joins our team . . .
“On His Own is probably up against it in the Irish Gold Cup, but you never know with him.
While his legs might give out in the end, if he is thereabouts again at the final fence, he could pick up some prize money.
To be honest, I think Road To Riches is a banker – he looks the only championship Grade One horse in the race.
I was really impressed with Ivanovich Gorbatov at Christmas, so he should win the first Grade One. Who knows how good he might have been on the Flat if they kept going with him?
Let’s Dance is our best chance, I think. I know Ruby Walsh wants another shot at the favourite, but they have it all to do.
In the Deloitte, Bellshill is our number one hope. He is a better horse than he was last year, so the trip shouldn’t be a problem.
Tombstone was unlucky last time, but I thought our Bleu Et Rouge came out worst of the barging that day. I’d give him a live each-way chance, likewise Blazer in the handicap hurdle.
We don’t know why he was so disappointing last time out, so that raises a slight question mark, but, off a mark of 126, we think he is well handicapped.
In the Flogas Novices’ Chase, Outlander, which won a good novices’ hurdle at the track last year, may be our best chance. He is a little under the radar, but I think he will go very close.”
*Read Patrick Mullins column only in the Irish Independent every day during the Cheltenham Festival.