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First past the post: the mother of Irish racing


Queen of the turf: Maureen nowadays follows racing from the comfort of her couch at home in Kilkenny

Queen of the turf: Maureen nowadays follows racing from the comfort of her couch at home in Kilkenny

Queen Elizabeth makes a presentation to Paddy Mullins after his retirement as a trainer at Cheltenham in March 2005.

Queen Elizabeth makes a presentation to Paddy Mullins after his retirement as a trainer at Cheltenham in March 2005.

Maureen Mullins in riding gear in 1949

Maureen Mullins in riding gear in 1949

Tony Mullins on Dawn Run

Tony Mullins on Dawn Run


Queen of the turf: Maureen nowadays follows racing from the comfort of her couch at home in Kilkenny

You'd hate to be the person in charge of dusting at 'Doninga'. After more than six decades at the helm of Ireland's greatest horse racing dynasty, Maureen Mullins admits that she doesn't bother polishing much of the prizeware anymore.

"There's an awful lot of it in bags all over the house," jokes Maureen, after welcoming Weekend Review to the family home in Co Kilkenny.

"I was trying to get Willie to take some of the Waterford Glass and he said, 'I was thinking could I give you back some of what we have?'"

As renowned racehorse trainer Paddy Mullins' widow, and ex-jockey Willie's mum, it's fair to say there's little room left on 85-year-old Maureen's mantlepiece for odds and ends.

Take the rest of the clan – fellow trainers Tony, Tom, Sandra and horse transport magnate George – into consideration, and it's easy to see how a little piece of Ireland's horse racing history already occupies every nook and cranny of the enchanting Georgian house just outside Gowran.

Now Maureen's grandsons Danny, Patrick, Emmet and DJ are following in the Mullins' family tradition too as noted jockeys in their own right.

"Paddy's father was the most marvellous horseman I ever saw," remembers Maureen, who was married to the jump trainer for 56 years before his death in 2010 aged 91. It must be in the genes.

"Growing up, every one of the children loved going off to the pony club in the morning – they were never pushed into it. I wasn't a bit worried when they were riding, but I was very worried when they started jumping in the races, going around at 35 miles an hour.

"Jumping at that speed, no matter how good you are, the danger is there at every fence."

Of course, it was precisely such heart-in-mouth victories that secured her late husband a place in horse racing legend.

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Mullins famously trained Dawn Run to success in the Championship Hurdle and Gold Cup at Cheltenham in the eighties – the only horse ever to win both races.

"Everybody asks about Dawn Run," says Maureen. "Nobody can believe that [1973 Champion Stakes winner] Hurry Harriet was the horse he remembered most.

"No ordinary trainer will ever win the Champion Stakes again, except a rich, rich man."

So it's perfectly fitting that Mullins should become the first person inducted into a new Hall of Fame to mark the centenary of Gowran racecourse, where the couple first met, on Friday.

"He'd be absolutely mortified," Maureen laughs. She will accept the honour on his behalf at a black-tie event.

"'There must be somebody else', he'd say. My husband didn't like [the attention] at all. At the Gold Cup [in 1986], he just said to me, 'I just couldn't face all these people'.

"I have a photograph of the presentation and he's not in it. After the race, the Queen Mother sent to the stable yard for Paddy to bring Dawn Run down to the [parade] ring," she says.

"She was just great fun, and had a marvellous brain. I mean, you know somebody meeting thousands of people, you'd be saying to yourself, 'I'll think of this lady or this man next time and I'll think of their names'. She was never prompted.

"I didn't meet the Queen, but Paddy met her several times," she adds. "I did meet Princess Anne – she was a great rider – and [her daughter] Zara. They're never at a loss to talk about the horses."

For her part, the glamorous grandmum was no slouch in the saddle either, even winning a charity ladies jockey race at Gowran Park in 1983 – beating daughter Sandra into third place.

"I was a bit nervous," recalls Maureen. "When [the horse] took off, I'd never travelled so fast in my life! There was always one good [female] jockey like Nina Carberry or Katie Walsh, but there were very few races for them at that time."

Maureen's passion for the sport was sparked decades earlier as a child.

'I remember going to the races with my father and mother and two sisters in 1938," she says.

"We'd never seen the same amount of people anywhere – only the photographs of the Eucharistic Congress [held in Dublin] in 1932. It was the day I enjoyed I'd say most in my life.

"When I was very young, we all had ponies," adds Maureen, a farmer's daughter, and herself one of nine children. "It's completely different now – now you have to be rich and you have to have a [horse] box behind the car."

Once a regular on the racing circuit, these days Maureen mostly prefers to scour the Racing Post from the comfort of her couch each morning.

"I have all the [newspaper] cuttings back to 1954," adds Maureen.

"My daughter Sandra tells me the neighbours will know when I'm dead because she's going to burn them all!"

Paddy Mullins will be inducted into Gowran Park Hall of Fame at the Centenary Midsummer Ball on Friday,  June 20 - www.gowranpark.ie

Over the Fences: The man who gave us Dawn Run

Born into a farming family at Graiguenamanagh in 1919, Paddy attended De La Salle Brothers boys' school in Bagenalstown.

At 34, he took over his father Willie's training licence, and rode his first winner as a trainer, Flash Parade II, at Punchestown.

When a bad fall at Limerick Junction ended his riding career in 1959, however, Mullins turned his attention to training from his Goresbridge yard instead.

During his 52-year career as a racehorse trainer, the dad-of-five achieved success at Cheltenham six times, including Dawn Run's historic double, four Irish National winners and 10 Irish jump trainers' titles.

Although best known as a jump trainer, two of his greatest triumphs were on the flat including Hurry Harriet, who in 1973 famously beat Allez France to win the Champion Stakes.

In 2003, at the age of 81 and over half a century after training his first winner, Mullins won the Irish Oaks with Vintage Tipple.

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