Saturday 18 November 2017

New Dawn brings dream of Gold for Mullins team

Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins are all smiles as they lift the Champion Hurdle trophy – in stark contrast to the emotions the rider felt last year when Annie Power fell at the final flight (below) in the OLBG Mares Hurdle (SPORTSFILE)
Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins are all smiles as they lift the Champion Hurdle trophy – in stark contrast to the emotions the rider felt last year when Annie Power fell at the final flight (below) in the OLBG Mares Hurdle (SPORTSFILE)
James Lawton

James Lawton

It was a leading question I asked Willie Mullins in his moment of beautiful, stunning triumph but there was nothing forced about his answer.

Yes, he said, in his trainer's heart he wanted more than anything to send his superb Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power off down the road once travelled by Dawn Run.

No, you couldn't make up such high-quality dreaming anywhere except perhaps here where you can still hear the roars sweeping across the valley when the new champion not only ridiculed doubts about her big-race temperament but also swept to a course record.

Long before the end of what turned into a triumphal procession, Annie Power's seven-pound mare's allowance seemed to represent nothing so much as a bad case of sexual discrimination.

It was exploited so flawlessly that Mullins, especially Mullins, and an emotional owner Rich Ricci were bound to recall the glory of Dawn Run in the same race of 1984 - and then two years later in the Gold Cup. There was the cue for the Mullins dream - and he was candid enough about its vividness.

He said: "If he (Ricci) wants to emulate Dawn Run - why not? It would appeal to me. Yeah, I would love to do it. We'll see what happens. But, yes, it's much easier to keep horses sound jumping hurdles than it is trying to go after the Gold Cup.

"The heart? Yes, I think so, the trainer's heart. She's a racehorse to me. A lot of other guys might say she's a potential broodmare. That's not on my agenda. I don't think it will be on Rich's.


"We are going to treat her as a racehorse. However, when the effects of the champagne wear off, different people start thinking differently. But I'd like to treat her as a racehorse. I'd love to go down that route."

If ever Mullins, master horseman and one not least notable for his grasp of the practicalities of his demanding trade, was ever going to yield to a moment of heightened emotion - and some considerable yearning - this was surely the one.

He had carried off his fourth Champion Hurdle, delivered Annie Power's as a magician might have produced a white rabbit from a top hat with the indisposition of last year's winner Faugheen, and had just seen his other charge Douvan confirm the prospect of a brilliant future with a pole-axing run in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.

So if his glass was brimming why would he not want to at least sip from the intoxicating magnum of Dawn Run's imperishable glory? Mullins was, after all, at the heart of one of this valley's most thunderous celebrations.

His supreme course specialist jockey Ruby Walsh had risen in the saddle at the moment of victory with such force and passion you would never have guessed how wide and deep his achievements ran here in the Cotswolds.

His owner had worked hard to constrain his tears. The acclaim swept down from the cliff-edges of the great grandstand.

So, yes, Mullins was never readier to permit himself another dream.

He declared: "When I saw Annie Power for the first time I said to myself, 'This is the nearest thing to Dawn Run I will ever see'. I rang up Jim Bolger and it took me a while to do a deal with him.

"She's a different colour to Dawn Run but in so many other ways she is so similar, a big, strong mare with stamina as well.

"We bought her with the intention of going over fences like Dawn Run. At this point that will be discussed. Right now, the owner has Faugheen coming back next season.

"The same owner has Douvan and a couple of nice chasers. Annie Power will make a nice chaser - especially the way she jumps.

"I think what happened today is immense. I know Richie probably hasn't enjoyed a winner so much. Certainly Ruby seemed the same way.

"I was so very happy because I didn't expect her to do anything quite like that - especially the way the race was won."

Mullins then walked out in the cold afternoon for an immediate recharging of his blood.

It came with Walsh's superb handling of Vroum Vroum Mag on the way to another victory, in the OBLG Mares' Hurdle Race, ironically the occasion of one of Annie Power's two career defeats.

Walsh worked Vroum Vroum Mag through the field with a facility that served as some near ultimate explanation of his astonishing record here.

One race earlier his approach required not a lot more than an acute understanding of his mount's potential.

It was simply a case of trusting all that he had come to believe about her ability to outrun the doubts about the reliability of her nature.

Significantly enough, it led to the first evoking of Dawn Run on a day which, as it turned out, would always carry the old champion as a motif.

"I told Willie I was going to ride her like Dawn Run - buck out and go," explained Walsh.

"She travelled super, she jumped probably better than she's ever jumped. She's put in one hell of a performance.

"She was so unlucky last year (when she fell at the final hurdle) and we copped a bit of flak over it but that is the nature of sport I suppose. She's brilliant.

"She broke smart, pinged the first and travelled so well. They went a good gallop but I always felt I was well within myself.

"I said to David Casey (Mullins' right-hand man) in the morning after we had ridden work, 'Just remind me when we are going out not to look back. If they catch me, they catch me'.

"I had a plan and I stuck to it and let her roll. They weren't going to outstay me; they might outsprint me, so I wanted to put it to them as early as I could. She answered when I gave her a kick and quickened up and flew the last and galloped every step of the way up the hill.


"I knew halfway up the run-in she was going to win and that was it. It's a brilliant feeling. It was great to be on her back."

Of all Walsh's admiration for the remarkable performance that built dramatically in his company a few of his words resonated most powerfully, and perhaps, who knows, most influentially, when stillness had come to the course.

They were the ones about Annie Power answering the kind of call made on Dawn Run by Jonjo O'Neill all those years ago, and how she quickened and flew the last and then galloped every stride up the hill.

It is such responses by the fighting heart of a great horse which linger most powerfully in the minds - and the instincts - of the men charged with drawing from it all that it is willing to give.

Last night this included the distinct possibility that this could involve a charge along the hoof marks of Dawn Run. Strategy might intervene - as it did so contentiously with the withdrawal of stablemate Vautour from the Gold Cup earlier in the day - but then sometime we can only hope that a great trainer's heart is indeed set free.

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