Saturday 23 February 2019

Financial stress no burden as Mullins dreams of day in the sun

Silver service: Tony Mullins won’t get his hands on the Thyestes Cup for real at Gowran Park on Thursday but hopes to do so in the future. Picture: Pat Moore
Silver service: Tony Mullins won’t get his hands on the Thyestes Cup for real at Gowran Park on Thursday but hopes to do so in the future. Picture: Pat Moore
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

While training across the road from Gowran Park has many perks, it didn't take Tony Mullins too long to realise that he couldn't take things for granted despite his close proximity to the Kilkenny track.

"I decided I wouldn't even bother getting a box and I'd walk the horse across the road. I got up to the gate and didn't a bus come up and backfire and the two-year-old ended up three miles down the road," he recalls.

"He was gone hell for leather and took off down the road and got loose and I had to withdraw him from his race. Needless to say, I never brought them up walking again and as close as I am I always use the horse box."

Those familiar with Tony - son of legendary trainer Paddy, brother to fellow trainers Willie and Tom and father of jockey Danny - will be accustomed to his sharp sense of humour as evidenced by his accurate Twitter bio, reading: "anybody who knows me will know that all opinions are my own".

Like many smaller trainers - he currently has 15 in his care at Watree Stud - Mullins was "on the wrong side of the hump and the hollow" when the recession hit hard just over a decade ago but he had no intention of throwing in the towel.

He admits the "divide is bigger than ever" between big hitters like Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott and their smaller counterparts but acknowledges that "times have changed and we have to change with them".

Losing the promising Glencairn View after he broke down in last year's Scottish National was a bitter pill to swallow but Mullins' love of the game hasn't wavered and he aspires to make it back to the big time.

"That's our dream all the time (getting his hands on something top-class). When you train horses, for anyone thinking about it, it's not for the money," he says.

"It's for the love of it unless you're at the level of the top lads, and they have it tough as well.

"At our level, the financial stress is the stress for us whereas the success is essential for them to keep their powerful yards going, ours is everyday financial life.

"Everyone has their own problems but you just have to ride with them and plough on. If you start crying into your soup, you'll get left behind very quick.

"You couldn't do our job unless you loved it," he adds.

"You're working from before first light in the morning until well after dark at night, seven days a week and we work a full day Christmas Day and it's one of our busiest days if you have runners.

"Even the pubs have two days off, we have no days off but you don't find it work because you get engrossed in your horses. From the outside it looks a tough life but unless you loved it, you couldn't stay at it."

Legislation changes to ensure stable hands are classed as agricultural staff was pivotal in Mullins' view given the unsociable hours associated with the training and care of racehorses, while he feels the changing face of the autumn point-to-point series - "you have a lot of people going to it for financial reasons which has diluted the bottom end of our market" - has hit him hard.

Mullins often has to part ways with many of his best horses these days - "if you're going to survive, you have to sell" - but he has a nice crop of younger horses led by Kilbeggan Bumper winner Forty One Winks.

He won't have any candidate for Thursday's Thyestes Chase at Gowran - their showpiece meeting of the season - but having placed in the €100,000 feature as a jockey, it's a race which is close to his heart.

Mullins equates its importance to the Irish racing calendar in a similar light as the Irish Grand National and he'd give anything to join the roll of honour.

"I'd rather win it over the Gold Cup, no doubt about it," Mullins says.

"I've nothing good enough to run in it, hopefully I'll have one next year as it's one of the highlights of the year."

Irish Independent

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