Love of racing is still the driving force for sorcerer's apprentice
Patrick Mullins describes the anxiety and thrill of setting a new record to Aisling Crowe and looks forward to more big days ahead
Sunday, December 16 and Union Dues is the impressive winner of the Grade Two Future Champions bumper at Navan. Trained by Willie Mullins, ordinarily he would be the story to take away from a grey day but this was no ordinary day.
Union Dues had carried his jockey Patrick Mullins into the record books. Mullins equalled Billy Parkinson's 97-year mark of 72 winners in a calendar year ridden by an amateur jockey. The longevity of the record shows the magnitude of Parkinson's and Mullins' feats.
With two weeks to go until the end of the year, it was seen as a question of when rather than if the 23-year-old could break the record. Thirteen interminable days passed between winner 72 and 73. Mullins attempted to convince himself that it didn't matter, but the harder he tried the more he realised how much breaking the record meant.
"I know Tony Sweeney had mentioned it to my father around Galway time so I had it in the back of my head but then I went through October with only one winner and I thought, 'Well that's it gone'. We got on a bit of a roll in November and December and Dad let me ride some of the hurdle horses. When I equalled it I thought, 'If I don't beat it, it's not the end of the world' but as it went on and it looked like I wasn't going to get it I started thinking maybe it is the end of the world if I don't break it. I'm probably never going to get an opportunity to get so close again so it was just one shot. Usually if you get beat on a horse you think, 'Look, you'll win the next time', but there was no next time with this. There was a bit of pressure in the end."
The wet weather, which earlier in the season boosted his total, now threatened to scupper his chances. Ireland's rained-out summer meant the family kept more horses in training to avail of the unseasonably soft ground. It allowed Mullins the opportunity to ride more winners at an earlier time of year and provided his record-equalling run with its impetus. But a wet and windy December forced Navan and Downpatrick to abandon their mid-winter meetings and he saw his chances ebbing away with each lost race.
Christmas interrupted the quest but surely the feast of festive racing about to be unleashed would be a source of that record-breaker? Leopardstown's first three days brought him no closer to a winner and as excited revellers planned where they would celebrate the New Year, Mullins was weighing up his options for December 31. Would Tramore or Punchestown provide him with that elusive winner?
In the end, the six-times champion amateur jump jockey's carefully considered plan wasn't needed. When he least expected it, the longed-for winner finally came in a Grade Three Mares' Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29. Zuzka was the horse which conveyed Patrick Mullins into history.
"It was one of those races where everything went perfectly. I jumped off in fourth, I had no one taking my positions or my light, I had a clear view of the hurdles. She jumped brilliantly, a little to the right maybe, but the horses in front fell away and I ended up in front, perhaps a bit too soon, but it was just one of those races where everything went right.
"All I could do was look at the line and try to get over it, hoping something wasn't going to appear on my outside and spoil it. I was relieved to be honest, the pressure had been building and so many people had been interested in it. I knew that everyone was watching me so it was relief more than anything else getting over the line."
He didn't have the luxury of enjoying his record-breaking race but an hour later, with the pressure valve released, he could take it all in as winner No 74 arrived in style. Outlander in the Thornton's Recycling Flat Race brought the curtain down on Leopardstown and Patrick Mullins' record-breaking 2012. That final win sent another record tumbling as Mullins broke his own seasonal tally of 50 winners. With over four months of the season to go, barring injury and suspensions, the Equine Business graduate of NUI Maynooth, should stretch that mark even further.
There are parallels between Billy Parkinson and Mullins. Both are the young sons of the leading trainers of their day. Parkinson was just 20 when he rode into the record books between April and November of 1915. A year earlier, the son of Senator JJ Parkinson won the first of his three champion jockey titles. The senator was Ireland's most successful trainer until this century dawned – he amassed more than 2,500 wins during his prolific career. The new record-holder credits his parents – Willie and Jackie – with playing an enormous role in his success from a long time before he rode his first winner as a 16-year-old on Diego Garcia in 2006.
"Dad doesn't say a lot but I could tell he was proud and Mum as well. Really, I have to give all the credit to them because they taught me how to ride. Mum was a champion lady rider and talented event rider, and to have them there, to come back after racing and let them look at it, I get two opinions on a race. Dad can be frank but Mum will say it in a bit nicer way and even though initially I probably disagree with both of them, I take it on board and do something different the next day. A lot of people don't have that, to have people with that experience of riding to tell you you're doing this wrong or you're doing this right, really all the credit has to go to them. Without my father I wouldn't get to ride the horses that I'm riding so I think to make them proud is special."
The response from his colleagues, racing fans and the wider public stunned him too.
"It's been amazing. For the lads to all come out of the weigh room after the race, that doesn't happen very often, and I was genuinely surprised by that and it meant a lot. I've got cards from people I don't know and people have told me they were cheering for me. Sometimes you get beat on one and you say to yourself, 'Everyone must think I'm an eejit' but to get the support over the last few weeks has been lovely. I've been genuinely blown away by everyone's reaction to it. I didn't think that it would be a big issue at all. That's been the best thing about it, I've been amazed by how kind people have been," he smiles.
Records and compiling winners don't drive him. Each season he is compelled to compete by the love of racing and the joy of riding horses. For now he turns his attention to other quests, more winners over fences, the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, the Foxhunters' Chase over Aintree's terrifyingly thrilling fences, a repeat of his and Uncle Junior's heroic La Touche Cup win in the Punchestown mud. These are what the immediate future holds along with his role as the sorcerer's apprentice, absorbing from his father the knowledge that may one day allow him to set records in the training ranks.
Whatever unfolds, his place in racing's annals is already assured.
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