Christmas gets lost a little in the fervour of the late December racing schedule, so Patrick Mullins understood his father Willie had Kempton and Leopardstown, Faugheen and Douvan, on his mind, and not a gift under the Christmas tree for his only child.
A day later than most parents, Ireland’s champion trainer provided his son with a Christmas present Santa Claus himself would have struggled to conjure. Mullins junior was told three races into yesterday’s meeting at Leopardstown that he, and not the injured Paul Townend, would ride Douvan in the star race on Leopardstown’s Christmas tree.
“I should have known something was up when Dad didn’t give me a Christmas present yesterday,” beamed an ecstatic Mullins after Douvan gave him his first Grade One win over fences.
Not only did his father provide him with that beautifully wrapped gift, he also gave him the horse power for his first ever treble as they combined to win the opening maiden hurdle and concluding bumper. If a certain Danish brewery did Christmas, it would probably struggle to create one as good as this.
“It’s the best Christmas ever,” said a soaked Mullins after his win on Bacardys in the last. “My first treble, my first Grade One over fences, it’s probably downhill from here. For Rich Ricci (owner of Douvan) to let me ride the horse is a great vote of confidence and I’m thrilled I could repay him. I’m afraid when I walk back inside that I will wake up in bed.”
Plumes of vapour rose from the horses’s backs as they filed into the Leopardstown winner’s enclosure in the gathering gloom. There were only four but even if it had been 10 times that number, the tall and angular frame of Douvan and his jockey Patrick Mullins would have dominated the paddock with as much authority as they had out on the racecourse.
When they return from their Christmas sojourn, Enda Kenny and his ministers could do worse than ring Pat Keogh and ask the Leopardstown CEO for the number of the engineers who carried out the drainage work on the track over the summer so they could take a look at Ireland’s flooding problems. Despite the water dumped on the course by Storm Eva, there were never any doubts about the Christmas Festival being washed away by the December floods.
Umbrellas dotted around the parade ring competed with the jockeys’ silks for the brightest colours of the day. Those who value in depth inspection of the horses before deciding which animal is to carry their Christmas hopes and cash, huddled in tight knots beneath the shelter of their garish diameters.
The bookies’ odds boards glowed red and orange through the gloom, their neon lights beckoning punters, a siren call imitating the warm glow of fairy lights on Christmas trees.
Patrick Mullins’ six foot plus frame, squeezed into a jockey’s compact body, was a splatter painting of mud, rain and grass obscuring the deep maroon of his silks when A Toi Phil ploughed through the mud to win the second race but there were no splashes of earth on his silks after Douvan’s other worldly success.
Instead the bright pink and green spotted silks, thoroughly soaked, were plastered to his whippet thin body, no padding from a Christmas dinner to insulate him from the cold air but “one of the best thrills I’ve ever had” provided an inner warmth no meal could match.
David Casey knew the hunger of Christmas racing for many years but on his first Christmas out of the saddle, he had his hands full collecting trophies as the representative of trainer Mullins, who was on duty at Kempton.
Apple’s Jade and Jonathan Burke were the second leg of a St Stephen’s Day four-timer for the champion trainer when winning the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle, and Casey expressed satisfaction with the filly’s victory.
“She was a little inexperienced as she only had one run in France but she had been working well with Footpad (third in the race) and was showing the right signs at home so it was just a question of experience. She jumped great and handled the heavy ground well. Footpad has plenty of ability and will stay further. Apple’s Jade is one for the future.”
Determined to wear their finery the crowds were undeterred by the incessant rain as the coats, hats, shoes and bags delivered by express from the North Pole department store made their public debuts.
Jockey Tommy Treacy was taking his curtain call but racing was in no mood to grant him the Christmas gift of a winning final ride. Vigil could only finish third in the two miles, two furlongs maiden hurdle 19 years to the day after Danoli gave Treacy one of the best days of his career at this meeting. Treacy will forever be remembered because of his association with Danoli, a folk hero in racing for proving that it was possible for dreams to be realised, that money and power were not prerequisites for success, but there is precious little evidence for racing fairy tales two decades on from those halcyon days.
There is a reason why David’s slaying of Goliath has resonance beyond the Bible and it’s not because giants are easy to bring down. Rashaan and Jer’s Girl in their own ways had offered a glimmer of hope for the smaller yards but this was a day for laying some ghosts to rest and for a father and son to show that even in these days of domination there is still room for some old-fashioned Christmas magic at Leopardstown.
Sunday Indo Sport