Monday 16 December 2019

True genius who graced the game

The founder of a dynasty, legendary Dawn Run trainer Paddy Mullins was a genuine gentleman

Dawn Run, with Jonjo O'Neill on board, jumps the last on the way to victory in the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup - one of Paddy Mullins' finest training achievements.
Dawn Run, with Jonjo O'Neill on board, jumps the last on the way to victory in the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup - one of Paddy Mullins' finest training achievements.

Tributes have been pouring in from leading racing figures at home and abroad following the peaceful passing early yesterday morning of 10-times champion trainer Paddy Mullins, whose exploits over 52 years from a modest Co Kilkenny yard saw him attain legendary status.

A quintessentially quiet, honourable gentleman, the popular 91-year-old from Goresbridge was surrounded by three generations of his devoted, highly successful family in his final days and hours, with sons Willie, Tony and Tom withdrawing their intended Clonmel runners yesterday afternoon.

Irish racing has now lost a second acknowledged genius -- where the preparation of horses in the game's most significant events is concerned -- in little more than a year, following the death also in his 10th decade of former Ballydoyle supremo Vincent O'Brien.

Best known for his numerous outstanding National Hunt performers, particularly Dawn Run whose unique Cheltenham Festival double in the Champion Hurdle (1984) and Gold Cup ('86) may never be replicated, farmer-turned trainer Paddy first hit the headlines outside Ireland when Hurry Harriet made a mockery of her 33/1 odds in the English Champion Stakes of 1973 at Newmarket, for which the great Allez France was regarded as unbeatable.

It was, he admitted, one of the most satisfying achievements of his career. But surely the most memorable of his triumphs on the Flat, where both the Irish racing public and those closest to him were concerned, materialised at the Curragh on a sunny Oaks day in 2003.


Cork owner Pat O'Donovan's Vintage Tipple started a 12/1 chance for that 11-runner Darley promotion, with Frankie Dettori, whom Paddy had never met, deputising for the unavailable Johnny Murtagh, and the Italian duly delivered the sole Classic credited to Mullins.

This was another feather in the cap of a man celebrating 50 years with a licence and those of us fortunate to have witnessed the moment joined in a tremendous wave of applause amid emotional scenes as an elated Dettori hugged a somewhat bewildered Paddy.

Never at ease in such a scenario, the man of the moment soon headed to the stableyard to check on the well-being of his latest star recruit, as he had done on Gold Cup day in 1986 after Dawn Run and Jonjo O'Neill were almost carried back into a chaotic winner's enclosure.

Unbridled joy amid the masses on that occasion turned to tragedy, though, little over three months later when one of the greatest mares to grace the game -- having completed a rare Irish, English and French Champion Hurdle hat-trick two years previously -- was fatally injured on her return to Auteuil.

Much against his better judgement, Paddy complied with owner Mrs Charmian Hill's instructions that the Cheltenham heroine, which had already gone on to Punchestown to defeat Buck House in a famous match, would tackle the French version rather than be turned out for summer grass.

Assigned to cover what proved an ill-fated venture for the Irish Independent on the eve of the Irish Derby, my foray abroad left a sour taste. Still in shock at the disastrous turn of events, when I asked for his verdict, Paddy replied with a single word: "Greed."

Thankfully those agonising moments were relatively few and far between for a man who took victory and defeat in his stride, starting out with a couple of his father's point-to-pointers before taking out a licence in 1953 and soon saddling his initial winner as Flash Parade took Punchestown's La Touche Cup.

The following year he married Maureen and they combined brilliantly to put their Doninga stable firmly on the map, Paddy concentrating on the horses and Maureen looking after administration and liaising with the owners -- not to mention scoring locally at Gowran Park on her sole outing race-riding. What's more, they have bred and raced many winners under both rules over the years in Maureen's colours, with that prolific scorer Grabel one of their best standard-bearers when landing the $750,000 Duelling Grounds Hurdle in America.

Their five children are all involved in the sport. George runs a large-scale horse transport business; reigning champion Willie, Tony and Tom, who took over in Doninga when Paddy retired early in 2005, all rode successfully before switching to training, as has their sister Sandra McCarthy.

The couple derived great satisfaction in retirement over recent seasons from seeing Willie's son Patrick crowned champion amateur, emulating both his father and mother Jackie, as well as George's son Emmet and Tony's son Danny successfully turning professional.

The family tradition established by Paddy of plundering this country's summer festival circuit has been maintained by Willie in particular and Tony.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport