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Saturday 16 December 2017

Paddy Mullins

A legend in Irish racing and known widely as the man who trained Dawn Run, writes Damien McElroy

Ten-times champion National Hunt trainer Paddy Mullins, whose funeral took place in his native Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny, yesterday, can rightly be categorised alongside the late Vincent O'Brien as one of the few true legends of an indigenous sport now recognised and hailed worldwide.

Irish racing and breeding has progressed over recent generations from an inadequately funded Third-World pursuit to a multi-million euro industry, which sets the standard for thoroughbred production and competition under both codes thanks to visionaries such as Cork-born O'Brien and Mullins.

That they each lived beyond their 90th birthdays and witnessed the torch passing fairly seamlessly, and indeed successfully, on retirement to their families in particular is something to be celebrated, albeit in the context of mourning the lossof such outstanding patriarchs.

As with the older O'Brien, Mullins started his training career on the family farm in 1953 with a lot more optimism than resources, yet managed to beat the odds continually and was to establish a dynasty from the Doninga yard, where youngest son Tom now carries the mantle.

Older brothers Willie, champion amateur and trainer in turn, and Tony, were already well established in those ranks when their father, at the age of 86, handed over the reins to Tom in February, 2005 and less than two years after one of his most popular victories on Irish soil.

Not many handlers would still retain the vision and courage to pursue their classic ambitions the wrong side of 80, but the quietly spoken Mullins was never afraid to take both his proliferation of jumpers and restricted runners on the flat wherever he felt they could perform with credit.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise to outsiders and a deeply moving experience for Mullins and his family when Frankie Dettori, whom he had never met before, guided Vintage Tipple to a marvellous 2003 Irish Oaks triumph on the Curragh.

That high-profile triumph on the level materialised close on 30 years after Mullins had put down a major Group 1 marker at Newmarket in the English Champion Stakes, when his 33/1 rank outsider Hurry Harriet humbled the mighty Gallic mare Allez France.

Nevertheless, it was as a consistently astute handler for more than half a century of National Hunt campaigners that he will be best remembered and revered, with the splendidly versatile and courageous mare Dawn Run topping a lengthy list of headline-makers.

Perhaps the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double achieved with raw courage during the 1984 and 1986 Cheltenham Festivals -- and which elevated her trainer and rider, Jonjo O'Neill, to lifelong hero status with Irish and British jumping enthusiasts -- may never be replicated. And it's long odds also against the gritty daughter of Deep Run's 1984 hat trick of Champion Hurdle wins in this country, England and France ever being emulated.

Herring Gull, which hit the jackpot as a mere novice in 1968 at Cheltenham, in the Irish Grand National, and for the Heineken Gold Cup at Punchestown, fittingly initiated the half-dozen successes which Mullins was destined to record during the annual pilgrimage to the Cotswolds extravaganza.

It's entirely appropriate therefore that son Willie, his grandson Patrick and Willie's younger brother, Tony, likewise have tasted victory on that stage.

Paddy's wife Maureen has been a constant presence in his professional and private capacities since they married in 1954.

As an owner-breeder, she has savoured many triumphs, notably in 1990 with multiple scorer Grabel annexing the $750,000 International Hurdle in Kentucky's Duelling Grounds. For good measure, her husband saw to it that Maureen's one and only mount on a racecourse did the business for her at their local Gowran Park course.

To his widow, their sons Willie, George, Tony and Tom; daughter Sandra; and jockey grandsons Patrick, Emmet and Danny, deepest sympathy is extended.

Sport, page 13

Sunday Independent

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