Irish Training Legend Mullins Steeped In History

Irish training legend Willie Mullins admitted he inherited some of his late mother Maureen’s traits of putting people at ease, in being diplomatic and thinking outside the box.

It was the 67-year-old’s son Patrick, also his assistant trainer, who told the Irish Examiner that is what sets his father apart from rivals such as Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson.

This ability as well as 200 horses — which he had to build up again when Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary took away 60 horses in 2016 — has brought unprecedented success and dominance in jumps racing.

Mullins’s brilliance — with typical humility and generosity of spirit he praises his team which also includes his wife Jackie — brought up a historic 100 winners at the sport’s showpiece the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday.

History, though, has been part and parcel of his life dating back to his late father Paddy training the extraordinary mare Dawn Run to become the only horse to achieve the Champion Hurdle/Cheltenham Gold Cup double.

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Mullins recalled in an interview with The Guardian earlier this month a lesson he learned from his father ahead of Dawn Run’s tilt at the Champion Hurdle in 1984.

“News came through that the favourite Gaye Brief would not make it,” he said.

“We were cheering and one of the journalists asked: ‘What do you think, Paddy?’ My dad just said: ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’

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“It brought me back to my senses.

“I never forgot what he said.”

Indeed although some bemoan Mullins’s standing head and shoulders above the rest he observes plenty of his odds on favourites are beaten, lkie red-hot favourite El Fabiolo in Wednesday’s Champion Chase.

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“One bookmaker has a slogan: ‘Thank God for Willie Mullins,'” he said wryly.

Whilst Paddy’s words remained with his son so Maureen taught him to be bold in his thinking.

Maureen, another of whose sons Tony in his eulogy at her funeral in February said Cheltenham was “her little piece of heaven”, persuaded her husband to run a mare in the United States which was rare in those days.

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“So much went wrong and the mare, Grabel, was caught in quarantine,” said Willie Mullins.

“But she still won this million-dollar race. It was extraordinary and down to Ma. She was the driving force.”

This sense of adventure and resilience both came together when O’Leary took his horses away due to Mullins refusing to lower his training fees.

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“At the time that would have been maybe a quarter of the yard and to lose the biggest owner in racing at the time -– Willie could have just consolidated and been happy with his lot,” Patrick Mullins told The Irish Eaxminer.

“Instead he went out, he got more owners, more horses, more staff, more problems, built more stables and we’re bigger from it.

“That’s his mindset. He doesn’t take no for an answer, he’ll never be told he can’t do something, he’ll always try. He does think outside the box.”

Elliott was the main beneficiary of the combative O’Leary’s decision but not even with all that firepower has he been able to stem Mullins’s success.

Elliott has had to suck up the blows and looks set for a 12th successive season to finish runner-up to Mullins in the Irish trainer’s championship.

“I admire Willie Mullins and everything he does — he’s the one who gets me up in the morning and drives me on,” Elliott told The Racing Post this year.

Mullins, a diehard Manchester United fan and who has he says learned from racing mad Alex Ferguson’s managerial style though eschewing the fiery parts, does not just think outside the box in his job.

For in the house he keeps Jeff the aging cockerel, who sleeps beside a rotweiler.

There is a lot of crowing for Jeff to do at the moment and it seems also for the future as there is no sign of his master retiring according to Patrick.

“I’d love to take over but in England trainers seem to retire whereas in Ireland they seem to die,” he said.

“Willie loves it, it’s his life so I don’t think he’ll retire anytime soon.”

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