When it comes to an insatiable appetite for success, the apple did not fall far from the Willie Mullins tree when it comes to his son, Patrick.
Mullins Jnr, who is also assistant trainer at Closutton, has broken countless records as an amateur jockey and will be crowned champion for a staggering 14th time at the Punchestown Festival this week.
Included among a glittering array of prizes in a stacked CV is a remarkable tally of 22 Grade 1s, the majority of them coming over obstacles against the professionals – quite an achievement for a 6’1’’ man, though he plays down any notion of an achievement on his part to have done so much and lasted so long given that stature and a sweet tooth.
Quite a number of those Grade 1s have come at “Ireland’s biggest festival”, as he labels the climax to the jumps campaign, and indeed, he reveals an ambition to complete the Grand Slam of championship races at Punchestown, having secured the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle, William Hill Champion Chase and Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle.
All that is left is the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup, in which he once finished runner-up in, and with dual Ryanair Chase hero Allaho likely to be participating along with dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo, who he warns is not a beaten docket yet having not been suited by a steady pace in the Prestbury Park feature last month, he might just get an opportunity to tick off another incredible box.
This is among a number of topics the 32-year-old discusses in an online interview ahead of the Punchestown Festival. He also comments on the likely clash between Cheltenham Champion Chase victor Energumene and stablemate Chacun Pour Soi as well as the scheduled Punchestown appearances of some of the yard’s other record-breaking haul of Cheltenham winners (ten), Sir Gerhard, Facile Vega and Vauban among them. He also asserts an expectation that Klassical Dream will win the Ladbrokes Stayers’ Hurdle for a second consecutive season.
His observations on his father’s enduring hunger are notable though, particularly when he describes his own disappointment at losing his championship to Jamie Codd in 2017 and how driven he was and continues to be to prevent that happening again until he retires.
“I remember pulling up on Wicklow Brave (after winning the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle) and David Mullins gave me a tap on the back and said, ‘Oh that’ll make up for not winning the championship,’ and I kind of shook my head and David couldn’t understand it,” Mullins details.
“We have our knees-up at the end of the meeting but I went off and got a McDonald’s on my own and rang a friend in England just to chat. I was after having four winners, two Grade 1s, but to lose the championship was very disappointing and definitely I was determined to get it back the next year because I feel that riding for Willie, you should be winning it.
“Last season it went down to the wire again, myself and Jamie, and we came out the right side of it. Not that I got no pleasure out of it, but I got no pleasure out of putting Jamie into the position where I had been. When you put a lot into the season and you just come up short in the last couple of days, it is tough.”
As evidenced by the setting of new goals, despite all he has achieved, Mullins wants more. Listen to his description of his father, and whether he recognises it or not, he might as easily be talking about himself.
“What sums Willie up is the year we lost the 60 Gigginstown horses. Willie would’ve been in his late 50s, he’d have been champion trainer eight or nine times, it would have been very easy just to sit back and consolidate. But he didn’t. He went out and got more owners, he got more horses, he got more staff, he got more problems and now we have more horses than we had before then.
“Being a good trainer is more than having fit horses. He’s well able to source good owners and he’s well able to source good horses for those owners and that’s the key.
“We have so many expensive horses coming into our yard every season. There’s new blood every year and that’s it. He’s never sat back. He’s continually looking for the next crop of horses and the next crop of owners as well.”
Long before he was successful at the Punchestown Festival, Mullins had fond memories of it, even when Closutton was not the pre-eminent operation and Noel Meade was the perennial champion.
“Florida Pearl was the horse. He’d a big, white face. The red colours of the O’Learys from Cork. Him winning the Gold Cup under Barry Geraghty stands out.”
The aforementioned triumph on Wicklow Brave was part of a famous day in 2017 when Mullins rode a treble, including two Grade 1s to help his father leapfrog Gordon Elliott and snatch the champion trainer title on the penultimate fixture of the season.
The following year, “Duracell Bunny”, Un De Sceaux gave him the thrill of galloping to victory in the William Hill Champion Chase. Last season, he finished leading rider and bagged two more Grade 1 prizes, including the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle on Klassical Dream.
Earlier on, there was a first ever Cheltenham/Punchestown Champion Bumper double, achieved with Cousin Vinny in 2008, when he was just a Leaving Cert student. He repeated the trick on Champagne Fever in 2012 and this time, celebrated appropriately.
Uncle Junior’s two La Touche Cup wins might stand out most of all, however.
“He was a real character, he was grumpy. He had a big wart on his ear, he wasn’t very pretty. Some days he’d go, some days he wouldn’t. He used be way out the back and then fly home.
“I think his first La Touche is one of the favourite races of my career, if not the favourite… he had 12-7 on his back and we got up in the last stride. I just thought, 12-7, four and a half miles, getting up and winning by a short head; that was for me what jump racing is all about and I got immense satisfaction from that.
“A couple of years we got up and beat Nina (Carberry) in a tight finish on good ground and any time you beat Nina was memorable. He was a horse who gave me some fabulous memories.”
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