Donn's Articles » David Mullins
David Mullins had four rides at Cork last Sunday. He went out on the first of them, Blood Crazed Tiger in the three-mile novices’ hurdle, kicked his horse into an early lead, and drove him to a game victory from Screaming Rose, the pair of them clear.
The second, Bilko in the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle, was easier. Always going well behind the leader Redrobin, they didn’t hit the front until after they had jumped the last and they won fairly nicely. The third, Alpha Des Obeaux in the Grade 3 novices’ chase, was easier still, helped by the fact that their main rival Westerner Lady made a bad mistake at the third fence. Even so, the Mouse Morris-trained gelding was good, he jumped well and he stayed on nicely.
Then Mullins went out on Captain Von Trappe in the Cork Grand National, and they fell at the eighth fence.
That’s this game for you: levels mountains.
“He was never really travelling,” recalls Mullins now, choosing, on the day that he rode a treble, to concentrate on the one that didn’t win. “He had missed a few fences before he fell and I was getting after him. You won’t win races if you are not travelling like that. Then he stood on my calf on the ground after we fell.”
It wasn’t a given that young David Mullins was going to be a National Hunt jockey. He wasn’t certain that he wanted to be a jockey, he was show jumping, he was hurling.
“When I was 15, Dad (Tom) decided that he wasn’t going to allow me lie in bed. He said that, if I wasn’t riding out, I could muck out. So I started from there. Then I went up to (uncle) Willie’s for a summer, and I went to Gordon Elliott’s. Gordon got me going as an amateur.”
Three of his rides last Sunday were for trainer Gordon Elliott, one was for Mouse Morris and all four were for Gigginstown House Stud. The jockey put on the maroon and white silks at the start of the day, and he didn’t take them off until he was going home. With the owners’ first rider Bryan Cooper still on the sidelines, you see David Mullins in maroon and white a lot these days.
He was in maroon and white too when he rode Rule The World to victory, famously, in the Grand National at Aintree last April.
“It was difficult for Bryan to choose between the Gigginstown horses,” he says. “And it would have been difficult for him to get off First Lieutenant, given that he had won a Grade 1 race on him. I was just hoping that I would get to ride one of the Gigginstown horses that Bryan didn’t ride, so I was delighted to get the call about a week before the race.”
Actually, he thought that he was riding First Lieutenant initially. It wasn’t until he saw the declarations on the Thursday, two days before the race, that he was sure, when he saw his name down beside Rule The World. After that, everything went smoothly.
“I remember, when we passed the winning post first time, after we had completed one circuit, thinking, that was too good to be true. He was doing everything. He was travelling, he was jumping, he was in a lovely rhythm, I didn’t have to check him once. And the second circuit was just about the same. Until we made that mistake at the fourth last.”
That mistake at the fourth last could have ended the Grand National dream. Rule The World hit the fence hard and shot his rider up his neck.
“I thought he was after stopping,” recalls Mullins. “I thought I was gone out over him. Then he came back underneath me, and I let him get back into his rhythm.”
He tucked in behind the two leaders The Last Samuri and Vics Canvas at the final fence. A 19-year-old going to the final fence in his first Grand National, the Grand National, the most famous horse race in the world, and he tucks in behind the leaders. If you needed a reason why David Mullins is in demand now, you had it right there.
“It’s a long way home from the final fence,” he says. Matter-of-fact. “I didn’t want to get there too early. I knew the leaders weren’t going to quicken away from me. I know it was the National, but you ride it like any other race. It was a great feeling, winning it, to win it for Mouse and everything, the year that he had had, but it didn’t really sink in with me until about a week afterwards. I remember I was sitting, talking to Paul Townend about it and suddenly it hit me, I had won the Grand National.”
He didn’t have time to dwell on it, he didn’t take the time to dwell on it. Less than an hour later, he was back on the racetrack, kicking Ivan Grozny to an eighty-length victory in the finale at the 2016 Aintree Grand National meeting, the conditional riders’ handicap hurdle.
The momentum has continued into this season. Mullins has ridden 26 winners in Ireland so far this term, just 13 short of his total for the entire of last season, and we are only into November. And there have been highlights: Sub Lieutenant at Limerick last month, Sub Lieutenant at Down Royal last week, Alpha Des Obeaux at Thurles, Alpha Des Obeaux at Cork. And Identity Thief.
“Identity Thief was brilliant at Punchestown,” he says. “We met a few of the fences wrong, but you wouldn’t have known it, he was so quick over them. Amazing that it was his first chase. He is some horse to jump.”
David Mullins is travelling now all right. He’s jumping. In a lovely rhythm.
© The Sunday Times, 13th November 2016