Donn's Articles » Paddy Mullins

Paddy Mullins

The thing that struck you most about the outpouring of sentiment on Thursday after the death of Paddy Mullins was the broad spectrum of people whose lives had been touched by one of the true greats of Irish racing.

Sir Peter O’Sullevan said that he was an absolutely outstanding trainer, Kevin Prendergast called him a great friend and a great man, Jim Bolger referred to him as very much a full-time trainer, a great family man and a complete human being, David Marnane said that he was a trainer to whom everyone looked up, a proper gentleman.

Ruby Walsh said that he has been riding for Willie Mullins for years, but there was only one man who was ever referred to as the boss.

You rarely hear bad words spoken about a man after his passing, but the thing that set Paddy Mullins apart was that you never heard a bad word spoken about him while he was still with us. For over 91 years he was with us, born on a farm near Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny on 28th January 1919, and for almost all of that time he and his horses graced the Irish racing scene.

Although known mostly as a National Hunt trainer, he also achieved remarkable success on the flat. Indeed, when pushed to nominate his own personal favourite achievement, it was Hurry Harriet’s win in the 1973 Champion Stakes at Newmarket that he chose in front of all of his achievements over jumps, when the filly lowered the colours of the brilliant French filly Allez France.

He also won the 1962 Irish Cesarewitch with Height O’Fashion, the 1980 Irish Cambridgeshire with I’m Ready and the 1984 Irish Lincolnshire with Girl In Blue, bred by his wife Maureen, but his most high-profile victory on the flat was unquestionably Vintage Tipple’s win in the 2003 Irish Oaks under Frankie Dettori.

It was a meeting of two different worlds, it would have been difficult to find two people in racing who were more dissimilar on the face of it, the effervescent Dettori, the reticent Mullins. The trainer didn’t give the rider any instructions before legging him up (Ted Walsh said that he was never a man to use five words when two would do), apparently figuring that Dettori had been riding horses long enough, that he would know what to do. Yet the pair clicked. “He was a great man,” said Dettori on Thursday. “I’ll never forget the amazing reception he got at The Curragh that day when Vintage Tipple won the Irish Oaks.”

His horses won most of jumping’s big prizes, from Flash Parade’s win in the 1953 La Touche Cup at Punchestown, his first official winner as a trainer, through his four Irish Grand National winners Vulpine, Herring Gull, Dim Wit and Luska, his six Cheltenham Festival winners and just about every other major prize on the Irish National Hunt racing calendar. In 2003, at the age of 84, two and a half weeks after he had won the Irish Oaks, he sent out Nearly A Moose to win the Galway Plate and register his last major National Hunt win.

He will probably be best remembered, however, for his handling of Dawn Run, the best National Hunt mare of all time and still the only horse in history to win the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After landing the Champion Hurdle in 1984, the mare went back to Cheltenham two years later, barely out of novice class, to famously and dramatically land jump racing’s blue riband.

The victory was tainted somewhat by the fact that Paddy and Maureen’s son Tony, Dawn Run’s regular rider, had been replaced by Jonjo O’Neill on the insistence of the mare’s owner, Charmian Hill, but Tony was back on board when the mare beat the Mouse Morris-trained Champion Chase winner Buck House in a high-profile match at Punchestown the following month.

Tony is one of five Mullins children, all of whom are deeply involved in racing, George in the horse transport business, Sandra, Tom, Willie and Tony as racehorse trainers, which is not altogether surprising. All were capable riders. Tony was champion jumps jockey and Willie was champion amateur rider, while Tom, George and Sandra all rode winners as amateurs. And with Paddy and Maureen’s grandchildren, Patrick, Emmet and Danny, all now accomplished riders, the Mullins name is set to live long in Irish racing’s annals.

Paddy Mullins’s legacy to Irish racing is deep-rooted and far-reaching. He will be remembered and he will be missed. Above all else, however, he will always be the boss.

© The Sunday Times, 31st October 2010