Donn's Articles » Tom Mullins

Tom Mullins

Tom Mullins does not remember Vulpine or Herring Gull, the first two Irish Grand National winners trained by his father, the legendary Paddy Mullins, but he remembers Dim Wit all right.  His father’s third.  Or he thinks he does.  He remembers the aftermath for sure, he remembers how big a deal it was.  Big deals were amplified in 1972.

He remembers Luska though in 1981.  The memory of Luska is vivid, Paddy Mullins’ fourth and final Irish National winner.  Tom remembers everything about Luska. 

“Dad hadn’t had the all-weather gallop for very long,” recalls the trainer, “and I remember him giving Luska lots of work, lots of long work.  He fed him Guinness and eggs too.  That’s what you did in those days.  I remember his owner John Brophy bringing the Guinness up.  And I remember watching the race at home.  I was only a young fellow, I was still in school, but that is a memory that will never leave me.”

The Irish Grand National was a big deal then, and it is a big deal now.  The traditional Easter Monday feature. 

“It might not have the same impact now as it did then.  Back then, you ask anyone in the country who won the Irish National and they would tell you.  Now, you wouldn’t be so sure.  I suppose everything has gone a bit like that though these days.  It’s a big deal to us though, it’s a race that I would dearly love to win, a race that my father won four times.” 

It is not an easy race to win.  Peruse the roll of honour.  Tom’s brother Willie, the reigning champion, has been champion trainer in Ireland 11 times, but he has never trained the winner of the Irish Grand National.  Gordon Elliott has scaled just about every peak that there is to scale in National Hunt racing, and he has never had an Irish National winner.  All of which makes Paddy Mullins’ quadruple haul all the more remarkable.

Tom Mullins went into last year’s BoyleSports Irish Grand National with a live chance.  Oscar Knight was in good form, he had finished third in a handicap hurdle at Navan two weeks previously and that should have put him spot on for Fairyhouse.  But it didn’t really happen for him last year.  He didn’t jump brilliantly, he never got into a rhythm, and he ultimately unseated his rider Mark Enright at the second fence down the back straight.

“Mark came back and said that his wind wasn’t great.  And (my son) David, who was riding Alpha Des Obeaux in the race, said that he rode up past him and that he also thought he had a wind issue.  So we had his wind done and it was a success, so that shouldn’t be an issue now on Monday.”

Oscar Knight has been with Tom Mullins since the start.  The trainer liked the Oscar gelding when he first saw him at the 2012 Derby Sale at Tattersalls Ireland, across the road from Fairyhouse racecourse, an unbroken, unraced, unnamed three-year-old.

“We paid plenty for him, but you would expect that, a son of Oscar out of a Supreme Leader mare.  We gave him some time, he wasn’t fast enough or mature enough to win a bumper, but he gained some valuable experience in two bumpers in the spring of 2014.”

He raced in Tom’s wife Helen’s colours in those two bumpers.  JP McManus obviously saw the potential of those two runs, however, and, when Oscar Knight raced in a maiden hurdle at Naas the following November, he raced in the green and gold hoops.

“It’s great to have an owner like JP McManus in the yard,” says Tom.  “It’s not easy these days, it’s very competitive, it’s hard to get good horses and it’s not easy to attract new owners.  A lot of our horses race in our own colours.  They’ve been winning plenty of prize money for us, and we’ll keep trucking along, but it’s wicked competitive.”

Oscar Knight has done well this season.  Winner of a two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle at Naas in November, he was disappointing in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but he bounced back last time back over hurdles when he finished second to Total Recall in a valuable handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival back at Leopardstown.

“We thought that he had a nice handicap rating over hurdles at the start of the season.  It was about 20lb lower than his rating over fences.  So we thought that we would try to use that in the early part of the season, and target the Paddy Power Chase at Christmas.”

It didn’t really happen for Oscar Knight in the Paddy Power.  He was crowded out of it at the start, he didn’t get away and he made a mistake at the first fence.  Before the race had really even started, he found himself last of the 28 runners, and it was always going to be a struggle after that.  He just never got into a rhythm.

“It went pear-shaped for us at Leopardstown.  But we put a line through that, we can move on from that, and he ran a big race last time over hurdles back at Leopardstown behind Willie’s horse.”

They had options.  They could have run in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park or in the Leinster National, which was also run at Gowran Park this year, but they decided to target the Irish National, go straight from Leopardstown in February to Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.

“We just thought that Gowran would be too sharp for him.  Three miles in a packed environment.  Fairyhouse should suit him better.  Hopefully we don’t get too much rain.  He wouldn’t want the ground to get heavy.  Soft is fine, heavy would be a worry.  But he’s in good form.”

Mullins will be doubly represented in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National tomorrow if Scoir Mear, currently first reserve, makes it into the race.  And he has chances today: Sparky Stowaway in the novices’ handicap hurdle, Tara Dylan in the Grade 1 mares’ novices’ hurdle, Chavi Artist in the bumper. 

“We’ll have a few runners over the course of the meeting, and hopefully Oscar Knight will run well.”

Victory would generate another memory that would never leave.

© The Sunday Times, 1st April 2018