Donn's Articles » Danny Mullins

Danny Mullins

Danny Mullins knew five days in advance that he would be riding Tornado Flyer in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.  That’s early enough when you are talking about a horse who is trained by Willie Mullins, given the champion trainer’s penchant for leaving arrangements loosely fastened at best, allow for every eventuality, until they absolutely have to be nailed down.  This plan was early in the hatching.

It was good to get the call up.  The King George is an iconic race, a CV race.  Tornado Flyer was going there with only an outside chance, but it was still a chance.  Danny Mullins would have had rides at Leopardstown on the day all right if he had stayed at home, he would have ridden Grange Walk for starters, winner of the two-mile handicap chase, but imagine riding at Leopardstown, even riding a winner or two at Leopardstown, and watching a horse you could have ridden winning the King George?

Plus, the fact that he got the call up early meant that his agent Ken Whelan could set about trying to get other rides for him at Kempton on the day.  He got one too, Jacamar for Milton Harris in the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase.

“Tornado Flyer was an outsider of course,” says the rider.  “But I thought that he was an outsider with a genuine chance.  I went through the entries and I knew that they would go a good gallop.  I thought that we could finish in the first four if I gave him a clever ride.” 

His first clever ride on the day was on Jacamar in the novices’ handicap chase.  They went fast up front, and he bided his time.  Last of the eight runners on landing over the first fence, fifth around the home turn, fourth over the second last fence, he moved into second place on the run to the last and stayed on well up the run-in to get up and win by three parts of a length.

“Paddy Brennan had ridden Jacamar at Wincanton on his previous run, so I spoke to him beforehand, and he was spot on.  He told me to take my time on him, ride him with confidence, deliver him late, so that’s what I did.  It was great to get a winner on the board, but I was afraid that the fact that I won with a patient ride might have an impact on what other riders were going to do in the King George.” 

He needn’t have worried.  His hypothesis about the good gallop was well founded.  Frodon and Minella Indo went forward early, and the pace was frenetic from flagfall.

Danny Mullins had ridden in the King George once before, in 2013 when he rode Mount Benbulben for Barry Connell and Gordon Elliott.  He bided his time that day too, moved into third place behind Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti on the run down the back straight, but he got in tight to the fourth last fence, lost momentum and lost his chance.

“I wanted to jump off close to the pace and let Tornado Flyer find his rhythm.  He can make an early mistake, and I wanted to allow for that.”

Sure enough, Tornado Flyer dived at the first fence, and he was high and deliberate at the second, which meant that, fourth setting off, they were only eighth of the nine runners as they made the first turn. 

His horse found his rhythm after that though, settled nicely behind the fast pace and jumped fluently.  Going down the side of the track final time, Mullins angled towards the outside.

“Going to the fourth last fence, I was aware that they were easing up a bit up front, so I wanted to get close to the leaders, ready for when they quickened off the home turn.  But then Saint Calvados moved up on my outside and put pressure on the leaders, so I was happy to wait a little longer.”

That could have been the difference between winning and not winning.  Natural inclination, when a horse moves up on your outside, is to go with him, use up some of your horse’s energy to hold the inside line as you race to the home turn.  But Danny Mullins waited, allowed them at it up front, conserved his horse’s energy so that it could be deployed most efficiently and most tellingly.  There’s your clever ride right there.

He didn’t ask his horse for his effort until they landed over the third last fence, the first in the home straight, and, when he did, Tornado Flyer responded.  They landed in front over the second last fence, and they made their way home from there. 

“I could hear the commentary, I knew that something was coming at me.  I didn’t know that it was Bryan (Cooper) and Asterion Forlonge.  Then I looked up at the big screen on the run-in, and I saw that I was clear.  That was some feeling.  To win the King George.  It’s dreamland.”

It was a second Grade 1 win of the season for Danny Mullins, after his victory on Statuaire in the Royal Bond Hurdle in November, and a 16th Grade 1 win of his career.  There were near misses this week too: second on Flooring Porter in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on Tuesday to Klassical Dream, who got a flying start; beaten a neck on Heaven Help Us in the Grade 3 mares’ hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday.  But that’s racing, you lose far more than you win.  He bounced back when he made all on En Beton in the beginners’ chase at Punchestown on Friday, and he rode Stormy Ireland to another pillar-to-post victory in the Grade 2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham yesterday.  And anyway, the near misses didn’t detract from the King George hit. 

“My Cheltenham Festival winner (Flooring Porter, 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle) was very special, but Cheltenham is a week of top-class racing.  The King George stands alone.  I couldn’t stop smiling on my way home on Sunday evening.  I woke up a couple of times during the night, and each time it was nice having to remind yourself that you had won the King George.” 

Not dreamland then.

© The Sunday Times, 2nd January 2022