Donn's Articles » Emmet Mullins

Emmet Mullins

Hedgehunter still hurts.  Sitting at home and watching the 2005 Grand National on television when he could have been there in the thick of it all with the Willie Mullins team. For Emmet Mullins, the Grand National was massive then, and it’s massive now.  It was always the race that you didn’t want to miss.

He remembers Earth Summit winning the National in 1998, he watched from a far, from Warrington Equestrian Centre, where everything stopped and they all tuned in.  He remembers Bobbyjo, the first Irish-trained winner since L’Escargot, and he remembers Papillon, the second, and he remembers Hedgehunter all right.

“My mother wouldn’t let me go because she said that I had to stay at home and study for my Junior Cert,” he says ruefully.  “I was gutted.  And I could have gone, for all the study that was done!”

He rode in the race in 2009, Mon Mome’s year.  He rode Chelsea Harbour for his uncle Tom.  Chelsea Harbour had a chance too, he had completed the previous year, he had finished ninth behind Comply Or Die, and he had finished fourth in the Leinster National at Naas on his last run before the 2009 Grand National.

“There was a great buzz about the place,” he recalls.  “It was great to be a part of it.  I remember going down to the start, going down to have a look at the first fence.  I was the first one to get down to the first fence, and I remember the crowds down there.  They hadn’t seen a horse all day, and the cheering when I got down there.  Just for me!  That was when it hit me, that I was part of something special.”

Chelsea Harbour got no further than the third fence in 2009, he jumped the fence on the inside, right beside the winner Mon Mome, but clipped the top of it and came down.  That didn’t deter Emmet Mullins.  He didn’t ride in the race again, and he hasn’t had a runner in the race as a trainer yet, until now, this afternoon, when he will put the saddle on Noble Yeats and send him into the fray.

“I haven’t really thought about it too deeply yet,” he says.  “It probably won’t really hit me until the day, until it all starts to unfold.”

That’s Emmet Mullins for you.  Understated.  Just go about things as you do, softly, quietly.  And that is reflected in his training methodology, in his horses.  In Noble Yeats though, he has a horse who could be a big player in the Grand National.

“We have been thinking about him as a Grand National type for a while.  We weren’t sure if we were going to go for the Irish Grand National or the Aintree Grand National this year.  He is only seven years old so, statistically, he is younger than ideal for Aintree.  But we think that Aintree could suit him.  He has his place in the race and he is on a nice racing weight, so we thought that we would take our chance.”

Strange for a Grand National horse, it is less than 16 months since Noble Yeats made his racecourse debut.  When he won his bumper at Thurles in January 2021, already it looked as if stamina would be his forte, given how well he stayed on at the end of two and a half miles on heavy ground.  He won his maiden hurdle on his first and only run to date over hurdles at Navan in March 2021.  That was just over a year ago.  His learning curve has been steep.

He won his beginners’ chase at Galway last October over an extended two and a quarter miles, way short of his optimum distance.  In order to qualify to run in the Grand National, he had to finish in the first four in a steeplechase over three miles or more, so Mullins took him to Wetherby in February for the Grade 2 Towton Chase, in which he ran a big race to finish second behind the high-class staying novice chaser Ahoy Senor. 

As well as putting up one of the best performances of his life, that performance also got him qualified for the Grand National.  In fairness, it was unlikely that he wouldn’t qualify, there were only four runners in the race.  He just had to complete.  The Towton Chase typically attracts just a small field, there haven’t been more than six horses in the race since 2015.  It was a good spot, a typically astute piece of placing by Emmet Mullins.

When owner Robert Waley-Cohen was looking for a Grand National horse, it wasn’t surprising that Noble Yeats was high on his list.  And so the Yeats gelding will race in the Robert Waley-Cohen colours in the Grand National, with his son Sam on board.

“It’s very exciting,” says Mullins.  “Sam has been over to school Noble Yeats, and we’ve chatted about tactics, we’ve discussed a few different scenarios.”

Sam Waley-Cohen’s record over the Grand National fences is remarkable.  He rode Katarino to win the Fox Hunters’ Chase over the big fences in 2005 and in 2006, and he rode Warne to win the Fox Hunters’ in 2014.  He also won the Topham Chase in 2006 on Liberthine and in 2015 on Rajdhani Express, and he won the Becher Chase in 2014 on Oscar Time.  And he finished second in the 2011 Grand National and fourth in the 2013 Grand National on the same Oscar Time.  All that’s missing on the amateur rider’s Aintree CV is a Grand National victory. 

Noble Yeats will be Sam Waley-Cohen’s final ride before he retires.  The Grand National has a habit of throwing up stories, and this could be one of the best yet.

© The Times, 9th April 2022