Donn's Articles » Tom Mullins

Tom Mullins

About an hour before the race, Tom Mullins’ confidence started to ebb.  It happens.  All the thinking, all the planning, all the sense that it makes in the cold light of foresight, and then, as the event looms, all you can think about is what can go wrong.

It was a bold move by the trainer, to allow his horse Fascile Mode run in a hugely competitive winners’ bumper on his racecourse debut.  The final race on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, and the top trainers represented.  Taking on eight rivals, seven of whom had run and won, three of them trained by Gordon Elliott, two of them trained by Tom’s brother Willie.

The original thinking was that Fascile Mode in the bumper on the first day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.  But then Tom and Helen’s son Charlie, the horse’s intended rider, injured his ankle playing indoor soccer – that happens too – and they decided to wait, go for the winners’ race.  Give Charlie the chance to recover.

Tom watched as Charlie and Fascile Mode made their ground at the end of Leopardstown’s back straight.  The field concertinaed up on the run across the top of the track, and Fascile Mode was forced wider than ideal, but Charlie didn’t break his horse’s momentum, kept him going forward.  The two Willie Mullins horses Lecky Watson and Special Cadeau led around the home turn, but Fascile Mode made good ground up on the outside to join them as they straightened up for home.

“I was just hoping then that he would pick up as well as it looked like he would,” recalls Tom.

He did.  He hit the front as they raced to the furlong marker, and he kept on well all the way to the line to win by almost three lengths, eased down.

It was a good feeling.  Vindication.  The sense that he had a good horse on his hands confirmed by performance on the racecourse.  And it was all home-spun: bred and owned by Helen Mullins, out of a mare that Tom also trained, ridden by Charlie Mullins.

“There was an extra kick in it for sure, our own horse that we bred, and with Charlie riding him,” says Tom.  “The mare has a nice pedigree, and luckily we took her to the right sire in Walk In The Park.”

Tom never thought beyond Leopardstown at Christmas.  One race at a time.  But he had been thinking for a while that Fascile Mode was a nice horse.  The speed that he was showing at home.  He toyed with the idea of running him in a point-to-point first, to get him going, but the trainer thought that his horse had enough speed to win a bumper.

“I’m not really a point-to-point man, to be honest,” he says.  “And it just made more sense to me, given what he was showing me at home, to start him off in a bumper.  Ten days before he ran at Leopardstown, he did a really nice piece of work on the Curragh.  He was impressive that day.  He reminded me of Menorah.”

Tom Mullins trained Menorah as a young horse.  He got him going, started him off in August 2009 in a Naas bumper, which he won by 10 lengths, then sold him on to Diana Whateley and Philip Hobbs, for whom he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham the following year.

Son of the legendary Paddy Mullins, Tom Mullins has already had many big days as a trainer.  Asian Maze provided him with his first Grade 1 win when she won the Sefton Hurdle at Aintree in April 2005, and she provided him with his second when she won the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown three weeks later.

Oscar Dan Dan won the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Bob Lingo won the Galway Plate, Spider Web won the Munster National, Alderwood won the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle.  Alderwood also won the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2012 and, when JP McManus’ horse went back to Cheltenham the following year and won the Grand Annual, the last race of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, he brought up win number 14 at that Festival for Irish-trained horses, the first time ever that there were more Irish-trained horses than British-trained horses at a Cheltenham Festival.

“It’s not as easy to buy them now as it used to be,” says the trainer thoughtfully.  “I used to be able to go to the Derby Sale or the Landrover Sale, and buy three or four or five or six horses.  But they have gone so expensive now.  We were lucky that we were able to breed Fascile Mode.”

This season is ticking along nicely mind you.  Hey Johnny, a half-brother to Sir Gerhard, was an impressive winner of a handicap hurdle at Thurles last Sunday, and he will run at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown next weekend, in the Liffey Handicap Hurdle on the Sunday.  Takarengo will run at Leopardstown too, either in the three-mile handicap hurdle on the Saturday or the Irish Champion Hurdle on the Sunday.

Fascile Mode will also run at the Dublin Racing Festival next weekend for sure, in the Grade 2 bumper on the Saturday.  It’s the right race for him, and he deserves his place at the top of the market for it.  

All things being equal, the Cheltenham Festival is inevitably on the horizon, Fascile Mode is currently no better than 10/1 for the Champion Bumper.  But that’s for another day.  For now, one race at a time.

© The Sunday Times, 29th January 2023