Capable Danny Mullins a jockey on an upward curve

Multiple Grade One winner worth siding with at Dublin Racing Festival this weekend

Danny Mullins knows that second or even third strings trained by his uncle can make first-rate chances.

It is good news for the jockey then that Willie Mullins goes into this weekend's Dublin Racing Festival with multiple entries in many of the big races.

Stable number one Paul Townend has first pick, but despite the riches at his disposal he can only ride one horse in a single race. His discards are the best leftovers in racing and they're sustaining what is rapidly becoming one of the most impressive big-race CVs in the game.

Despite not having first call on any of the major strings Danny Mullins has collected eight Grade One races in the last two years.

Given the ammunition at their disposal, both Townend and Rachael Blackmore are numerically clear in totting up the top-flight contests that define excellence.

But since striking on the second-string Asterion Forlonge at the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival, Mullins has quietly gone about amassing a big race record to put most everyone else’s in the shade.

Even with the resources of being JP McManus's number-one rider behind him, Mark Walsh has had a pair of Grade One successes in the same period.

What’s notable about Mullins’s tally is that none was a favourite.

Asterion Forlonge was a second string. So was Kemboy when he landed the Irish Gold Cup at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival. A late call-up for the mercurial Flooring Porter in last season’s stayers’ hurdle resulted in a first Cheltenham festival success at 12-1.

Best of all was the finely judged late pounce on Tornado Flyer at 28-1 in Kempton’s King George VI Chase over Christmas.

Rather like Seamus Heffernan’s stellar big-race career on the flat, Mullins has developed an uncanny knack of confounding expectations by winning on the unconsidered.

Not that the 29-year-old views it in such terms.

It doesn't matter to me what chance the bookies think my horse has. I know the work that's gone into them

“I ride plenty of Willie’s horses that are longer prices. But once you do your homework, look at the tactics of the race and see what’s going to best suit your horse, you know you are going out there on one that has a genuine chance.

“Just because it’s a bigger price, if that was for another stable with the same preparation, it would probably go off much shorter. It doesn’t matter to me what chance the bookies think my horse has. I know the work that’s gone into them and if I can get it right on the day I have a chance,” he says.

It’s a typically positive approach from a jockey with form when it comes to confounding expectations.

As a scion of one of the great racing dynasties, Mullins’s destiny was always going to be horses.

He is the son of successful trainers Tony and Mags Mullins and grew up on stories of Dawn Run – trained by his legendary grandfather Paddy – and was a pony racing star before making an instant impression as a flat apprentice. When weight got the better of him on the flat he switched his focus to jumps and was only 20 when landing a plum role as retained jockey to owner Barry Connell.

A scrape with the stewards in 2013 after “hijacking” an ambulance back to the Bellewstown weigh room smacked of a free spirit full of the joys of being young and successful

However, it was his response to losing the Connell job after less than two years that revealed the mettle in the man.

He was prepared to knuckle down and ride out for whoever and whenever. So it wasn’t long before he became known as one of the hardest working jockeys in the game Despite his uncle being the most powerful figure in the sport he has ridden for more than 200 different trainers in the last five years.

Mullins’s sporting instincts survived too, film of his sportsmanship in helping a temporarily stunned colleague back into the saddle during a race at Roscommon in 2015 going viral.

The reshuffle of riding arrangements following Ruby Walsh’s 2019 retirement, as well as the shock retirement at just 24 of his Grand National winning cousin David, enabled Mullins to rise in the Closutton pecking order. But he has had to fight his corner with others such as Brian Hayes and more recently Sean O’Keeffe. It makes any muttering about nepotism an irritant.

“The fact is if I get it wrong I won’t be treated any better than any of the other lads. There are a lot of good riders here which makes for a competitive environment and if something goes wrong you’re not going to be treated as a family member. You’ll be treated as one of the jockeys,” he says.

Tornado Flyer lining up in the King George was an afterthought. His trainer thought he had no chance

It is hard to ignore though the regularity with which Mullins maximises his opportunities.

Tornado Flyer lining up in the King George was an afterthought. His trainer thought he had no chance. His jockey thought otherwise.

Patiently allowing everything else blow up trying to chase a furious early pace also confounded any presumptions about Mullins a just a front-running jockey.

It means few go into this weekend’s €2.1 million big-race action with more confidence, momentum or anticipation.

“I think it’s the most densely populated weekend with proper racing. So many of these other festivals are diluted: I love the week at Cheltenham but this is action packed Grade One races all the way,” says Mullins.

As for ambitions towards eventually having first pick, he dismisses any idea of frustration.

“You could get frustrated if you wanted to. But I’m happy enough that I’ll end up on plenty of good horses as long as I ride well and the rest will fall into place. Look after yourself, keep doing the right things and the rest will happen,” he says.

“I’m in a very fortunate position. There are plenty of other people that work just as hard as me if not harder and don’t get the recognition. If I stay working hard I can keep opening doors and creating opportunities.

“I would look at it in respect of now is the time I need to work harder than ever to maintain that [momentum]. People can achieve a certain level of success and relax and enjoy it. For me it’s all about maintaining this as long as I can,” he adds.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column