David Mullins: a jockey with the racing world at his feet
Grand National winner now aiming to record his first win at the Cheltenham Festival
David Mullins in action with Brain Power at Punchestown last April. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
If some within racing think David Mullins might be a little “too-cool-for-school” sometimes then as racing sins go, trying a little too hard is pretty venial.
He is after all just 20, already a Grand National winner, and according to his cousin, the champion amateur, Patrick Mullins, has to contend with a sizable proportion of young females in the Kilkenny-Carlow area being eager for his attention.
Then there’s the floppy, hipster hair and an attractive hint of insouciance suggested by his cheerful admission after Rule The World’s Aintree victory last year that life in the saddle was never some lifelong dream.
Throw blazing talent into that mix of success, youth and opportunity and it would be odd if one of Ireland’s hottest young jockeys didn’t think life is pretty cool right now.
It isn’t all roses of course. Maintaining a near six-foot frame at nearly 10st is not easy. Nor is the physical battering of falling, and the mental challenge of knowing it’s “when” and not “if” you get injured is always there.
It’s a special breed of individual that manages to thrive in such circumstances and even amongst a family of champion trainers and jockeys, David Mullins stands out. So much so that even before he’s ridden a Cheltenham festival winner, plenty are already thinking much more long-term.
Ruby Walsh is 38 in May and can’t go on forever, certainly not as long as Willie Mullins will train for, so inevitably the champion trainer’s nephew is mentioned when it comes to pricing up the succession stakes.
But it’s Mullins’s presence on one of the prime cross-channel fancies for Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle, Brain Power, which is another significant sign of his meteoric progress to the top of the riding tree.
Nicky Henderson first used Mullins on the rapidly progressive horse at Punchestown last Spring. But turning to him for the horse at Ascot in December, and keeping him on the horse for Cheltenham, invites inevitable speculation about one of Britain’s top trainers eventually shopping for a new stable jockey.
Best racesHenry De Bromhead
“I’ll go anywhere to ride the best horse I can in the best races,” is Mullins’s suitably diplomatic response to quizzing about his future, not unreasonably reckoning that next week’s festival action is enough to be getting on with first.
“To ride a winner there would be very special and it’s the ambition of every jockey riding,” he said in one of the sponsored blogs which are as sure a sign of success as the attention that followed Rule The World’s Aintree victory less than a year ago.
If that Michael O’Leary-owned star was a 33-1 outsider, another, Petit Mouchoir, was odds-on for January’s Irish Champion Hurdle. Bryan Cooper’s injury meant another major opportunity for Mullins who once again proved his big-race temperament with a notably decisive victory ride.
“Getting the big race winners it the reason why I became a jockey,” he said. “I get an amazing feeling when I win any race, but winning the big races is that little bit more special.”
It also means he has a unique insight into one of Brain Power’s biggest threats on Tuesday.
“Petit Mouchoir is the best chance from Ireland in proven form. Brain Power has to make the jump to Grade One level. But I seen no reason why he can’t. It’s a wide-open Champion Hurdle and he does everything so easy,” Mullins said.
Nothing comes easy in a championship race at Cheltenham but one plus Brain Power has is the cool head on his back.