Stunning National success completes ‘very daring’ plan for Emmet Mullins

Willie Mullins tips hat to his nephew as jockey Waley-Cohen bows out on a fairytale high

Willie Mullins has paid tribute to the "very daring" plan carried out by his nephew, Emmet, that provoked a shock 50-1 success for Noble Yeats in Saturday's Randox Aintree Grand National.

It supplied the ultimate farewell flourish for Noble Yeats’ amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen who immediately confirmed his retirement from the saddle. If it was a fairytale end to the Englishman’s career, the outcome underlined the emergence of a new force in the training ranks as Mullins landed the world’s most famous steeplechase on his first attempt.

The 31-year-old ex-jockey, who has trained a small string next door to his renowned uncle near Bagenalstown since 2016, began targeting the National over a year previously after Noble Yeats landed an ordinary maiden hurdle in Navan.

Mullins, along with the horse's then owner, Paul Byrne, decided to try and take advantage of the fence modifications at Aintree which have made the National less of a stern jumping test in recent years.

No seven-year-old horse had won the race since 1940 but Noble Yeats put that right with a dramatic defeat of the 15-2 favourite Any Second Now with Delta Work in third for what was an Irish one-two-three.

Amid the celebrations on Saturday the winning trainer, whose father, George, runs a successful horse transport business, cut a notably composed figure, something that didn’t surprise his uncle.

“He’s a very cool man who trains well and makes his plans and usually follows them through,” said Willie Mullins, a National winner himself in 2005, although Class Conti in 13th was the only one of his four runners to finish on Saturday.

“Emmet is very, very capable. He’s got patience and he’s willing to put his head above the parapet and take a chance with a big plan. It was a plan himself and Paul Byrne hatched out, a very daring plan so it was.

"He's able to get a horse ready for the day. He has proved that before. They did that thing with The Shunter last year, going to Kelso and Cheltenham, so it wouldn't be the first time. Not all of these plans work but he's not afraid to aim high and this isn't going to harm his career anyhow!" he added.

Waley-Cohen's perfect 'adieu' inevitably dominated the big-race fallout but the result added another luminous chapter to the Mullins dynasty story. The patriarch of the family, Paddy Mullins, never landed the National during his own stellar career but Saturday's result added to another of his grandson's, David, who rode the 2016 winner Rule The World.

Paddy Mullins's low-key default setting also appears to have been inherited by the latest National winner. When quizzed about Noble Yeats's unusual profile for the race, Emmet Mullins commented: "It has been a quick journey but he has taken everything in his stride. Luckily I don't read too much and I was never too worried about his inexperience."

Fatal injuries

He added: "He is a novice that probably could have gone a Graded route. But we chose not to and we chose to get experience in things like the Paddy Power and over two miles in handicap chases over fences as well. I'd say that has all stood him in good stead.

“That meant he probably wasn’t as exposed as much as the others. We thought we had a bit up our sleeves but it’s never until you do it you find out. When it crossed the line my heart was doing 10 to a dozen but it has calmed down now!”

There was less welcome National fallout on Sunday with confirmation that Éclair Surf, who fell at the third fence, died due a head injury sustained in the spill. He was the second horse to sustain fatal injuries in the race as Paul Nolan’s Discorama, who was pulled up before the 13th, had to be put down some hours later due to an “untreatable pelvis injury”.

Nolan said on Sunday he was “devastated” by the blow.

“It’s just devastating for the owners and the yard. It is just one of those awful things, but it is part of racing and that is what it is. Unfortunately I could not attend [the Nationa]. My father is sick at home and we had to come back from Aintree so we are with him now.

"He's not good. It puts everything in perspective. We did not tell him the horse was fatally injured, [just] that he pulled muscles and was home. There are certain things you have to say to soften the blow," the Co Wexford trainer said.

Separately, in perhaps the most futile punishment ever handed out by a stewards panel, Waley-Cohen went into retirement not only with a National success but a nine-day ban for his use of the whip.

It will be back to more mundane targets for Emmet Mullins on Monday when he saddles a runner in the concluding hunters chase at Tramore where the stakes are considerably lower than Saturday's £1 million pot.

Like Noble Yeats, It's On The Line is a product of the point to point fields but looks to have plenty to do against Good Bye Sam representing Willie and Patrick Mullins.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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

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