WHEN Ruby Walsh retired, Paul Townend was always going to be the main beneficiary.
That has certainly been the case and he is well on his way to becoming champion jockey again. But there is plenty to go around at Willie Mullins’ and hasn’t Danny Mullins done exceptionally well of late, grabbing every chance afforded him.
As a rider, the 27-year-old is not everyone’s cup of tea and has his fair share of detractors. He is not what you would call a stylist, certainly not in the way one thinks of Walsh himself, Paul Carberry, Davy Russell or Richard Dunwoody.
But that said I don’t think too many would accuse the likes of Tony McCoy or Peter Scudamore of being in that stylish mode either and they managed to do rather well.
Mullins is no overnight success, having once been regarded as a teenage sensation. As a sixteen-year-old, he rode his first winner aboard My Girl Sophie at Leopardstown on May 21, 2008.
My Girl Sophie was trained by Jim Bolger and beat a horse called Be Smart, partnered by none other than Michael Kinane. The youngster was well and truly up and running on the racecourse, having been a star of the pony racing circuit with 126 winners.
The word sensation was first used to describe Mullins later in 2008, when he rode a treble on the flat at the Galway festival.
It came on the Friday night, with Mullins taking the featured Guinness Handicap on the Paul Cashman-trained 20-1 shot, Glitter Baby.
He won a maiden for his uncle, Tom Mullins, on Cristal Island and a handicap on the Mick Quinlan-trained Metal Madness.
His display on Metal Madness particularly impressed Quinlan, who had brought the horse across from Newmarket. Said Quinlan: “I haven’t seen a kid like him for years.’’
Mullins soon began to develop physically, and after about two years had to abandon the flat full time, and concentrate on jump racing.
It is fair to say he never quite fulfilled his early promise and there have been times when he’s struggled along the way.
He did, of course, have a period as first jockey to owner, Barry Connell. They combined for a share of success, but it was a horse of Connell’s which marked one of the real dark days for Mullins.
That was Our Conor, a €1m purchase by Connell. He was a well fancied 5-1 shot, with Mullins in the plate, for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2014, but took a crashing fall at the third flight. Our Conor broke his back and had to be put down.
Mullins lasted less than two years with Connell, but has long been supported by his uncle, Willie Mullins, and even more heavily so since Walsh departed the scene.
A hint of nepotism, obviously, but Mullins senior has always been of a mind to keep things in-house and, in any case, his nephew has more than repaid the faith placed in him.
Danny has enjoyed a terrific start to 2020 and, by my reckoning, has already ridden ten winners this year, nine of them for Willie.
He has produced some dynamic displays, especially on Willie’s Total Recall in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month.
One of six runners in the contest for the trainer, Total Recall had become less than reliable, but was given a powerful drive to score decisively.
There have been several other good days, Cash Back for instance in a novice chase at Naas in early January.
Townend rode the other Mullins horse, the 7-4 favourite, Tornado Flyer, but he ran badly, as Cash Back (7-2) made all to win by 12 lengths.
More recently Danny has repeatedly ended up on the right one, when Willie has had more than one runner in a race.
It happened on Asterion Forlonge in a Grade 1 hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival on February 2. Again, Townend was on the apparent first string, Mt Leinster, but it was Asterion Forlonge who ran the opposition ragged.
Danny gave Elfile a superb drive on February 19 to land a Grade 3 hurdle at Punchestown, with stable companion, Laurina, back in third.
He was on the mark again the following day at Thurles when sweeping home on Willie’s “second string’’, Five O’Clock, in a Grade 3 hurdle.
And the icing on the cake came at Fairyhouse last Saturday when he booted home a spectacular double for Willie, Burning Victory and the enigmatic Acapella Bourgeois.
Willie ran four in a Grade 3 juvenile hurdle and Danny was on the right one, somehow coaxing Burning Victory home in front, after the filly had jumped just a single hurdle properly.
Danny then got Acapella Bourgeois into the most perfect rhythm to beat stable companion Bellshill, by 15 lengths, in the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase.
He is living proof that sustained hard work and some help from a gifted uncle can take you a long way.
Danny Mullins is hot right now and, quite simply, impossible to ignore.
THE Henry de Bromhead-trained Jason The Militant was some shock 25-1 winner of a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Naas last Sunday.
On all known form it was very difficult to make any sort of case for him, even accepting he was perfectly suited by testing conditions.
It will be interesting to see how the contest works out.
The race confirmed that the highly-regarded, eventual third, Andy Dufresne has a bit of a soft centre. That possibility reared its head at Navan two runs earlier when he was outbattled by Latest Exhibition.
The argument can be made that at Naas he was conceding the first two 6lbs, which is fair enough, but arrived with every chance in the straight and found precious little.
The decision to bypass Cheltenham, made prior to Sunday, is clearly the right way to go and, maybe, as his trainer, Gordon Elliott, seems to believe, he will only come into his own as a chaser.
The eye-catcher, however, was the Noel Meade-trained Beacon Edge, who was beaten a nose into second and would surely have scored, but for a sloppy leap at the last.
He was returning from an absence of 130 days, not having been seen since taking a maiden hurdle by ten lengths at Punchestown in the middle of October.
Indeed, Beacon Edge wasn’t a guaranteed winner then, because The Very Man, who has failed to deliver in three subsequent outings, was challenging strongly when falling at the final flight.
Naas shaped as a major improvement on the part of Beacon Edge!