PAT KEANE: Tom Mullins pulls no punches

That was an interesting feature, written by Daragh Ó Conchúir, on trainer Tom Mullins, in last Saturday’s Irish Field.

The article provided a fascinating insight into the thinking of the much-respected Mullins and dispelled any notion that he, like most of his colleagues, is willing to play the game, no matter the cost.

Mullins came across as very much his own man and clearly indicated to Ó Conchúir his frustration with the manner in which National Hunt racing in this country has evolved.

“The game has gone very sad for the likes of me,” Mullins said. “I’m there 14 years odd as a trainer and the honeymoon period is over.’’

He believes the industry is skewed.

“The people at the top, you’ve Jessica (Harrington) and Willie (Mullins), they’re dealing with billionaires,’’ said Mullins. “Not millionaires, billionaires.’

“Then you’ve the other four trainers being tanked up by Gigginstown. Billionaires again.’’

The four aren’t mentioned, but obviously are Gordon Elliott, Noel Meade, Joseph O’Brien, and Henry de Bromhead.

Mullins then rams home his point: “If you want to be up at that level you have to have a billionaire that’s going to put in 40 horses at an average of €100,000 a go. Then you’ll be up there.’’

All of that is very entertaining, reasonably factual, and, perhaps, blows any notion Mullins gives more than cursory consideration to being politically correct.

But it is well to remember, surely, that these so-called billionaires, or millionaires, do not nod in favour of the chosen few by accident.

Mullins’ argument falls somewhat flat when admitting he does not make any great effort to seek out new owners.

He said: “I don’t tout for owners. I do a bit on Twitter, but I’m not going to be bowing down to anyone.

“I’m 54, I’m training for 14 years and was training virtually a long time before that (assistant to his legendary father, Paddy) and I’m not going to take shit any more from lads.

“I had that early doors, lads bullying me, telling me to do this, that or the other, or the horses would leave the yard. Now I just tell them to come down and collect the horse, I wouldn’t handle the stupid lads anymore.’’

And, of course, if that is the way he wants to run his affairs then it’s his decision. But every successful business, you’d imagine, has to put itself out there and look for clients.

His brother Willie is the best example of all of how to do things right. Year after year he seems to reinvent himself.

We know he has owners with
lots of money, but Willie’s secret seems to be that he attracts new owners on a continuous basis.

Mullins’ most stinging criticism, however, focuses on Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud.

To say he is not a fan of the Gigginstown influence is to put it mildly.

“Gigginstown have a real stranglehold and it’s not positive for the jumps game,” he said. “It’s not enticing new owners and it’s pissing the existing ones off. And they don’t stick with trainers and jockeys — they have a negative effect on trainers and jockeys.

“They are giving shocking money for horses, but it’s not going back into the racing game, it’s going into point-to-points and store horses.

“I’m shocked Mouse Morris is just training point-to-point horses now (for Gigginstown), two years ago he had two National winners for them. There’s no business with them boys, the way they do it.’’

You just have to admire Mullins for calling it as he sees it. But it has to be said his view is entirely one-sided.

I’m a long way removed from being any sort of apologist for Gigginstown, but it is an organisation that has upsides.

They have many, many horses in training and all are based in this country, providing much employment. And there is no doubt they scatter a fair few quid about.

If they are not happy with the service being provided by trainers, or jockeys, and decide to dump them, then they are perfectly within their rights.

National Hunt racing in Ireland, below the top level, is in crisis and has been for a long time. A number of trainers have given up the unequal struggle, among them high-profile names such as Charlie Swan, Adrian Maguire, and Colm Murphy.

All the tinkering in the world by the authorities will make little difference and is only likely to keep some trainers at the bottom of the pile on life support for a while longer. More trainers disappearing is simply inevitable.

In the meantime, well done to Ó Conchúir and Mullins for what was, in parts, a jaw-dropping read.

At Naas last Sunday, Aidan O’Brien’s Curly ran away with what shaped as a fiercely competitive mile and a half-Listed race.

Popped away in front by Seamie Heffernan, she made all the running and never showed any signs of stopping to slam 11 rivals.

In the light of her previous dismal performance at Dundalk, it was a result that took a bit of swallowing.

That Dundalk contest was another Listed event and I must confess to fancying her. But you couldn’t give Curly away in the betting, returned an unlikely massive 3-1 and available at much bigger on Betfair. Accordingly, I had no idea what was going on and didn’t play.

Curly, typically, went straight into the lead and your immediate reaction was that a tasty winner had been missed. But not a bit of it. Curly died a thousand deaths in the straight and was beaten in a matter of strides, trailing in sixth of seven behind favourite Global Giant.

Following the race, she was examined by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board vet and found to be
post-race normal.

After she won at Naas, O’Brien was quoted as saying: “Being a
Galileo, she kept going all the way
to the line.’’ To which the smart-arse response had to be, she was also a Galileo at Dundalk.

So why didn’t the stewards ask questions on Sunday? The answer may have been simple, Dundalk was Curly’s first time on the all weather and she hated the surface.

One way or another, punters were at least entitled to an explanation.


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