2016. Biography of Paddy Mullins

Mullins, Patrick (‘Paddy’) (1919–2010)


P Gerry McKenna MRIA


Paddy Mullins, racehorse trainer, was born on 28 January 1919 in the townland of Old Grange near Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny. He was the second eldest of seven children (four boys and three girls) of Willie Mullins, a prosperous farmer who later trained racehorses, and his wife Catherine (née Hayden). The family moved in December 1923 to an extensive farm that had been owned by Paddy’s grandfather, James Mullins. Their new home was Doninga House close to the River Barrow near the village of Goresbridge.


From his early years the young Paddy was riding ponies, and took part in showjumping events and pony races. In 1931 at the age of 11 he won his first race at a children’s point-to-point on a pony named Bobby. Educated locally, he completed his studies at the De La Salle Brothers at Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, cycling four miles to the school every day. He left school at 17. At that time he began riding in point-to-point races, and became closely involved with the local farmers’ hunt, the Mount Loftus Harriers. He later hunted also with the Carlow and Kilkenny hunts. Gradually he became involved in racehorse training during the 1940s, initially with point-to-pointers under the licence held nearby by trainer John Kirwan. He continued riding; his first winner under national hunt rules was in 1943 in a bumper at Tramore on a horse called Some Chicken.


Paddy’s father took out a licence to train in 1947. Paddy was his assistant and took over the licence in 1953. Earlier that year he rode Flash Parade II to win the prestigious T. Levins-Moore Memorial Cup at Fairyhouse; his winnings allowed him to purchase his first car. His girlfriend Maureen Doran was on hand to witness his moment of triumph. Flash Parade II was also his first winner later in 1953 as trainer-jockey in the La Touche Memorial Chase at Punchestown.


Maureen Doran came from Kilcruit in Co Carlow, just across the river from Doninga, where her family were extensive farmers. A keen horsewoman who rode in the last point-to-point meeting at Doninga in 1955, she also rode with the Mount Loftus Harriers. Maureen attended the same school as Paddy’s sisters, the Brigadine Convent in Goresbridge. She and Paddy were married in November 1954 in St Mary’s Church at Haddington Road, Dublin. Together they would form a racing dynasty. After their marriage they moved into a rented two storey house at Doninga, about half a mile from the old family residence; the family farm having been earmarked, as was customary, for the eldest Mullins brother, Jim. Paddy later bought the rented property while gradually building up his land holding. At this time he also had use of the stables at the old family house.


The mid-1950s (1955–8) were bleak years for the Mullins stable with few winners. This reflected the economic stagnation of Ireland at the time with a paucity of Irish owners having the capacity to purchase good horses and have them trained locally. His fortunes improved in 1959 with 9 winners, almost double the total for the previous four years. However he took a bad fall from a horse called Whatever, at Limerick Junction in November, spending 6 weeks in hospital followed by months of recuperation. This ended his riding career.


By the beginning of the 1960s Paddy began to concentrate on national hunt and occasionally flat horses, and moved away from point-to-pointers. As his reputation grew, his stables attracted more owners and better quality horses. His first big winner on the flat came in 1962 with Height O´Fashion in the Irish Cesarewitch. Mullins took an immense pride in his work and did not take kindly to what he regarded as unfair criticism from an owner, no matter how powerful. In 1963 he instructed an important owner, Jack Donohue, to take his horses away after the trainer felt that he had been unfairly criticised over the performance of Height O´Fashion in the Thyestes Chase at Gowan Park. Turning away horses at this early stage of his career was a considerable risk. The two men were later reconciled.


In 1967 Mullins became a household name when he sent out Vulpine to win the Irish Grand National, taking the race again the following year with Herring Gull, and later with Dim Wit (1972) and Luska (1981). During his training career he won almost all of the major prizes in Irish National Hunt racing including 4 Galway Hurdles and 3 Galway Plates. Among his other big race victories were two successive Ladbroke Hurdles at Leopardstown (1989 and 1990) with Redundant Pal and the 1972 Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park with Dim Wit.His last major National Hunt win was with Nearly A Moose in the 2003 Galway Plate.


He was successful 6 times at the Cheltenham Festival including the Champion Hurdle (1984) and Cheltenham Gold Cup (1986) with Dawn Run. Other major overseas wins included the Christmas Hurdle (1983) at Kempton, Prix La Barka (1984) and Grande Course de Haies (French Champion Hurdle) (1984) at Auteuil, and Aintree Hurdle ((1983 and 1984) with Dawn Run; the Prix des Drags (1969) at Auteuil with Herring Gull; and the Dueling Grounds International Hurdle (1990) with Grabel in Kentucky.


Dawn Run and Hurry Harriet. The pinnacle of Paddy Mullins’ career was the extraordinary feat of training the great mare Dawn Run to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1984, followed by the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later after she had been off for most of the previous season with a leg injury. This double was unique in racing history; no other champion hurdler had previously claimed racing’s steeplechasing crown. The mare also completed another unique treble, winning the Irish and French Champion Hurdles to complement her English Champion Hurdle win.


Dawn Run’s Cheltenham Gold Cup win was an amazing spectacle. The mare having made most of the running appeared to be beaten before rallying after the final fence to pip Wayward Lad and Forgive N´ Forget, both exceptional horses, in record time. The BBC television commentator Sir Peter O´Sullevan memorably called the finish: "The mare is beginning to get up…".


Mullins’s pleasure at Dawn Run’s Gold Cup victory was tinged with sadness that the horse’s owner, Mrs Charmian Hill, had insisted that his son Tony be replaced as the mare’s rider, by leading English-based jockey, Jonjo O’Neill – the mare had unseated Tony in a preparation race at Cheltenham two months earlier. Paddy felt that she ran better for Tony, who knew her so well, than for other jockeys. Tony was back in the saddle when a challenge match between Dawn Run and the Two Mile Champion Chaser, Buck House, was organised for the Punchestown 1986 festival just a few weeks after their respective Cheltenham triumphs. The conditions of the match, at level weights over the Champion Chase distance of 2 miles as compared to the Gold Cup distance of 3 miles and 2 furlongs, were clearly in Buck House’s favour but before a huge crowd Dawn Run prevailed, going away to win by 2½ lengths.


Sadly, Mrs Hill insisted against Mullins’ advice that two months after her Punchestown victory, Dawn Run should go to France to try and win a second French Champion Hurdle, the Grand Course de Haies, at Auteuil. The mare, ridden at the owner’s request by a local French jockey, Michel Chirol, fell at the fifth last, broke her neck and was killed instantly. Mullins and the racing public were devastated as the hugely popular mare was only eight, and as a relative novice still short of her prime as a steeplechaser.


Mullins would always say that his greatest day´s racing was on the Flat when he saddled Hurry Harriet to win the 1973 Champion Stakes at Newmarket. In a thrilling race Mullins’s filly beat one of the greatest fillies of the 20th century, Allez France, into second place. Thirty years later, in 2003 and at the age of 84, he sent out another filly, Vintage Tipple, to win the Irish Oaks.


Retirement and family. Paddy Mullins´s career as a trainer over jumps and on the Flat had spanned 52 years when he retired in 2005 aged 86. He was champion Irish National Hunt trainer in Ireland on 10 occasions during the period from 1981 to 1990/91. In 1984 he became only the third Irish trainer to send out 100 winners in a season.


A quiet and retiring person, Paddy was a devoted family man. He was supported loyally by his wife Maureen, who was by his side during successes and disappointments and was fully immersed in the racing and breeding business. As an owner-breeder she savoured many triumphs, most notably in 1990 with multiple winner Grabel, trained by Paddy and ridden by Tony, and in which she had a half share, annexing the $750,000 Dueling Grounds International Hurdle in Kentucky. Maureen bred several winners including Girl in Blue which won the Irish Lincoln in 1984. She also bred the filly, I’m Ready, which won the Irish Cambridgeshire in 1979. Her one and only mount on a racecourse, Razzo Forte, won a race for trainers’ wives and daughters at their local Gowran Park course in 1982.


Paddy and Maureen Mullins had 5 children all of whom became involved in horse racing including riding under Rules either as professional or amateur jockeys. In 1984 and 1989, the Mullins family achieved a unique treble with Paddy being Irish Champion National Hunt Trainer and sons Tony and Willie being Champion Jockey and Champion Amateur Jockey, respectively. Daughter Sandra McCarthy (née Mullins) rode on the flat and among several wins was the Rose of Tralee Ladies’ Race in 1982.  Tony Mullins’s former wife and later successful trainer, Mags, was Champion lady rider and won the Mary Hyde trophy twice, in 1990 and 1991, while Willie’s wife, Jackie, was also Champion lady rider and won the Mary Hyde trophy in 1994.


Sons Willie, Tom, Tony and daughter Sandra, became trainers themselves, while son George developed a successful horse transport business. A prolific winner of the Irish Champion National Hunt Trainers title, Willie Mullins achieved unprecedented success in raising Ireland to the pinnacle of national hunt racing through training numerous outstanding horses to win the leading national hunt races in Britain and throughout the world. The Mullins’s racing dynasty continued through Paddy’s and Maureen’s grandchildren with Danny, Emmet, Patrick and David all being successful jockeys; Patrick won multiple Champion Amateur titles and David won the Grand National in 2016 at the age of 19.


Paddy’s brother, Colonel Bill Mullins, was Irish Army Quartermaster General. A former Olympic rider and chef d’equipe for both the Irish Civilian and Irish Army Teams, he was also the individual winner when the Irish Army team won the Aga Khan trophy at the RDS in 1949. Paddy’s youngest brother, Captain Luke Mullins, became manager of Galway Race Company for twenty five years following retirement from the army in 1970.


Paddy Mullins died, aged 91, on 28 October 2010 at Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny. His wife and 5 children survived him. Following a funeral service in Holy Trinity Church his remains were interred in New Cemetry, Goresbridge.


Paddy Mullins was inducted into the Gowran Park Racecourse Hall of Fame in 2014.


References: Peter O’Neill and Sean Byrne, Paddy Mullins: The Master of Doninga, 1995, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh; Irish Independent, 28 October 2010, 15 June 2015; Racing Post, 28 October, 2015; Daily Telegraph, 29 October, 2010; The Times, 03 November, 2010; The Guardian, 8 November, 2010.


Original version of entry published in Dictionary of Irish Biography. Online.
(Editors, J. McGuire and J. Quinn). Royal Irish Academy/Cambridge University Press, 2016.


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