Turtle Bunbury

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Interviews - SPORTING LEGENDS OF IRELAND

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CHAMPION TRAINER OF IRELAND (3)

2007/08 (110 wins)
2009 (136 wins)
2010 (146 wins)

AMATEUR IRISH JOCKEY CHAMPION: 6.

MAJOR RACE WINS AS TRAINER

AINTREE
1 x Martell Grand National (Hedgehunter)

CHELTENHAM
6 x Champion Bumper.
3 x RSA Novices’ Chase.
2 x Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
2 x David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle
2 x Novices’ Hurdle.
1 x Triumph Hurdle.
1 x County Hurdle.

KEMPTON PARK
King George V

AUTEUIL
2 x French Champion Hurdle
(Grande Course de Haies)

LEOPARDSTOWN
6 x Hennessy Gold Cup
3 x Arkle Novice Chase
4 x Dr P. J. Moriarty Novice Chase
1 x MCR Hurdle
1 x Deloitte Novice Hurdle

FAIRYHOUSE
2 x Bisquet Cognac Handicap Hurdle
1 x Royal Bond Novice Hurdle
1 x Irish Independent Chase
1 x Champion 4 year olds Hurdle

PUNCHESTOWN
2 x Champion Hurdle
2 x Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle
2 x Champion Chase
3 x World Series Hurdle
2 x Champion Novices’ Hurdle (5 yr olds +)
5 x Champion Novices’ Hurdle (4 yr olds +)
1 x Punchestown Gold Cup
1 x Champion Novice Chase

GOWRAN PARK
3 x Thyestes Chase

GALWAY
1 x Galway Plate

DOWN ROYAL
2 x Ulster Derby
1 x Champion Chase

LISTOWEL
2 X Kerry National

WILLIE MULLINS
AMATEUR JOCKEY & NATIONAL HUNT TRAINER

As the 2010 Punchestown Festival began, much of the banter centred upon Willie Mullins and his yard at Closutton, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. The question was how on earth could Willie ever hope to better on the 2009 Festival when his team returned home with an unprecedented haul of twelve victories, including four Grade One wins. Put another way, a Willie Mullins horse had won almost one in every three races over the course of the week. With his star rider Ruby Walsh out of action as the 2010 Festival commenced, the non-believers were out in force. And then, on the first day, the Mullins yard scored a Grade One treble. As anticipation turned to astonishment, Willie duly scored another grand tally of twelve wins, upping his number of Grade One’s to five. He had the first and second in the Champion Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday, the first and third in the Champion Novices’ Chase on Wednesday, the first and third in the World Series Hurdle on Thursday and the first and third again in the Champion Hurdle on Friday. It was a truly sensational week.

As with his three younger brothers and sister Sandra, Willie grew up with the scent of the horse all around. At the time of his birth in 1956, Willie’s father Paddy Mullins was already on the road that would make him one of the most successful National Hunt trainers of his generation. Young Willie was in the saddle from the age he could toddle. In his boyhood years, he read up as much as he could about the industry, particularly focusing on the methods and problem-solving tactics of other trainers. He continues to be a voracious reader on the subject, always eager to absorb new information and insights into this ancient but ever-evolving sport.

Willie was educated by the Cistercians at Roscrea College, Co. Tipperary. In 1974, he completed his leaving certificate and went home to work with his father at Doninga. That same year, he rode his first race as an amateur. He went on to be Irish champion amateur jockey six times.

His Cheltenham career got off to a mighty start on St Patrick’s Day 1982 when he had his first ride on English soil upon Hazy Dawn, trained by his father and owned by country and western singer Roly Daniels. The race was the four-mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and the mare romped home an impressive winner. Two years later, Willie won the National Hunt Chase again, this time on Macs Friendly. And in between those two victories, he scored the Liverpool Fox Hunters Chase (the amateurs' Grand National) on Áth Cliath in what became the first all-Irish combination of horse, owner, trainer and rider to win the race.

In 1988, having worked as assistant to both his father and Jim Bolger, Willie took out his own licence for his stables at Bagenalstown on the Carlow-Kilkenny border. He swiftly established himself as a specialist in the Cheltenham Festival Bumper, winning the race a record-breaking six times, thrice in consecutive years. In the 1996 Bumper, 40-year-old Willie was himself in the saddle of the victorious Wither Or Which.

Amongst those other bumper heroes was Florida Pearl, one of the greatest of Closutton’s flag-bearers. The popular bay beat Best Mate to win the 2001 King George VI Chase, and came second and third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But Leopardstown was his preferred ground. He won the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup three years in a row from 1999 to 2001, so becoming the only horse in existence to win a Gold Cup in both the second and third millennium. In 2004, he went on to win the Hennessy for a record fourth time becoming, at 12-years-old, the oldest horse to yet win it. The victory was made all the more poignant by the fact that this was Florida Pearl’s final race.

Another of Willie’s greatest steeds has been Hedgehunter who Ruby Walsh rode to a famous victory in the 2005 Aintree Grand National. He set off as favourite for the 2006 National and very nearly pulled off a Red Rum double, ultimately coming second. Indeed, Hedgehunter proved to be a most gallant runner up in both the Cheltenham Gold Cup (to War of Attrition, under Conor O’Dwyer) and the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

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Willie now has seventeen Cheltenham wins under his belt. And like his father, he has also enjoyed success both in France, where he has won the Champion Hurdle at Auteuil twice, and on the flat, most notably winning the Ulster Derby twice, with General Cloney in 1999 and with Temlett in 2007.

But it is the National Hunt in Ireland which Willie has completely dominated for the past four years. His tally of 79 winners at the end of 2006/2007 was his highest ever and was nearly enough to take Noel Meade’s crown as the leading trainer in Ireland. The following season, he secured the crown with 110 wins. At the end of the 2009/2010 season, he racked up an incredible haul of 146 wins, more than 87 higher than his nearest rival, and with earnings of €2.9 million, bringing in more prize money than his nearest three rivals combined. Amongst his strongest performers at present are Quevega, Cooldine and Hurricane Fly.

Willie is very much a 21st century trainer. He’s a regular on Twitter and Facebook, and wpmullins.com is bang up to speed. With over 100 horses in his charge, he is also well aware of the necessity of having a strong team. His wife, Jackie, herself a champion lady amateur in time’s past, plays an integral part in the running of the yard and it's administration. His top stable jockey is Ruby Walsh whom he shares with Paul Nichols, the leading trainer in the UK, but he has plenty more up his sleeve such as 2010 Punchestown hero Paul Townend, David Casey, Emmet Mullins, David Condon and 2010 Cheltenham heroine Miss Katie Walsh.


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Click here to see a full list of persons interviewed for the Vanishing Ireland project.