Many will be sick of hearing about Willie Mullins and his all-conquering team, so I was in two minds as to whether to go ahead with this piece.
In the lead up to the Cheltenham Festival it is easy to suffer from data overload, and many important and interesting pieces of information can pass you by. A vital component of the Mullins Empire has had a certain amount of coverage in recent months, but I thought it worthwhile to take another look at the man responsible for horses such as Douvan, Vautour and Vroum Vroum Mag, if only so that we can then forget about the Closutton gang for a few weeks.
Willie Mullins is undoubtedly an outstanding trainer. By all accounts he is a stickler for detail, leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of extracting the absolute max from his mighty equine team. He hails from a family horseman, following in the footsteps of father Paddy. But more and more these days, the key to success is the knack of finding the best talent, before moulding the raw material into the classy finished article.
A crucial part of Team Mullins and their pursuit of suitable talent, comes in the form of French bloodstock expert Pierre Boulard. Along with fellow bloodstock agent Harold Kirk, he is part of the team that Mullins has come to rely on for uncovering elite racehorses.
The master of Closutton spoke earlier this year of the pair, saying: “The best analogy is that they’re like a couple of football scouts. They keep an eye on the horses around and if there are any to be bought, they can go and have a look for me and weigh up the value on offer.”
Mullins rode against Harold Kirk many moons ago and has great faith in his ability to spot a horse with potential. His man in France also has a distant link to the Mullins family. When Willie’s father Paddy travelled to France with the wonderful Dawn Run in the mid-80s, he met a young Boulard who was working in Maisons-Laffitte at the yard of Jacques-Hubert Barbe. One of a few that spoke fluent English, Boulard became a main point of contact for the Irish trainer.
Mullins later invited him over to Ireland. Boulard said of the experience: “I stayed one year as pupil assistant, just learning as much as I could. It was an incredible time to be there. I remember flying with Tony from Cork the day Dawn Run won the Gold Cup. I watched them all – Willie, George, Tony, Tom. They were all horsemen. It was a dynasty, an incredible place.”
Boulard’s impact on the current dynasty began in earnest in 2009 when Mikael D'Haguenet and Quevega struck gold at the Cheltenham Festival. “I knew Quevega was for sale and I mentioned it to Willie,” said the Frenchman. “He was very interested because he'd had her brother Monvega in Ireland and thought he was a very good horse but he had training problems. So we made a deal and that's how it started.”
Boulard had previously enjoyed success with a number of clients including France's greatest jumps trainer Guillaume Macaire. He added: “Willie is a genius and the competition is so high there. There are a lot of very good trainers in England and although it looks easy, it's not.”
He has now sourced the vast majority of French-bred stock within the yard. “We don't want a store because we don't know about the quality,” says Boulard. “But we don't want one who is too exposed. They just need to have shown me something special. When Djakadam ran at Compiegne I went ‘wow'! He could have won if the jockey hadn't been so easy on him. Douvan won second time in a very good way and Un De Sceaux won twice on the Flat in a nice, easy way. Vautour had two runs and did something even though he wasn't fully fit, Vroum Vroum Mag the same.”
The first day of Cheltenham 2015 was incredible for Mullins but also for Pierre Boulard. Winning four Grade 1s and having the first three in the Champion Hurdle emphasized the quality of his work. He was also responsible for the arrival of Arctic Fire, and would have victories later in the Festival with Don Poli and Vautour.
When this year’s Festival arrived hopes were high that Min could continue the success. He was another Boulard find having run third and a fourth at Auteuil, though neither effort screamed future star. The sire, Walk In The Park, was also a crucial factor in purchasing the horse, having already yielded the stunning Douvan. “Harold really believed in Walk In The Park when we bought Douvan and said go for it,” said Boulard. “I liked Min physically and the performances were good enough because Auteuil is the biggest test of stamina in France. It was important I liked him physically and then I add in the pedigree and his race. It was the three together.”
Though Min came off second best last week, Douvan, Vroum Vroum and Vautour continued to advertise the skills of Boulard. His hunt for talent throughout the French Provinces looks sure to yield further stars in the coming years. He has no monopoly in the market place, and competition among bloodstock agents is tough. But that hasn’t stopped him thus far in aiding the development of a Jump racing superpower.