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No time for complacency in burgeoning career of Danny Mullins

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Danny Mullins will not be resting on his laurels as he bids to build on the momentum of a memorable campaign on home soil by playing a major part at the Cheltenham Festival.

Although a nephew of the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history in Willie Mullins, the 30-year-old is well aware the family connection does not guarantee him rides for the sport’s dominant yard.

But through a combination of hard work and no little ability, Mullins has become a valuable cog in the Closutton machine and has already enjoyed his best ever-season in Ireland numbers-wise, having brought up his half-century at the Dublin Racing Festival.

It proved to be quite a weekend at Leopardstown for the rider as he also claimed a Grade One treble. But there is no chance of the teetotal jockey revelling in his success.

Danny Mullins after winning aboard Gala Marceau at the Dublin Racing Festival (Donall Farmer/PA)

“I’m having a good season, but that is down to the good horses I’m riding. The people around me do all the hard work and I just have to point and get the job done on the day,” said the modest rider.

“I went to Leopardstown with 11 rides and picked up a spare, so I had 12 rides in the end, which is any jockey’s dream. To be able to convert some of them to winners makes it extra special.”

When put to him he was enjoying his best season, he added: “Numbers-wise maybe, but I’ve only ridden four Grade One winners and I rode five last year, so we’ll have to keep going at that!”

Mullins has enjoyed two previous victories at the Cheltenham Festival, with both wins coming aboard the Gavin Cromwell-trained Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

The jockey rightly earned the plaudits after a masterful front-running ride two years ago, while Flooring Porter once again dominated from the front to successfully defend his crown – sparking scenes of wild celebration in the Prestbury Park winner’s enclosure.

The eight-year-old has been beaten twice this season and suffered a post-Christmas setback, although he is reportedly on course for the Cotswolds and the hat-trick bid.

“Flooring Porter is a very good horse. Things happened as I expected on the day when he won in Cheltenham the first time, but you can’t do that without the horse,” he said.

“Fingers crossed, he’ll make it to Cheltenham. There is no better than Gavin Cromwell – when he has got the ammunition he is well able to hit the target. While I’m lucky to be part of Willie’s team, it’s fantastic to riding winners for Gavin as well as he is definitely an up-and-coming trainer in Ireland.

“Home By The Lee has pitched himself into the Stayers’ Hurdle picture this year and Teahupoo has been very good in what he’s achieved so far, but that is what Cheltenham is about – the best horses taking each other on in a proper championship race.”

The jockey’s three top-level successes at the Dublin Racing Festival came aboard Gala Marceau, Gentleman De Mee and Il Etait Temps, all of whom were down the Mullins pecking order going into their respective races but all of whom the rider would love to be reunited with at Cheltenham.

Gala Marceau in action at Leopardstown (Donall Farmer/PA)

Gala Marceau reversed Christmas form with stablemate Lossiemouth in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle – and while the latter was widely considered an unlucky loser after encountering trouble in running, Mullins feels it would be dangerous to dismiss his mount should they meet again in the Triumph Hurdle.

He said: “Gala Marceau was very good. She travelled behind Lossiemouth at Christmas and Lossiemouth was an impressive winner that day, but who knows what would have happened the last day if Paul (Townend) had got a clean run through? My horse wasn’t stopping at the line and Paul never got onto my tail.

“I’d be happy to take her on again. We won this battle but the war is still on.”

Mullins was the beneficiary of an injury suffered by Mark Walsh when getting a late call-up to partner Gentleman De Mee, who upset odds-on stablemate in Blue Lord in Leopardstown’s Dublin Chase and is now very much in the picture for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

“The Champion Chase has opened up in recent weeks and the way he jumped down the back straight in Leopardstown was fantastic – it was back to what he’d shown when he beat Edwardstone in Aintree last year,” Mullins added.

“This year he’d run too bad to be true, so it would be easy to write off those runs and in Leopardstown he was back to himself. Maybe he’s a horse that performs better later on the year and into the spring.”

Mullins’ third and final DRF winner came on Il Etait Temps, who profited from the demise of another high-profile stablemate in Facile Vega. The pair could clash again in the curtain-raising Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Mullins said: “He gave Facile Vega a fright at Christmas and it was probably a race that didn’t work out for my horse. I tried to make the running and missed the first and followed Paul then.

“The last day it was a truly-run race and I think there was no fluke about the manner of his victory. Obviously Facile didn’t really turn up, but even if he had turned up my horse wasn’t stopping hitting the line and I think he’ll be able to give him a run for it in Cheltenham.”

Whether the rider will get the opportunity to ride the above trio again remains to be seen, with his uncle famed for leaving it late before finalising running and jockey plans.

Mullins, though, is content to wait, safe in the knowledge that supposed second and even third strings from Closutton are capable of making an impact on the biggest of stages.

He said: “I think our jockeys here close at 12pm and at 11.55am before the Dublin Racing Festival there were still a few blanks in a couple of races! My agent was ringing me and asking me if I had heard anything and I said ‘no, we just do the usual – we sit, we wait and we see!’.

“With Willie, if I didn’t ride well next week I wouldn’t get the rides the week after, so you need to be on your game all the time, which has pushed me to be a better rider every season.

“Every year I go back and try to find out where I can improve. There’s plenty of other young lads who are trying to find that improvement themselves, so it’s no time to be sitting back and relaxing – you have to keep going forward.”

It is clear Mullins will not be taking anything for granted, but he is ready to seize every opportunity he is given with both hands.

He added: “At the Dublin Racing Festival I got a spare ride and won a Grade One and in the next race I was laid on the flat of my back, but that’s horse racing – you take the good with the bad.

“Cheltenham is Cheltenham. It’s probably the week of the year where us in horse racing get to hit the mainstream media and get recognised outside of our sport.

“It’s very important day in, day out to be performing well, but Cheltenham is the place where it hits the headlines in all of the papers and everybody is talking about it.”

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