IT was early last Thursday morning when Danny Mullins walked by Jonathan Moore on the way out to ride work around Cheltenham. The pair exchanged hellos and Mullins got on about his morning routine – riding out for his uncle Willie Mullins, chatting with the other riders, looking ahead to the third day of the Festival.

It was afterwards, when Mullins was getting changed out of his riding gear that he heard Moore call him over.

“Johnny just said he was in too much pain,” he recalls. “He was saying that he couldn’t use his body the way he would like to and that he wasn’t going to be riding that day and that he was going to put my name forward to Gavin (Cromwell) to ride Flooring Porter. I said I’d be delighted to ride him.

“I went back to the hotel and met Gavin after that and he said that all had been cleared up with the owners and I would ride the horse.”

Later that day, after discussions with Moore and Cromwell, Mullins bounced Flooring Porter out in front in the Stayers’ Hurdle, just like the six-year-old had been ridden to win earlier in the season at Navan and Leopardstown.

The distance the horse put between himself and the field wasn’t as big this time but he was always travelling well and jumping well in front, and Mullins was statue-still coming down the hill. By the time the field turned into the straight, it was clear he had everything in trouble.

Flooring Porter held a two-length advantage at the last before making a slight jink after that flight, just like he did at Leopardstown, but Mullins was ready for that, Moore had warned him. From there the pair went straight and true to write the most remarkable chapter in an already remarkable rags-to-riches story yet.

Passing the line, it was pure ecstasy for the 27-year-old.

He had gone close at Cheltenham before. He rode Arctic Fire for a closing-in second to Faugheen in the 2015 Champion Hurdle. Our Conor was a leading contender for him in the same race the year before but took a fatal fall. He finished second on his mother Mags’ Debuchet in the 2017 Champion Bumper, and a neck second on Carefully Selected in the same race the following year.

He finished a short-head second on Concertista, a 66/1 shot in the 2019 Mares’ Novice Hurdle. And in a quite a peculiar twist of faith he rode the 33/1 shot Milsean to finish second to Martello Tower in the 2015 Albert Bartlett, the winner trained by his mother and owned by Barry Connell, who had sacked him as a retain rider earlier that season.

But racing is a funny game. As Mullins said himself, everyone wants to ride for Willie at Cheltenham. He had about 40-odd Festival rides for his uncle without a winner, and then his first comes on a spare for another trainer.

One person’s gain is another person’s loss and National Hunt jockeys know this better than anyone else. Of course you feel for Jonathan Moore, who has played an integral role in the progress of Flooring Porter and lost out on his own Festival first, but a suggestion that among the euphoria, there was any semblance of guilt for Mullins, is batted away assertively.

“To get my first Cheltenham winner was brilliant,” he reflected this week. “For it to be one of the feature races, it’s unbelievable as well. An amazing feeling and the lack of crowds made absolutely no difference to it.

“Once I pulled up and walked around, Johnny was the first man I saw. Obviously it was tough for him but it was fantastic from him that he was the first one there to congratulate me.

“Guilt is not the right word. I’ll be lying on the ground some day and Johnny will pick up a good ride from me, that’s the life of a jockey. If you don’t accept that, it’ll be a very sorry road for you. Johnny knows he will recover and he’ll be back on Flooring Porter the next day. I got my moment in the sun but as I said over there in a few interviews, a very small part of it was down to me.

“This was all the work of Gavin Cromwell, Johnny Moore and the syndicate who bought the horse and showed patience with him earlier in his career. I was just privileged to get my leg across for my moment of glory but all the other cogs in the wheel had the hard work done.”


The career of any professional jumps jockey is a rollercoaster but it’s fair to say Danny Mullins went through his fair share of loops early on in the ride.

Having come through at the Jim Bolger academy, he rode plenty of winners on the flat, which was an excellent start but as his claim went down, his weight edged up and when the latter got to an unsustainable level, his move to the jumps came out of necessity and without the significant push-start of a claim.

Still, he made a good fist of it. At the age of just 20 and with only 25 winners ridden over jumps, he took up a much sought position as retained rider for the big-spending Barry Connell. He secured Grade 1 wins on The Tullow Tank and Mount Benbulben, but less than two years later he was sent down again when Connell ended the arrangement. At 22, Mullins had to build things back up again, but he has done that and 191 winners (and counting) in Ireland over the last five seasons is the evidence of a ship steadied and heading in the right direction.

“I will be forever grateful to Barry Connell to be the first one to put me in a position to ride a lot of Grade 1 horses,” Mullins reflects.

“Time moves on and I’m still riding a lot of good horses and I get great opportunities from Willie. That has put me in a position where I am a go-to rider for a Grade 1 race for the biggest festival of the year. To win on Flooring Porter was fantastic, because I was rewarding Gavin’s confidence in me.

“It’s very difficult to get spare rides in Ireland but with all the hard work over the years, improving my riding every year and the more big-race experience you get, the more confidence owners have in you and I’m really enjoying it.”

He agrees with the suggestion that the early body blows have stood to him now: “I suppose if you get everything too easy when you’re young you can get caught up in a sense of entitlement. Horse racing is a game for gratitude not entitlement.”

Mullins had a reputation of being a bit of a messer when he was younger but it’s to his credit he is more describable as a grafter now. He works in Willie’s, plays an integral part in mother Mags’ operation and then rides work for whoever he can. Then, aside from the race-riding, he spends a lot of time in the gym, taking advice from Enda King from the Santry Sports Clinic with the aim of developing his body to withstand the falls better and therefore reduce time on the sidelines, “swinging the percentages” in his favour.

Just after Flooring Porter and Mullins passed the line last week, Ruby Walsh said on ITV that Danny is one of the hardest working people he knows in racing.

“I work hard,” he asserts when that affirmation is put to him, allaying that anything otherwise would be bogus.

“I take nothing for granted. If I can do some more work to create more opportunities, I definitely will. There’s probably some riders who don’t look at it like that and they are maybe in a more privileged position than I am.

“I love all the rides that I get and if I can create more opportunities, I’ve no problem working 25 hours a day to get them. If it’s something you love, it’s not work really, it’s more of a hobby and you get paid for it. That’s the beauty of this game, as long as you can take the good days with the bad, you keep going and you’ll really enjoy it.”

Where did that attitude to work derive?

“My mother,” he asserts. “She always worked very hard. She’s probably the single biggest inspiration in my career.

“She has always been there for me, ferrying me around Ireland with showjumping ponies, to bringing me from Dingle to Donegal to ride in pony races. Myself and my brother are very fortunate to have a mother like her who will do everything she can to help us progress through life.

“To see her work ethic day in day out, I really admire what she does and the operation she has built up at home. I take an awful lot of pride when she has a big winner or she has produced a nice bumper horse or a nice point-to-pointer. Most of them are sold on but there is an awful lot of pride in that small stable and you see first hand the amount of hard work that goes into it from a small team.”

"I take an awful lot of pride when she has a big winner or she has produced a nice bumper horse or a nice point-to-pointer." Danny with his mother Mags in the winners' enclosure \ Healy Racing


Mullins has rode at least one Grade 1 winner for the last eight seasons and this year he already has three. Indeed his season so far can be defined as one where he has taken maximum advantage of opportunities granted.

At Limerick, he made the most of hot favourite Asterion Forlonge’s fall to win the Matchbook Faugheen Novice Chase on Colreevy. He successfully deputised for his retired cousin David on Kemboy to land a huge win in the Irish Gold Cup. And last week, he moved in to break his Cheltenham duck on Flooring Porter.

David’s decision to retire at 24 shocked the industry and Mullins was as surprised as anyone but he speaks with pride about his cousin’s bravery to make such a call: “This is a game where there is an awful lot of punishment so if you’re not in love with the game, it’s not a game to stay in. There’s a lot more bad days than good days and it was a very brave decision on his part to walk away.

“He’s only 24. Because of the unbelievable amount of success he’s had, people always assume he’s older but he’s at an age where he can do anything he wants in life. There’s probably a lot of people that felt pressure into staying riding longer than they should have.”

It seems safe to say that Danny will be riding as long as he can, following the advice of his father Tony who said the best days of his life were those spent in the saddle.

Last week showed that the competitiveness of Irish racing is at fever pitch, with little room for error or standing still.

“We’ve seen last week how high the standard is within the jump racing ranks,” he replies. “The standard of horsemanship is unbelievable and I suppose fortune favours the brave. The big guys are operating at a top-class level but small trainers that have ambition will get results.

“Paul Hennessy is the perfect example. I’d ride a lot of work for Paul and I’ve ridden Heaven Help Us in the dark more than I have in the light simply because we work well together as a team and Paul is keen to get my feedback. He tries to pick and choose everything to achieve success. He has always been brave with her and I was delighted to see her and Richie Condon win for him last week.

“I remember going over to ride the mare at Cheltenham when she won a maiden hurdle at the October meeting and Paul was crying after the race. For her to go back and win at the Festival is an unbelievable reward for the bravery he has shown.”

Ten different trainers sent out 23 winners for Ireland at Cheltenham last week, 18 more wins than the home team which has led to questions being asked of where the British jumps racing industry is at. Is a 23 - 5 scoreline a true depiction of the current playing field?

“The standard of Irish racing is unbelievable and the Dublin Racing Festival has brought Irish racing forward again,” Mullins says. “The prize money up there is unbelievable and the competitiveness of the racing there has riders and horses so sharp before they go to Cheltenham.

“They’re match fit and they’re ready for it from flagfall whereas maybe some of those British horses have been running around in five- or six-runner races.

“Even before the domination of the Irish at Cheltenham this year, I thought it was disappointing to see no British horses coming over to have a go at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“They complain over there about poor prize money and yet they wouldn’t come and have a go. I think they’re really going to have to do that to up their game.

“Even some of the horses that got beat at the Dublin Racing Festival went on to win at Cheltenham. The perfect example was The Shunter. He didn’t jump fast enough at Leopardstown and finished maybe a disappointing fourth but Emmet liked what he’d seen that day, had the foresight to go to Kelso and line up for a tilt at a £100,000 bonus and then what the horse had learned at Leopardstown really came through with the way he jumped at Cheltenham – that was no accident.”

Whether there will be British-trained horses at Punchestown remains to be seen, but there is plenty to look forward to for Danny Mullins and he’ll surely be hopeful of providing further evidence of his ability as a Grade 1 race rider. This Mullins member is a coming force and his ambitions continue to tow his progress along.

“I’d like to win all the big races and I’d like to be champion jockey,” he says. “I’m not yet in a position where that’s going to happen in the very near future but the likes of that success last week brings me up another level that I’m seen as a person you can go to for those big days and hopefully that will open up more doors for me.

“There’s not a jump jockey in Ireland that wouldn’t like to be number one to Willie. Paul Townend does a fantastic job and he’s in a position to be champion jockey every year that he stays injury free. Everybody would aspire to that.”

Colreevy gave Danny Mullins a Grade 1 win down at Limerick at Christmas \ Healy Racing