For those privileged to be at Punchestown last week, it was clear (if it hadn't been before) that Willie Mullins is simply untouchable. As he was crowned Champion Trainer at the festival for a remarkable 17th time, the most successful trainer in Cheltenham history spoke about his extraordinary week and his extraordinary career with Miriam O’Callaghan and Miriam asked him to reflect on what was a hugely successful week at Punchestown:
"Unbelievable. We couldn’t believe it. You know, you’re hoping all the time that your horses will run well and that you’ll win something, but to win what we won was fantastic."
He’s the Champion Trainer, but Willie seems always quick to share responsibility for the achievements of the last week and all the success over the years:
"We have such a good team, you know? Starting off with Paul Townend, our jockey, getting things right, all my assistant trainers, Patrick, my son, David Casey, you know Ruby Walsh helps, his input is fantastic, Ben Delmar who runs the yard, of course my wife Jackie as well, none of this would happen without her."
Willie uses the word luck a lot:
"I’m lucky to have a fantastic team of people and also owners, you know, you can’t do anything without the owners who put in the investment to buy the stock that we have."
But it’s pretty clear that he’s made his own luck since he started his business in 1988. Back then he only had six horses – even though a minimum of twelve was the requirement to get a licence – and being a small operation meant a steep learning curve:
"When you’re starting off small with your own money and losing it, you learn very quick and that’s the way, you know, we were, Caitríona Carpenter from Carlow was our first – she runs a restaurant in Carlow now, Mimosa – and she was our first member of staff here, so just three of us, myself, Jackie and herself, and, you know, very small operation and we just built and built and been very lucky over the years with the people we’ve had and the people we’ve met."
There’s that word again. But luck – if it is a factor at all – is far from the main factor in Willie’s career and success. Miriam asked Willie if he believes his father – who was also a trainer – was the biggest influence on his career. There’s no equivocation from Willie:
"Oh totally. I mean, I – you know, it’s funny when you’re growing up with someone, you don’t realise what you’re learning. And I wondered, you know, how do you this, how do you do that and then it started to fall into place when I had to do it myself and think for myself. And even today if have a problem, I’d go back and think, 'What would he have done?’"
It took the young Willie a little time to come around to the realisation that working with horses is what he wanted to do:
"I didn’t realise myself until I grew older how much I wanted to do horses because they were there all the time and when they’re there all the time you don’t realise, you know, the love you have for it. And it’s only as you grow older you realise this is what you want to do and that’s where I got to. It’s what I know, what I love and that’s where we are."
Despite their father’s wish that they would get "secure jobs with pensions" when they were younger, Willie and all his siblings ended up working with horses:
"Tony and Tom both train, my brother George, he’s a huge horse transport business and, well of course, my sister Sandra worked and then got married and they bought a farm down in Glengarvon, Co Kilkenny, so she breeds horses down there and looks after other people’s horses as well, boards mares and things like that, so she’s come back too, from working to breeding horses."
It doesn’t stop there for the Mullins clan – the next generation of jockeys and trainers have already made their mark, with Patrick, Willie’s son, a very successful amateur jockey, nephew Danny’s in the saddle too and Emmet, a former jockey, is training now, then there’s Grand National-winning nephew David, now a bloodstock agent:
"They all love it and there’s plenty of room for everyone in it. It’s a big game."
It’s certainly big, and for Willie Mullins it seems to be a game that he just can’t stop winning.
To hear Miriam’s full chat with Willie, go here.