David Mullins keeps cool to win Grand National with first ride in the race

Mullins family’s domination of jumps racing hit another high when David, a nephew of Willie, the distant leader in the race to be champion trainer, sprang a 33-1 surprise on Michael O’Leary’s maiden chaser Rule The World

Amid all the celebration of Grand National success as the winning connections reflected on their great good fortune was one line indicative of some distress elsewhere. “Bryan changed his mind, twice,” reported the winning jockey, David Mullins, referring to his colleague and rival Bryan Cooper, who had first choice of several runners here and finally jumped the wrong way.

When the “final” round of jockey bookings were published on Thursday, Cooper’s name was next to that of Rule The World. But within an hour he had moved himself on to First Lieutenant, switching with Mullins. Lingering hope of a drying surface may have informed Cooper’s choice but when the rain came overnight and all through the National buildup, he may have guessed that the low-weighted Rule The World was the one to be on.

First Lieutenant, who walked through the first two fences in last year’s National, did no better this time and crashed out at the second, taking Cooper with him. Around 10 minutes later, it was the supposed back-up jockey who was in the winner’s enclosure.

And just to emphasise Mullins’s junior status, he immediately had to go and get on another horse for the final race of the day. The race in question was restricted to amateur and conditional (for which read “apprentice”) jockeys – scheduling that was deliberately intended to avoid a need for the National-winning jockey to go back out again minutes after achieving his moment of greatest glory.

But the 19-year-old Mullins is still a conditional and not even an especially experienced one, at that. He rode his first winner over fences just a year ago and even now has only 17 to his name, the Grand National being the first chase winner he has had outside Ireland.

Hopefully, the big race brought him legions of new followers. If so, they got a quick reward because, 55 minutes after the National, he cruised to the lead once more aboard Ivan Grozny, a 16-1 shot who came home 16 lengths clear of the field.

Ivan Grozny’s trainer is the jockey’s uncle, Willie Mullins, a man you may have heard of. He is the dominant jumps trainer in Ireland and, now, if we are being entirely honest with ourselves, Britain as well. For any young jockey, riding a winner for Willie at a major racing festival is a tremendously good idea and Mullins Jr was clearly aware of that. It was one of the first things he mentioned when finally hauled in front of the Channel 4 cameras, ostensibly to discuss the Grand National.

Mullins Sr was understandably brimming with praise for his nephew, pleasure in an unexpected final success to close a big week mingling with familial pride. “He gets horses jumping, he keeps them so well balanced,” the trainer said.

“Horses really relax with him, jumping. Because that horse, Ivan Grozny, he takes an awful hold and I was amazed the way he settled him in midfield and just came through, very relaxed. He’s quite a hard horse to ride but David just gets him relaxed.”

Of the jockey’s character, Mullins Sr added: “He’s very quiet, takes in everything. He’s really just committed to his riding, he loves race-riding. I don’t think there was much else in his head [as a child], race-riding was what he always wanted to do. He’s very cool.”

The younger man was already getting plenty of quiet mentions as a jockey to watch back in November, when he was given the ride aboard Nichols Canyon in a top-class race in Ireland and somehow got him to beat Faugheen, the reigning champion hurdler. It remains the only time Faugheen has been beaten on a racecourse.

Willie, who trains both Faugheen and Nichols Canyon, did not appear entirely pleased to be reminded of that moment here, when it was suggested that was an early sign of the jockey’s skill. “That’s all dead now,” the trainer eventually managed, smiling. Perhaps even in victory, no trainer likes to be reminded of the defeat of one of his champions.

Meanwhile, David was cheerily giving interviews to anyone who asked, carrying himself as if in a trance, wearing a blissful grin. “You dream of things like that, to happen,” he said. “Everything went to plan. I couldn’t ask for much more.”

Well, not quite everything. Rule The World rocked the fourth-last fence and his jockey rolled around in the saddle in consequence. But Mullins shrugged that off with a sportsman’s insouciance: “It was the only thing that went wrong all the way through the race. You’re always going to get one little thing and thankfully that was it.”

“He’s an old head on young shoulders, great racing brain,” said Rule The World’s trainer, Mouse Morris. “And he didn’t panic. He could have got anxious and gone on, he could have done anything bar win the thing. But he was cool out there, for a young fella.”

“There’s this endless line of Mullinses,” added the winning owner, Michael O’Leary. “If they’re not producing Grade One horses, they’re producing top-class jockeys.

“Today is David’s day but it would be remiss not to say also that Bryan Cooper is our retained jockey. He’s had a brilliant week this week. David was fortunate today, particularly when the rain came, to be on the lower-weighted horse. Bryan unfortunately was on the higher-weighted horse but that’s the way it crumbles.”

There will certainly be other days for Cooper. Grand National-winning jockeys, meanwhile, do not always enjoy continued success, but the future could not look much brighter for David Mullins, the laid-back jockey who takes second-string rides and grabs the glory.


Chris Cook at Aintree

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