While Sam Waley-Cohen rightly grabbed the headlines for winning the Randox Grand National on Noble Yeats, his trainer Emmet Mullins is quietly working his way into the big time.
Of course, when your uncle is the master trainer Willie Mullins, and your family is steeped in racing history, you have a bit of a head start on mere mortals.
However, this is a sport where nothing is ever handed to you on a plate. Uncle Willie is not going to recommend to his owners they send a good horse to his nephew when he can still train it to win himself, thank you very much.
Emmet has been given a helping hand, being allowed to use his uncle’s facilities on occasion for example, and he was a more than capable jockey himself, riding Sir Des Champs to win at the Cheltenham Festival.
He also rode Faugheen to victory as a novice hurdler, but training was always going to be his vocation.
Mullins first grabbed the headlines last season via the exploits of The Shunter, who won the Greatwood Hurdle, the Morebattle at Kelso and the Plate at Cheltenham – securing a £100,000 bonus in the process – before finishing second in a Grade One at Aintree.
JP McManus bought him after his Cheltenham success so he must have been doing something right and when the Waley-Cohens came calling for Noble Yeats after he chased home Ahoy Senor at Wetherby, Aintree was always going to be the aim. But Mullins confessed it was in his thinking long before then.
“Today was the plan, and it’s nice when a plan comes together,” said Mullins
“I didn’t get to see much of him early doors, but going away from the stands I had to take a breath and I said ‘this is a winner’s position’. It was the perfect spot on that second circuit.
“That last circuit, everything just seemed to fall into place. I would say I’m understandably shell-shocked!
“When he crossed the line my heart was doing 10 to a dozen but it has calmed down now. It just hasn’t hit me yet I suppose.
“He’s my first runner in the race so it’s going to be hard to keep this strike rate up!”
No seven-year-old had won the race since Bogskar in 1940 and many might have waited a year. But Mullins is clearly one for breaking with convention.
“Everything had gone perfect with his preparation. I said to Sam last night there was nothing I would have changed, I was happy with the horse and didn’t want to do any more or less work, everything was perfect,” he said.
“We put cheekpieces on him and to be fair that was Sam’s idea after we spoke after Cheltenham – he didn’t travel as well as he can there and got himself into trouble. They were just to help him jump and travel and while it took a bit longer to get that position, I suppose they did their job.
“I gave Sam as much advice as I could before the race as he’s a funny little character, but the rest was down to Sam.
“I never had any worries about his stamina and everything went right on the day, he was always going to gallop to the line.
“It was great for them to put their trust into me. For anyone to buy a Grand National horse it takes a huge amount of trust and it was brilliant we were able to repay them.”
He added: “You might not believe it, but I started thinking of the National when he ran in March 2021 and won a maiden hurdle at Navan. He picked up an injury that day but he was always going to be a staying chaser.
“We tried to go down the handicapping route and pick up a big pot, avoiding the graded races.”
Asked about the age-busting stat, Mullins added: “Stats are there to be broken – so his age wasn’t a worry.”