By Pat Smullen
We’ve had two really good festivals over the last week and the quality of racing at Goodwood was superb. Again John Gosden and Frankie Dettori took centre stage but I think the highlight was really Deirdre (Jpn) winning the Nassau Stakes. Japan is such a great racing nation and I think we’ll see more and more Japanese horses coming in this direction to race and that’s only good for the sport and for international racing.
I hope that the connections of those Japanese horses racing in this part of the world would look at a race like the Irish Champion Stakes en route to the Arc. We all know that the Arc is the race they want to win, but it would be amazing if we could attract them to come to race at one of the premier races in Ireland, and it is very exciting to hear that it’s a race under consideration for Deirdre.
Galway is a long week of racing and obviously it’s a bit different to Goodwood with its mixture of Flat and National Hunt racing. I think it works very well and gives lots of people an opportunity to be competitive at such a good festival.
Last week was dominated by the Mullins family. In Ireland we’ve always been fortunate to have some great racing families but I think it’s quite remarkable what the Mullins family is achieving at the moment. At Galway, we had two brothers and a nephew winning as trainers and then three cousins riding winners. Willie of course needs no introduction but his brother Tom trained two winners and their nephew Emmet had three winners during the week.
Their success all comes from their father and grandfather Paddy, who set up a unique training operation where Tom trains from now. Back in the day it was a simple, circular gallop and he trained lots of really good horses to win big races.
Willie has a huge number for horses in training but is very relaxed about life. He’s obviously a very intelligent man and has a great asset and his wife Jackie, who is an integral part of the business. Willie has been clever in surrounding himself by a good team of people and I think he’d be the first to admit that the whole operation wouldn’t work without that team.
Emmet is earning a reputation as a target trainer. He’s a young man and he wouldn’t have a huge string of horses but he targeted Galway this year and two of his three winners were for one of his main patrons, the Mee family. They love to have success at the Galway Festival and Emmet delivered again. He surely has a great career ahead of him.
Moving on to the riders, David Danny and Patrick Mullins rode winners through the week. David is a Grand National-winning jockey, Danny has been very successful on the Flat before turning to National Hunt, and what can we say about Patrick? His association with his mum Jackie and dad Willie has seen him break records as an amateur. There’s no doubt that Paddy Mullins established a remarkable dynasty.
I think because Ireland is such a small country, to make a living out of training racecourses you have to be able to adapt, and for the majority that means taking any horse to train to try to win races, whether that’s 2-year-olds or 4-year-old bumper horses. I rode a lot of winners for Paddy Mullins, then Willie, Tom and Tony, and though the main core of their business is National Hunt, they’ve always had a lot of Flat horses. That’s more the nature of Ireland, and it also comes down to the fact that they are simply very good horsemen.
Are Jockeys Team Players?
I’m really looking forward to the Shergar Cup this weekend. I’ve ridden in it in the past and won it one year with Richard Hughes and Fran Berry. It’s a unique day and it’s a great way to attract riders from all over the world and see the different riding styles and different personalities.
However, I’m not really sure that the format of teams is the right thing to do. When a competition is based on a points basis for teams, obviously you’re going out to try why to win as many points as you possibly can, so don’t tell me that if a jockey dropping back and your team mate is inside and going well you’re not going to insure he gets the run to try to get through and win. That’s only human nature and it’s how you’re going to win the competition.
It’s a day when the focus is really on the jockeys and on occasion that is nice, but every jockey knows we can’t do it without the horse. That said, it is nice to have the attention on the riders and great to have those international riders here and showcasing what an amazing racecourse Ascot is. It has been a successful competition from the outset and what the organisers are doing has been correct in the main, but I just wonder if it would be better to have an individual winner rather than a team competition.
I’ve been fortunate to ride in quite a few of the jockeys’ championships around the world, and in Japan and Hong Kong it’s all about the individual winner, which is probably the correct way to do it. I think every individual should be encouraged to go out there thinking they are the best rather than thinking about the team. You don’t survive in this industry if you think that you’re second best or third best. If you’ve earned your place in the competition then obviously people think that you are one of the best riders in the world. So I think it should be encouraged that jockeys compete to see who is the best on the day. It might just make it a little bit more exciting if there was an individual winner.
Once again there is a fantastic international line-up for the day and it is particularly interesting to see Nanako Fujita on the girls’ team. She has broken new ground in Japan as the only female licenced jockey in the JRA and isn’t that brilliant to see? We know that Japan is a very competitive environment for riders and for her to be riding on the JRA circuit is a fantastic achievement. Nanako also recently won the women jockeys’ championship in Sweden, so she is a lady with a lot of talent and I’m really looking forward to seeing her ride at Ascot.