Seen any groundhogs your way? In racing the New Year began much as the old one had ended. At Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture, the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle feature race ended with Danny Mullins driving to victory Stormy Ireland, a horse trained across the water by his uncle Willie Mullins, after their only serious rival Brewin’upastorm had fallen at the last. Six days earlier, at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, it had been the same story with Tornado Flyer, ridden by Danny and trained by Willie, capturing the £142,000 prize for the celebrated King George VI Chase after his closest rival had capsized at the final obstacle. But while Stormy Ireland had been fairly well supported at 4-1, Tornado Flyer was a 28-1 shot.
Few in their right mind would have been attracted to back an animal with a record of P35225435 through his nine previous starts in lesser contests. Tornado Flyer hadn’t won a single race since December 2019 and his only Grade One victory ever had been in a ‘bumper’ with no obstacles. Danny Mullins’s apt post-race comment was: ‘When you’re riding for Willie, you’ve always got a chance, no matter what price they are.’ But for an English racing community desperately hoping that they can this year find some equine talent to repel the Irish raiders after the 23-5 drubbing at last year’s Cheltenham Festival it was salt in the wound. It looks as though even the potential discards in the leading Irish yards can come over and win our top races.
Look a little deeper into the King George and there can be some consolation. Being told on ITV that Danny Mullins has earned the soubriquet of ‘the thinking jockey’, 20 times champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy muttered: ‘I wouldn‘t do that too often, Danny.’