At 8 o’clock yesterday morning Mouse Morris stood on the track at Aintree, sucked his cigarette and looked at Rule The World. The horse seemed hard and fit, Mouse rather less so. At 65 he has long abandoned the jockeys fitness that once saw him star at Cheltenham, and his Worzel Gummidge haircut hasn’t been tended much since then. But it was not him who would have to do the running. “I think I have him fit,” he said. He did.
His has been a long journey. His father Lord Killanin was a former head of the International Olympic Committee and as elegant a figure as Mouse is unreconstructedly scruffy. Public school education at Ampleforth was swapped for Frenchy Nicholson’s jockey academy where he once had the mixed pleasure of leading me up in France before the Grand Prix de Pau. But in racing he has done the rare double of graduating with honours both as a jockey and as a trainer. His skills in the latter department have never been better displayed than yesterday.
For while Rule The World had talent enough to run second to The New One in the Supreme Novices at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival he has been as plagued by injuries as he has been by the “seconditis” which has seen him finish seven times runner up in his 13 outings over fences. Any wonder that Mouse Morris might have taken from the result was magnified many more times by the thought of some compensation for the tragedy that saw the death of his son Christopher “Tiffin” in Argentina last year.
“I would have settled for third place,” said Mouse as he looked on at the heady scenes in the winners’ enclosure. “I would have been delighted with the way he ran if he had finished third. I think we got a bit of help from somewhere – he was doing overtime for me my poor old Tiff. It’s just Disneyland, fairytale stuff.”
“Rule The World has had two fractured pelvises and before that I always thought he was the best horse I had ever had. I still think I am right, so how good would he have been with a proper arse on him?” He had a nice weight and he is a class horse on his day. He has been running in Group One races and banging on the door and to win this is the next best to the Gold Cup and without a doubt Michael and Eddie O’Leary have been good to me.”
The Gigginstown Stud operation which is run by Eddie for his brother has become a massive player in the jumping scene but his tribute to his trainer was from the heart not the pocket. “This is an incredible achievement by Mouse, bringing the horse back from his injuries and winning the world’s greatest race shows what a genius he is. Of course winning a National does not make up for the loss of a son but victories like this show that life goes on and there is a future after such tragic losses. Jamie (Christopher’s brother) has returned home to help his Dad with the training and has clearly revolutionised the way they do things in the yard and while he hasn’t managed to get the old man off the smokes yet, he’s performed miracles today and can work on the smokes tomorrow.”
By contrast for David Mullins this was a dream beginning and he doubled up winning the Grand National at his very first attempt with taking the last race on Ivan Grozny for his uncle Willie Mullins. “It’s the stuff you dream of,” he said afterwards. “I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I have been given all season and to top it off with a day like this.”
“I was asked this time last year if I had a ride in the National – I said ‘no, I’ve never even ridden a winner over fences. To come back the following year, with 10 winners over fences and just to get a ride in the National, let alone win it was something.”
The abiding glory of the Grand National is the sense of renewal it brings as fresh young player comes in to take up its now almost two centuries of narrative. But, surprisingly considering his heritage, David Mullins did not imagine himself as any sort of a contributor to racing history.
“I did a lot of show-jumping as a chid,” he explained. “That’s all from my mother’s side. I never really had much interest in racing until I was about 15 when I realised that there’d be a few spare rides for me there some day!”
If that sounds laconic it only cloaked the emotion that hit him when he realised quite what he had done. “You can’t really believe it when you cross the line,” he said. “Your eyes start to swell up – the goggles weren’t doing me any favours as I was trying to pull them down and I didn’t know what to think. To be honest, I still don’t.”