Young Danny showed so much ability in riding 126 winners on the pony racing circuit, that his parents, trainers Tony and Mags Mullins, agreed he could leave school whilst still only 15 and go as an apprentice with Jim Bolger. He had his first ride in May 2008, within days of his 16th birthday. A treble at the Galway Festival that year marked him out as a real talent. His first ride over hurdles came in December 2009, although it took a little over a year before he gained his first success over timber.
He has ridden several horses for Connell, and showed Cheltenham racegoers what he’s made of last November when he partnered Anonis to a 25/1 success in bumper at the Open meeting. Mum had a lot to do with that success, preparing the horse to win after an absence of 605 days.
Explaining the decision to sign up a retained rider, Connell told the Racing Post, “The operation has got to the size where it would benefit from having a guy working for me full time. I need someone committed to me and that’s why I’ve made this move. I’ve called round all of the guys who train horses for me and the reaction has been good. There will be no exceptions here. Danny will ride my horses across the board.”
It’s a great opportunity for the young jockey, who will inevitably come under comparison with cousins Patrick and Emmett. He must have a strong chance of rapidly overhauling their achievements to date. The offer appeared to have taken him somewhat by surprise, as he said, “I’m stunned. I never thought it would happen.”
Mullins will be back at Cheltenham for the Festival in March, where Connell has several horses likely to run. Whilst Mullins knows some of these, such as Glam Gerry and Black Benny, he has yet to ride others, including Champion Bumper favourite, Golantillo.
And while he says he’ll miss working at uncle Willie’s yard, where he’s learned an awful lot from his uncle, and jockeys Ruby Walsh and Paul Townsend, he’s up for the challenge. “This is a wonderful opportunity and makes the next few weeks very exciting. I can’t wait to get stuck in.”