ONE week after becoming overcome with emotion when the majestic Mecca’s Angel surged to a heartwarming victory at York’s Ebor Festival, Paul Mulrennan is still pinching himself that he is now a Group One-winning jockey.
“There are bigger and better jockeys who retire without ever winning a Group One. I’m definitely one of the lucky ones,” says the Boroughbridge-based rider who shed tears of unashamed pride after the pair beat the all-conquering American ace Acapulco in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes.
“I was at York when Frankel won the 2012 Juddmonte and he didn’t get the reception coming in that Mecca’s Angel got. The reaction of the crowd was unbelievable – it meant the world. I have no reason why, perhaps it’s me and the trainer Michael Dods being from up North and it being someone different to the usual suspects.
“This is what gets every jockey out of bed in the morning – all you want to ride is good horses. She’s top class, she’s in the Champions League and it’s put me on another pedestal.”
Like Mecca’s Angel who was a £15,000 bargain buy, Mulrennan has risen through the ranks to become one of the most respected members of the weighing room.
Born in London, he did not ride a horse until he was 16 – but his progress has been helped by an insatiable work ethic that brought him to Yorkshire following stints with the British Racing School.
After serving his apprenticceship with the now retired Middleham trainer Patrick Haslam, the likeable rider became part of the furniture at the legendary Mick Easterby’s Sheriff Hutton stables before his ‘old mucker’ Dale Gibson – a former rider who is now a leading light with the Professional Jockeys Association – persuaded Mulrennan to team up with up-and-coming Darlington trainer Michael Dods four seasons ago.
It is a partnership that has become increasingly prolific – not only did Mulrennan, 33, record his first-ever century of winners in 2014 but Mecca’s Angel has now eclipsed horses of the calibre of Blue Spinnaker, Dandino and Moviesta by winning at the very highest level.
This is a fantastic filly who has blossomed since making her racecourse debut at Thirsk in May 2013 when she finished fourth in a four-way photo-finish. It was some race, the winner Ventura Mist went on to land the prestigious Hilary Needler Trophy at Beverley.
However, it was not long before Mecca’s Angel won the first of her seven victories to date, including the Group Three Prix de Saint-Georges at Longchamp in May before connections opted to miss Royal Ascot because of unsuitably fast ground.
It was a prudent move – her target was the Queen Mary Stakes in which the aforementioned Acapulco, trained by Wesley Ward, streaked clear of Mecca’s Angel stablemate Easton Angel, who won this year’s Hilary Needler at Beverley and is a top prospect in her own right.
Not only did this race enable Mulrennan to see Acapulco in action, but it filled him with confidence for the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival in spite of his mount having to concede 24lb to the two-year-old American tearaway in various weight and age allowances.
“I was just praying right up to York that it would rain – and it never stopped on the Tuesday,” said Mulrennan, who will serve a ban for the first two days of next week’s St Leger meeting at Doncaster over use of the whip at Musselburgh. “I remember doing a television feature on Racing UK at the start of the year when I said Mecca’s Angel would win a Group One – and that she just needed her conditions. I knew she was very well in herself.”
The five-furlong sprint could not have worked out better – Acapulco, and her lightly-weighted jockey Irad Ortiz Jr, blazed a trail before Mecca’s Angel reeled in the young pretender and then pulled clear to win by two emphatic lengths.
The win was even more special because Mulrennan’s wife Adele, and the couple’s five-year-old daughter Scarlett, witnessed this coming of age victory.
“They weren’t going to miss it for anyone,” said the jockey, who confirmed that Mecca’s Angel will return to Lambourn to contest the Prix de l’Abbaye, Europe’s top sprint, in early October. “It was no fluke, she ran going away from the favourite. It was the best feeling in my whole riding career.
“Hopefully there’s more to come. Mecca’s has only raced 14 times. She has a great constitution, a great temperament. She’s very straightforward. She jumps the gate good and has a high cruising speed and a good turn of foot.
“You couldn’t ask for more. Michael’s great too. He never gets giddy or excited.
“He doesn’t start jumping round the place shouting and hollering, he is cool and laid back and this rubs off on his horses.”
And Paul Mulrennan.