Home » Blog » david casey exclusive interview willie millins

David Casey Exclusive: Man Utd Fan Willie Mullins’ Secrets to Success Lie in Local Pub, But He Could Sprinkle Stardust on Anfield and Replace Klopp

Andy Newton
David Casey exclusive interview

Speaking to Kentucky Derby Betting Sites, Willie Mullins’ assistant trainer David Casey has explained what makes his boss tick after yet another hugely successful season for the Closutton maestro ahead of the Punchestown Festival this week.

Powerhouse trainer Mullins secured a historic British and Irish Champion Trainers’ title this season – the first to achieve the feat in 70 years since legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien – and bagged nine winners at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, as well as landing the Grand National at Aintree with I Am Maximus.

Casey works closely alongside Mullins every day and has revealed the secrets behind the yard’s successes this season, which includes the trainer heading to the pub twice a week to put the world to rights, how he juggles having 200 horses at his yard at any one time and the one race Mullins has yet to win that he is desperate to land.


Question: Sandown was nip and tuck before Mullins pulled away and the yard sealed the trainers’ championship. what an achievement. A day afterwards, can you digest just what he and the yard has done?

David Casey: “In November the yard had had just one win in 12 starts in Britain. The fact it hadn’t been done for 70 years since Vincent O’Brien tells you how hard it is and what a phenomenal achievement it was.

“Testament to the man and the fella that he is. It’s hard to think there’s ever been a more dominant jumps trainer.”

Q: To walk in the shoes of Vincent O’Brien tells you something?

DC: “He set the standard, probably the greatest trainer of all time. To do what he did when he did it was remarkable. For us to be able to replicate that is magnificent.”

Q: Can Willie do it again [retain the UK jumps trainers’ championship] next year and match O’Brien’s feat?

DC: “He can. But I am not sure he will set out to do it. It’ll be a little bit like this year and see how the season is going.

“You have a look where you are maybe after Cheltenham and how Ireland is going. I think we would concentrate at home first, and not lose sight of that. Who knows after that.”

Q: How challenging is it competing on all fronts?

DC: “It can make it a little bit busy. But it depends on the type of horses you have and if you have them for the races. It makes it easier obviously if you do.”

Q: Willie said the celebrations would be huge after Sandown. Were they?!

DC: “We had a few drinks at the races myself and Ruby and a friend of ours. I got back pretty early flying back from Heathrow, because I was riding out on Sunday morning and we had declarations for Punchestown on Tuesday.

“I couldn’t be too wild as I had to be on the ball this morning. Willie was pretty much on the ball too. I don’t know how late he stayed or where he went. He was alive pretty early on Sunday morning.”

Q: Define what makes Willie tick from your perspective. You have known him for 30 years and have seen it from the inside and out|?

DC: “He does everything by the eye. He trains from the eye, but not necessarily what you think they need to do. He might do something different with every horse.

“Since the day I walked into the place, he has tried to improve the facilities and what does.

“He never ever stops learning and looking for the smallest thing that maybe will improve the quality of the horses and the yard. To where he came from to where he is now, you can see that.”

Q: How long can his dominance go on?

DC: “He will go on for a good few years yet, as long as he wants to. At the moment he has the same enthusiasm as he did when I first walked into the place. Until that wanes, why not keep going?”

Q: Tell us something about Willie we don’t know? What makes him tick?

DC: “He plays golf maybe once a year. He would watch a good bit of sport. He used to play rugby. He likes to be around the horses and around the yard most of the time.

He goes down to the local, the Lord Bagnall, a couple of evenings a week with his pals. Friends who he’s had for many years and have a craic and solve the problems of the world.”

Q: Where does football fit in?

DC: “Willie ribs me about football. He is a Manchester United fan and I’m a massive Liverpool fan. I would be bordering on fanatical. It’s a bit worrying really!”

Q: What about Klopp going then?

DC: “I wasn’t expecting it. I am actually going to the Wolves game, the last of the season. I booked the tickets before he announced he was going. There I was thinking they might have been worth a few quid, but now they’re worth nothing!

“Arne Slot from Feyenoord is taking over. I don’t know a whole lot about him, but you have to trust the people that are there. They made the right choice in Klopp and in picking players. They haven’t done too badly of late, so you have got to trust them to make the right decision again.”

Q: Where does your passion stem from?

DC: “From the age of four. I come from a big soccer family. My father used to manage the League of Ireland side Waterford United. My uncles played for Waterford.

“I remember watching Liverpool when I was a boy and seeing Kenny Dalglish, and my father told me Kenny was the greatest player he had ever seen. From there on I kept watching them every week.

“I told Kenny that one night and relayed the story to him. It would be good if Liverpool could enjoy some of the Willie stardust now.”

Q: Does he ever relax? Go on holiday?

DC: “More so now than he used to. Jackie, his wife, does drag him away for a couple of days maybe after a big Festival like Cheltenham. In the summer he goes away for a week or so, maybe to France or Italy. Jackie likes to de-stress him for a couple of days.”

Q: Does it help that he has such a good team around him now like you?

DC: “I think so. We are all there for a fairly long time. I started with Willie 30 years ago. Dick Dowling, the head lad, has been there at least 20 years.

“The core team has been there a long time, they know the routine. They know the way he thinks as much as anyone can know what goes on in his head! We know how he likes the yard run and we just get on with it.”

Q: Who will take over?

DC: “I imagine Patrick will train at some stage. I don’t know exactly when. He already has a fairly big input into five or six horses in the yard at the moment, dealing with the owners.

“Patrick will eventually take over, but when that will be who knows. He might have to take a barn of his own first depending on how long Willie carries on.”

Q: Family means a huge amount to Willie, doesn’t it? Losing his mother must have been tough.

DC: “It was. She was a great woman to be around and loved going racing, especially Cheltenham. She is dearly missed.”

Q: Punchestown is coming up. What can we expect from your galaxy of stars?

DC: “We will run plenty. The fact that we were going for the UK trainers’ championship means certain horses won’t pitch up this week. And some will be running again after being to Aintree, which is not ideal.

“We still have the core, Galopins Des Champs, State Man, Ballyburn, Gaelic Warrior, they are all primed and ready to go. They are all in good order. We are hoping for another good week.”

Q: Anyone you’re looking forward to seeing?

DC: “Ballyburn. We love him. Willie compared him to Faugheen after Cheltenham. We thought he was pretty good before the Festival and we would have been very disappointed if he didn’t win at Cheltenham.

“But to do what he did on the day looked pretty spectacular. So we’re looking forward to him and Gaelic Warrior was awesome in the Arkle.

“And Galopin des Champs got beat last year in the Gold Cup at Punchestown by Fastorslow, who will be coming into this a bit fresher. It will be tough to beat them.

“But it would be great to win the three Gold Cups (Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown) in one year. That would be a special performance.

“Lossiemouth in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle. I saw her working on Saturday and she is in top order. She is a great mare. She has really strengthened up and improved from her juvenile campaign. Hopefully she’ll put in a great performance on Saturday.

“Then there’s State Man. Ruby [Walsh] rode him the other day and said he was in great order, so hopefully he can emulate his Cheltenham performance. He does like Punchestown.”

Q: So all in all a special week to look forward to?

DC: “You would hope so. But they’re all coming back from Cheltenham and it is the end of their season. So some of them won’t turn up as good as they have been, but at the moment at home they all seem fine.

“It is a Festival that we really love and looking at the declarations for instance for Tuesday, it looks like really competitive racing. We can’t wait to get going.”

Q: Last year Paul Townend rode 11 winners at Punchestown. It would be good if he could do the same in the race for the jockey’s title against Jack Kennedy.

DC: “We are fighting on all fronts for him. He’s seven behind as of the start of the week, so I think it will be tough for Paul. Jack is a brilliant rider and has had a phenomenal season as well.

“I can almost guarantee five or six winners for Paul, but Jack has at least a couple of good things as well. We will do our best for Paul. He will have to be on his A game to do it.”

Q: What exactly is your role?

DC: “I am called the assistant trainer. But I do a bit of everything. I still ride out, I school the horses and ride to work most days. I do most of the entries with Willie and the declarations.

“Sometimes you have to be a bit of a Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former United Nations secretary general, to keep the peace in the yard and keep an eye on the staff and make sure they are okay.

“If you notice people are having a bit of a problem, you offer your support to make sure the yard is happy. I deal with owners at really busy times who are looking for plans for their horses. It is a broad sweep of things.”

Q: How does Willie juggle all the big owners and keep everyone happy?

DC: “We do our best. Obviously, some horses have to run against each other. When you get to that point, you tell them that it’s the best horse that wins.

“It is not easy sometimes, but they seem to enjoy the experience and stay with us. We try to accommodate everyone as much as we can.”

Q: How big is the yard in terms of horses and staff?

DC: “There are 200 horses on site at all stages and maybe 60 staff with 45 people riding out on any given morning.”

Q: Is the Melbourne Cup on the agenda again?

DC: “Very much so. At this stage, Vauban and Absurde will go back down and have another go. Absurde ran very well, while Vauban was a little bit disappointing.

“We will gear his season to Melbourne this year. Last year he came off a jumping campaign. We’ve freshened him up and given him a break since Melbourne and we’ll maybe stick to a Flat campaign this year.

“He is a horse that definitely has the ability to be competitive in the race. We made a decision to ride him the way we did but it was probably the wrong one on the day. Hopefully we will learn from it and not make the same mistakes again.”

Q: Is it the race Willie wants to win?

DC: “Yes. We have been placed a few times, and hopefully we will get the right horse to go down there and do it someday. I imagine it is nagging at him now as we have got so close. Max Dynamite was only beaten a neck by Prince of Penzance in 2015. We have
also had a fourth and a fifth.”

Q: Can you compare Willie in sport to someone like Bill Shankly in terms of his total domination being so consistent and so successful for such a long time?

DC: “Maybe it is more like Sir Alex Ferguson. I think Willie should be recognised as one of the greats in sport. Maybe because of the sport we are in it is harder to be.

“But I can’t understand why Willie’s achievements haven’t been more widely appreciated. It will be interesting to see after this season whether he is recognised in the big sports awards of the year as one of the top managers.

“It would be disappointing if he wasn’t. Racing might not have a high enough profile in some people’s eyes.”

Q: What would have been Willie’s favourite win do you think?

DC: “His first winner, first Cheltenham, maybe Florida Pearl the first flag bearer. But it would be difficult to look beyond Patrick winning the bumper on Cousin Vinnie. That was Patrick’s first Cheltenham winner. To see your son do that is special.”

Q: Is the Irish Gaming Regulation Bill a concern for the sport?

DC: “It has to be in one way. If they can’t put gambling ads on the television and the two racing channels are threatening not to show Irish racing, because it doesn’t suit their market, then you cant show off your product would be hugely concerning and impact
betting and then prize money.

“On the other hand if people can’t watch racing on the television, maybe they will attend more. But broadly it would have a negative impact.”

Q: What can racing do to widen its appeal and boost its profile?

DC: “What they do well in Ireland is the student days. A lot of people would say they are an excuse for a p*** up.

“But I saw a huge amount of young people on Irish Grand National day at Fairyhouse. They were drinking, but most came out of the bars and watched every race. The young people did seem to have a real interest, which is so important for the next generation that they keep coming back.”

Andy Newton
Andy Newton

Andy Newton is a horse racing handicapper who specializes in key race trends for the biggest events in sport around the world. His statistical approach to finding winners is one that has paid off time and time again. Check out the latest trends and Kentucky Derby stats from Andy on the site.