Patrick Mullins will be bidding to make it third time lucky in the Velka Pardubicka when he gets the leg up aboard defending champion Mr Spex at Pardubice on Sunday.
The decorated amateur rider is yet to complete in the challenging four-and-a-quarter-mile cross-country contest, having fallen from Kaiserwalzer in his two previous attempts in the famous Czech contest.
However, he has a Pardubice specialist on his side this time around, with Lubos Urbanek’s nine-year-old not only the winner last year, but also third in 2021.
“It’s a hugely exciting day and it’s an honour to be asked to go and ride last year’s winner,” said Mullins. “It’s a fantastic opportunity and I can’t wait.
“This is my third time going over and I’ve had a few seconds and thirds in some of the other races but no joy in the Velka yet.
“Mr Spex won last year and was third the year before, so he would have to have a huge chance and I’m hoping for third time lucky. He has a fabulous record around the track and a clear round would be a great start, but I’m hoping we will be bang there at the finish as well.”
Charlie Mann was the last British rider to triumph in the Velka Pardubicka when partnering It’s A Snip in 1995, but no Irish jockey has ever won the unique contest, which Mullins has many fond memories of from down the years.
He added: “I remember Richard Dunwoody going over one year to ride Risk Of Thunder and Ruby (Walsh) went over one year and broke his leg in a race before the Velka.
“When you watch the videos of it, it is proper National Hunt racing. To be a part of it and compete in it is a privilege.”
Despite failing to complete in his two previous spins aboard Kaiserwalzer, the County Carlow native believes the Pardubice cross-country circuit compares favourably with both the Cheltenham and Punchestown equivalents.
And although having to encounter the famous Taxis and it’s formidable five-metre ditch, he embraces the different proposition the Czech track presents.
“They are slightly different but at the end of the day they are just jumps,” he added. “The horses have run over them before so you are trying not to interfere with them too much.
“The Taxis is very wide but the rest of them would be very similar to the Punchestown and Cheltenham cross-country tracks.
“The water jumps are slightly different, they are flat water jumps. They are wider and there is no upright in front of them. They are probably the most different jumps, but at the end of the day they are just jumps.
“I like the variety, I think it makes it exciting and interesting and it is a very special race.”
Back on home soil, the record-breaking amateur has made a stellar start to the 2023-24 campaign, bringing up his 800th career winner at Listowel last month, and currently leads the Irish jump jockeys’ championship.
Mullins now anticipates a slight easing in the numbers ahead of some of the stable’s main hopes striding out onto the track in the coming months and believes there is plenty of ammunition in Closutton to look forward to.
“We’ve had a superb start and the bumper horses have been running out of their skin,” he said.
“We will probably have a little bit of a lull now, with our summer team coming to an end and our winter team about to begin, but it looks like we have plenty of soldiers to go to war with in the winter and I’m looking forward to turning the screw with them over the next six weeks or so.
“We’re kind of the end of November before ours start coming out, so we’re a bit away yet.”