Donn's Articles » David Mullins

David Mullins


When love breaks down, the things you do

To stop the truth from hurting you.

                                                – Paddy McAloon



The hunger was gone. The enthusiasm. The passion. His love for race-riding. 

It’s that simple really.

David Mullins isn’t sure when it left, when it started to leave. The 2019 Galway Festival, he thinks. Nothing happened. Nothing specific. There was no catalyst, no incendiary that he can point to and say, that was it, that was when the demise set in. And, actually, he had a good Galway in 2019. He won on Zero Ten, he won on Bercasa, he won on Dandy Mag, but it didn’t really seem to matter that much.

When he went out to ride Blackbow in the second race at Naas on Wednesday last week, he knew that that was it. He knew that it was his last ride in a race. He had cleared it in his head beforehand, he had said it to his mother, he had hinted to his colleague Paul Townend.

It would have been nice to go out on a winner, but he and Blackbow were always going to struggle to keep tabs on Paul Townend and Energumene. In the end, Blackbow finished third behind his stable companion and, as David Mullins pulled his horse up, he called over to Paul Townend. 

“That’s me gone anyway.”

His colleague just nodded.

“Yeah, I thought as much.”

There was no announcement of his retirement then, no proclamation. That wouldn’t have been David Mullins’ way. He just allowed people find out about it as and when they would find out about it and, actually, the news didn’t become public knowledge until Wednesday this week.

“I was just happy to be done,” he says. “It was a great feeling. To be honest, I was surprised at the attention that it got.”

He shouldn’t have been surprised. The retirement of a 24-year-old sportsman who has the talent for his sport that David Mullins has for race-riding is attention-worthy all right. Nine-time Grade 1-winning jockey, Grand National-winning jockey. And there was no event that forced his retirement, no career-ending injury.

“My passion for the game started with young horses,” he explains. “Looking at young horses with my dad, going to the sales, looking for potential, seeing how they would develop. It wasn’t a childhood ambition of mine to be a jockey. I did a lot of show jumping too when I was younger. My mum’s family is as big in show jumping as my dad’s family is in racing.”

A key member of his uncle Willie Mullins’ team, he bagged his first Grade 1 race as a 19-year-old in November 2015, when he made all the running on Nichols Canyon and got home by a neck from his stable companion Faugheen.

“I loved it then. I loved riding, I loved riding winners. You’re getting going a bit.  Then you get injured and you lose momentum, you go through a quiet spell. You get jocked off one. Momentum stops. You mightn’t have a ride for a week or 10 days.”

There were good days, great days. Rule The World for Mouse Morris and Gigginstown House in the 2016 Aintree Grand National was the best. And the ride that he gave him, the way that he tucked in and bided his time on the run to the final fence instead of going for home early, a 19-year-old riding in his first Grand National showing a patience and a guile that belied his lack of experience.

Faugheen in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at the 2018 Punchestown Festival, Al Boum Photo in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse in 2018. To be part of those horses’ stories. Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s 2018 Christmas Festival. 

“I used to go to Sligo or to Ballinrobe or to Listowel for one ride. You have to do it, even if the horse has no chance. Because that horse might run the next time in a race that it has a chance of winning and, if you didn’t go to Ballinrobe the last time, you won’t be riding it the next time. But I got to a point where I didn’t want to do that any more.”

Injuries are part of a National Hunt jockey’s life, but the timings were poor. He broke his collarbone and punctured a lung in a fall at Ballinrobe a month after he won the Grand National. A serious back injury sustained at Thurles in October last year saw him miss the core of last season. Two days after Ruby Walsh’s retirement at the 2019 Punchestown Festival, just after he had gone up another notch in the pecking order at Willie Mullins’, he broke his collarbone again.

“Every jockey should be jealous of Ruby Walsh,” he says thoughtfully. “Everything about Ruby Walsh, every jockey in the weigh room should be jealous of him. But the attribute of Ruby’s that I was most jealous of in the last few years, the thing that I envied most about him, was the fact that he had retired.” 

He could have kept going for another little while, until the end of the season at least. Punchestown, he was thinking. This can be a lucrative time of year for a National Hunt jockey. The Dublin Racing Festival is in two weeks’ time, then there is Cheltenham, Aintree, Fairyhouse, Punchestown. The Willie Mullins second or third strings are great rides at those meetings. But his heart wasn’t in it.

“I was getting to the stage where, if I gave a horse a bad ride, I’d excuse it easily. Sure I’m retiring anyway, I’d tell myself. It wouldn’t have been fair on owners or trainers to stay going until the end of the season.”

What’s next for David Mullins has not been fully determined yet. Something with horses for sure. Probably young horses. Get back to where his passion began. Fall back into love with the game. He is a clear-thinking young man with a rare affinity for horses, and he is free to choose his own new path now.


Fall be free as old confetti.

And paint the town. Paint the town.


© The Sunday Times, 24th January 2021