Dan Sheridan/INPHO Patrick Mullins with Carefully Selected at Prestbury Park yesterday.
Rising Son

'There’s a part of me that has a fear of being born, growing up, living and dying in one small part of rural Ireland'

Patrick Mullins discusses life as a jockey, working with his father, lessons from Ruby Walsh and plans for the future.

1. PW

THE TABLE HAS a familiar look. PW Mullins, comfortably clear in the race to be leading Amateur, is closing on another title. This year’s championship comes with added significance: an 11th crown would make his the greatest reign.

“If I win the championship this year, that beats a record set by Ted [Walsh],” says Mullins. “For me, it’s significant. I think I should have it because of the horses that I ride. For me not to have it would mean I didn’t make the most of what I have. Nobody else has ever got to ride the type of horse that Willie has.”

His level of self awareness is not the only element heightening with age. He surveys the Cheltenham scene with a relaxed air, free from hard decisions for the season’s biggest festival and yet mindful how much experience counts this deep into his career.

“I’m a lot more laidback,” he states. “Maybe it’s turning 30. Once you’ve been stressed and you realise how not useful it is. This is my 13th year going to Cheltenham to ride. I probably should be getting to the stage where I’m less stressed.”

Dilemmas abound this time of year. All jockeys live for high stakes games but only the courted ones get to choose their cavalry. What to ride and what not to ride: such questions only riders can answer.

“I remember I had to decide whether to ride Scotsirish or Uncle Junior in the [2012] Cross Country,” Mullins recalls. “Other people mightn’t have seen it as a big decision but for me, at the time, it was. They had both won trials. They were both in good form. They were two very different horses. Scotsirish was more classy. You’re wondering would he stay. Uncle Junior was a real stamina horse and had won on the track.”

He plumped for Scotsirish, though the decision proved immaterial: they failed to complete. His cousin Emmet Mullins finished eighth aboard Uncle Junior, well off the pace.

Given the strength of his father’s string, the bumper often presents a conundrum. For the 2012 edition, Mullins had his pick of Bacardys, Battleford and Avenir D’Une Vie. He went for the latter: “I ended up nearly pulling up. Bacadys and Battleford were second and third. That adds its own stress.”

A settled mind eases the burden this time round: “I’m pretty sure I’m going to ride Appreciate It. That probably means a lot less stress.”

His most recent memories of the festival are coloured with disappointment: “Last year was a blowout completely. Two horses fell. Sharjah got brought down. Wicklow Brave got beat a snot on the line. And yet I was able to come out of it thinking I wasn’t devastated.”

patrick-mullins-celebrates-winning-the-matheson-hurdle-on-sharjah-with-his-mother-jackie-and-father-willie-mullins Morgan Treacy / INPHO Patrick Mullins celebrates winning The Matheson Hurdle on Sharjah with his mother Jackie and father Willie Mullins at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The maturing Mullins has come to appreciate both sides of the ledger. He can leave without a return and still feel assured his entries were sound.

“If Wicklow Brave had won, three inches, that would have made it a great year and, actually, what was the difference?” he ponders. “I didn’t look back on anything last year and think: ‘I did that wrong.’ Two horses fell and Sharjah got brought down. It can happen.”

Douvan falling in 2018’s Champion Chase broadened his scope: “I was thinking: ‘I should have done this and I should have done that.’ But, actually, he shouldn’t have fallen. When you’re a bit older and you’ve had a couple of wins there, and you’ve had a couple of losses there, you can see things more clearly.”

Vision enhanced leaves him wise to the bigger picture. Yet he retains his feel for intrinsic appeal: “Riding allows you not to grow up. You don’t have to grow up while you’re a sportsperson. I don’t see being a trainer as being a sportsperson.”


Expectation? Being the son of a famous trainer invites an obvious question. But the younger Mullins has a ready counter: he was not born on the throne.

As an amateur rider, WP Mullins made it to 40, winning the Cheltenham Bumper in 1996, his final year in the saddle. Back then, the feats of his father were casting a shadow. Paddy Mullins transcended the game. His successes still resonant: Dawn Run, the mare who famously got up to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, will always be mentioned this time of year.

Willie did not inherit an empire. Nor had he built one by the time his boy was old enough to know the facts of their world. Patrick recounts a familiar refrain: “When I was growing up, it was always: ‘Will we ever beat Noel Meade to be Champion Trainer?’ When I started riding was when Willie started to become what he is now.”

The tide turned in 2008 when WP secured his second championship. He has been champion ever since. Patrick’s career took flight in tandem: his first title landed the same season.

“I was lucky enough that it clicked quite quickly,” he reflects. “First couple of winners when I was 16. First Cheltenham winner at 18. Rode out my claim at 19. Being an Amateur and being at college, it was never a huge pressure that I ever felt anyway.”

Ambitions, modest at the start, were no different from any jockey setting out: “You want to ride any winner. Then you want to lose your seven pound claim. You hear people say: ‘He died with a seven pound claim.’ You didn’t want that said about you.”

Now those milestones line the road behind him, ever more distant. New markers appear each year, much like his father’s storied career. Do the similarities end there?

“Ruby says I’m very similar to Willie but Willie annoys the hell out of me a lot of the time,” he reveals. “So I hope I’m not. Willie is not very punctual, which is a family trait to be fair. I’ve picked that one up. If he’s meant to be somewhere at three o’clock, he’ll leave at three o’clock. That’s the way his mind works. He always misses the first race.”

Further probing unpacks a complex dynamic: “He can change his mind, which he’s entitled to do. We can clash on certain things. We’re probably both quite stubborn. That would be a Mullins thing. There’s quite a strong feeling of self righteousness. Even if you saw him giving a bollocking to someone, it’s gone. It is rare enough now.”

An image of Willie Mullins, outraged and unruly, is hard to summon. His public deliberations never deviate: they retain an even flow. What could enrage such an earnest measured man?

“People aren’t always like they come across on camera,” Patrick asserts. “People would have said my grandfather was the same. He would have been very quiet but yet he could explode at any moment. I think that’s a trainer thing.”

One incident sticks in his mind: “He was after getting his rails on the gallop cleaned. My horse was leaning over the rail to pick some grass and the rail cracks. He’s fifty yards away from me. There are thirty people between us: ‘Why don’t you go down and get the fucken tractor, drive it up and knock down all the fucken rails…’ I just nod and smile. Thumbs up. Everyone else cracking up.”

mullins-family INPHO Willie, Paddy, Tony and George Mullins pictured in 2002. INPHO

Life events have tempered the trainer’s outbursts, the volume noticeably lower following major surgery last summer.

“Since he got his heart operation, he’s a bit quieter alright,” son notes.

Now the hat stays on his head while he mutters fresh frustrations. Other aspects remain unchanged: “He’s always training off his eye. He doesn’t have lists. He’s on the gallop every morning looking at the horses. That’s always been impressed upon me that you have to be looking at them every day to see how they’re handling the training.”

Knowledge is absorbed in a way that makes him seem a savant.

“You’d learn a lot from him listening and watching,” Mullins says. “And then you’d disagree with him. You’d wonder to yourself: ‘Are you right to disagree with Willie Mullins?’ But yet… I’ve seen him be wrong. When you see someone all the time, you see them be wrong a lot as well. You realise that your father isn’t infallible, like.”

Wisdom passes more often than not: “The other thing is not to fall out with anyone because people will always come back. He’s seen people leave and, five years later, they come back.”

But time is not infinite and Willie Mullins has 63 years on the board. What lies beyond their immediate futures?

“I can see him training for another ten years,” Patrick ventures. “I’m in no rush to do it.”


To frame the career of an Irish sportsperson upsides Roy Keane has almost become cliché. Yet who could deny the similarities if Ruby Walsh was considered beside him

Patrick Mullins draws an important distinction: “Roy Keane was competitive and aggressive and Ruby was both but he [Keane] couldn’t help but challenge the manager when something was done differently to what he thought.”

Of all the patent skills that Walsh possessed, Mullins always admired the finer crafts.

“There’s more to being a top jockey than riding ability,” he insists. “He’s very good diplomatically. Several jockeys have found Paul Nicholls not easy to get along with. Willie can be – late decisions, changes his mind. There are times when he’s not easy to get along with.”

An old pearl crystallises his point: “A jockey can only win races if he’s on the right horses. To be on the right horses, you have to get on with the trainer. He wasn’t like Beckham, getting bigger than the team.”

Walsh’s ability to play the game was less apparent to punters. Perception is blinkered by outcome in the betting ring.

“You hear of trainers who give jockeys a bollocking in the parade ring in front of owners,” Mullins relates. “If a trainer says you’ve done something wrong and you’re sure you haven’t – it’s always an opinion anyway – Ruby would always take it on the chin. Especially after a race, you can still be wound up. Always with his boss, he knows that line.”

The end came like a thunderbolt. Walsh departed the scene the way he had arrived, making the same sudden impact. He hopped off last April, pumped from winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy, and after 24 years in the plate vowed never to return.

“That’s it,” he declared. “You’ll never see me on a horse again. I’m finished.”

For the public at least, that much was true. Away from the track, Walsh continues to ride out three days a week. Mullins still gets to work beside his hero.

“He’s heavily involved in where horses go,” Mullins explains. “He knows how Willie works. Makes sense that he should be still part of the team.”

Some things do change: “Ruby, before Cheltenham, would always get giddy. He’d be annoying you. Ruby’s sense of humour is: have a dig at someone. He’s not like that this year, which is very noticeable.”

willie-mullins-with-ruby-walsh-and-chacun-pour-soi Dan Sheridan / INPHO Willie Mullins with Ruby Walsh and Chacun Pour Soi yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Walsh is ever-present on the gallops but schooling horses no longer appeals. His logic, as Mullins attests, runs intuitive: “What’s the point in having foreplay if you can’t have sex?”

The thrill of jumping fences can be hard to resist. From what the younger man sees, contentment has become Walsh’s lot.

“Absolutely no sign of missing it and I believe that,” he affirms. “He went skiing two weeks ago, which he wouldn’t have done before.”

What then does Mullins value most in this doughty master?

He answers on a tangent: “I’ve seen Ruby fall at the last. I’ve seen Ruby fall off. I’ve seen Ruby get too far behind. And I always think to myself: ‘If I fuck up, I’ve seen Ruby do that!’ That’s a great comfort. It can happen to the best of them. That’s a great thing to remember. If you fuck up, it happens. Move on. Everyone is mortal.”


Every so often, a dormant feeling stirs: “I do think there’s a part of me that has a fear of being born, growing up, living and dying in one small part of rural Ireland.”

Life on another side. What would it look like for a horseman on top of the National Hunt world? Where would he go? What would he do?

Patrick Mullins, leaner than a boxer and granite tough, could slip through unnoticed only that he towers in most company. A looming presence, his 6’1” frame would support almost any sporting ambition except his chosen field. Genetics decreed that this Amateur rider could never contemplate the professional ranks. He was born into the game but hardly built for it.

“I’d like to ride as long as I can,” he emphasises. “It’s a far simpler lifestyle than training. Going training, there’s a lot of stress between staff and horses and bills. You don’t have that with riding. I’ve got a very comfortable job. I’m very lucky that way.”

Friends living abroad attract him to interesting places. London, New York and Paris hold obvious appeal but Berlin has particular intrigue. So far removed from the familiar open country of home ground, city dwelling seems a wild spin through exotic spots and unexpected destinations.

“I envy a lot of my friends from school,” he divulges. “A friend of mine works in Berlin. He’s very laidback, very Bohemian. He’s a DJ on the weekends. You can imagine the craic. He has his vinyls and his decks. He has a mullet and a moustache. I was in Berlin for three or four days and saw nothing of what you would see in the tourist books.”

Distant worlds drift into his mind, more vivid day by day.

“Maybe it’s because in my generation you have Snapchat and Instagram,” he muses. “I see my friends for the last four weeks, everyone’s going skiing. I wouldn’t because you risk getting injured at this time of year.”

For a moment, he contemplates life working abroad: “There’s a freedom to that. Obviously the grass is greener but it’s something I would like to do.”

American cities flit through his imagination as he remembers a road trip: “When I was 21, I drove across America. Myself and Emmet. Landed in Chicago. Hired a Chevrolet Camaro. Drove to Niagara Falls, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Kentucky, Memphis, Dallas, Amarillo, San Diego, LA, San Francisco. All we had booked was the flight in and the flight out. Everything else was off the cuff. Great trip. About six weeks driving around. I probably missed six winners. But, if I did it now I’d probably miss twice as many winners.”

patrick-mullins Bryan Keane / INPHO Mullins will have a busy week in the Cotswolds. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

America retains its hold.

“I’d love to go work in a city like New York,” he concedes. “It is some place. I have so many friends who are out there. I’d work in a bar or something. A completely different life. Especially at the moment, I don’t have a marriage or a mortgage. I might take some time and do that.

Then he reconsiders: “I probably won’t. It’s probably talk. I would like to ride until I’m 40 because it’s a great way of life. There’s a part of me that would hate to see someone else riding a horse and winning on it.”

The rider who set out with standard intentions can now achieve a significant mark. This milestone is close enough to calculate: if he keeps riding winners at the current rate, he will reach four figures ten years down the track.

“What do you do when you’re 60?” he wonders. “Do you sit down and tell people ‘Jesus, I rode 1000 winners’? You’d probably tell them about the couple of weeks you spent in New York. There’s that side of it too. When it comes down to actually walking away and leaving a few winners behind, I don’t know.”

The next race beckons.



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