"I’d be tearing my hair out in the stands but that's what I loved about him"
As Willie Mullins looks ahead to the Dublin Racing Festival, the realisation that his team is down a key man for now and forever nags away.
Just a fortnight ago, David Mullins announced his retirement from race-riding at the age of 24. One of the most naturally gifted jockeys of his generation, David said that the hunger was no longer there, and that he had fallen out of love with the game.
Willie was surprised and in a reflective mood, he wonders out loud whether any jockey will be able get the same tune out of one of his quirky stable stars Kemboy, with whom his talented nephew had a special relationship.
“Kemboy seemed to be back to himself the last day. David’s retired since, I wonder will anyone else get on as well with him, we’ll have to see!”
A tinge of sadness rings over Willie's normally unflappable tone.
The weigh room has lost one of its most talented riders 🏇
At the age of 24, David Mullins has hung up the whip after a career that will be forever remembered for his 2016 Aintree Grand National win on Rule the World.
Nobody enjoyed it as much as his younger brother Charlie ❤️ pic.twitter.com/rkIF6Lbq4Y
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 20, 2021
Willie paid tribute to his nephew who he says rode with a natural instinct and a unique confidence from an early age.
“I was very surprised when he told me to be honest. He had a very bad fall when he broke his back and was airlifted out of Thurles and he had another fright, another bad fall in Galway. It takes time for any athlete, jockey, footballer or hurler to come back from those types of falls. I knew things weren’t going…things might be going alright some days but other days, they just wouldn’t be working out (for him.) I kind of thought, ‘right, it’s taking him time to come back,’ but I never dreamt that he was going to retire. So it was a complete surprise to me when he said it.
“He said he’s going to continue riding out for us until the summer while he’s getting his own plan together with where he wants to go himself. So he’s still here every day and he’s in great form actually. A lot of the guys are saying that now that he has that weight lifted off his mind…look it’s tough for a young fellow at that age to say that he’s not enjoying riding especially with the opportunities that he could have here.
“I thought he was a very gifted rider, he had a natural instinct. He probably never listened to me any day he went out and you know, I’d be tearing my hair out a lot of the time in the stands, but he was right a lot of the time and that’s what I loved about him. He had a natural instinct on how to ride, he just needed the right horses and needed people to have trust in him and you know, we had trust in him here. It’s very hard for someone that age I think, to realise that they’re not getting the same fun out of it as other guys his age. That was tough for him."
Looking ahead to Cheltenham, the Closutton maestro hopes that the current restrictions preventing amateur jockeys from travelling overseas are taken away. The ruling would keep his son Patrick from riding at the festival.
"I'm hoping that something can be done because we've about eight weeks to go and hopefully the figures on both sides of the Irish Sea will be better and governments will be looking at things differently. That's the best we could hope for at this stage."
"Certainly he would be a top member on our team at Cheltenham - he could have half a dozen nice rides, especially with David retiring, it puts him in for a lot more. He's a top guy to have on your team over there," said Mullins.
"We've discussed it, but there's nothing much we can do. Obviously there are talks ongoing. It's very unfair on the top English amateurs too, like Mr Waley-Cohen and Will Biddick. There are some top amateurs there and they look forward to Cheltenham like everyone else.
"I haven't fully read through the protocol that keeps them out of it because I feel things might shift about in a month or six weeks time, and there might be a chance they can ride at the Festival.
"I'm sure Patrick and the other amateurs will be doing their best and we'll be trying to help them as well."