David Mullins, the Irish jockey who rode Rule the World to Grand National success in 2016, has announced his shock retirement barely five years later.
He made the announcement on Wednesday (January 20) in an exclusive interview with The Racing Post, in which he declared his ‘heart wasn’t in it’ anymore.
The 24-year-old, who won nine Grade 1 races in a hugely successful – albeit short – career, also suggested that the lifestyle required was also harming his wellbeing.
“When you leave school at 16 you feel trapped into being a jockey. It’s relentless. There is no break,” he said.
“You’re always on call. If you decide not to go to Sligo for one ride on a 33-1 shot you’re called a lazy f***** for not getting up off your arse and going. And, I’ve been called that many times.
“I just found that as a jockey you were always on call and never got a break. I’ve been trying to figure out loads of different things to do, but when you’re in the bubble it can be very hard to think outside of that bubble.”
It’s not been a decision that Mullins has taken lightly, nor a moment of rash ‘lockdown inspired’ thinking – he’s known since the Galway summer festival of 2019 that he wanted to escape the sport.
“When you’re in the racing bubble and riding horses it’s very hard to think outside of that bubble and I needed to get out of it.
“I was definitely going to retire at the end of this season , but it would have been unfair to owners and trainers if I continued to ride on any longer when my heart wasn’t in it.”
A lack of financial security was another reason that the young Irishman mentioned in his wide-ranging interview with the Post. Despite a stellar CV, he never found himself a permanent home as a jockey, and reflected on having to eat the crumbs from the table of Paul Townend – only securing top rides when he was injured or booked elsewhere. Mullins intimated his regret in ‘putting all my eggs into the one basket’ with his namesake trainer Willie, rather than expanding the number of connections that he rode for.
Mullins also spoke of the psychological pressures of being a jockey, and how one win might not necessarily invoke feelings of joy if his day’s other rides had resulted in slim pickings.
“The bad times definitely outweighed the good,” he said.
“There were times when I might ride a winner, but I would come home depressed because the other three didn’t win.”
It is something of a curiosity that David Mullins wasn’t the first name trainers and owners turned to when looking for a jockey given his outstanding record in the saddle.
He will be best remembered for that National win aboard Rule the World – especially those who had backed the 33/1 shot with the 19-year-old rookie in the saddle, but big victories on Faugheen in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown and Al Boum Photo in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse that confirmed his elite status.
Ironically, it was Mullins who engineered the end of Faugheen’s lengthy unbeaten run, producing a tactical masterclass in a front-running display on Nichols Canyon in the 2015 Morgiana Hurdle – the first of his nine Grade 1 triumphs.
In the end, Mullins enjoyed 211 winners in Ireland alone – 19% of which were in Graded races, which is an extraordinary achievement.
All the more impressive is that he accomplished so much in and around a devastating fall at Thurles in 2019, in which he fractured his clavicle and a spinal vertebrae. Medics confirmed he was lucky not to have been paralysed – or worse – in the incident.
As for the future, Mullins hasn’t ruled out staying in the sport as an owner or trainer., following in the footsteps of his father, Tom.
“I love the sales and I really enjoy going to Goffs or Tatts and buying and selling horses. I like judging horses and trying to figure out what they might make,” he said.
One investment, Court Maid, is already an eight-time winner over fences.
Who knows, maybe in the near future there will be another Mullins to factor into your thinking for the Cheltenham Festival….