Perseverance has been the driving force behind Richard Mullen’s career.
He had more than 100 rides before he won his first race in August 1995.
He had to wait nearly 17 years for his first Group 1 prize and, two weeks ago, on the cusp of 40 he was crowned the UAE champion jockey.
Mullen’s first career victory was achieved on the Stan Moore-trained Burnt Sienna at Windsor. He celebrated his first Group 1 prize – the 2013 Dubai Golden Shaheen – onboard Reynaldothewizard owned by his main patron Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed and trained by Satish Seemar.
“I think winning the championship is extra special because it’s not just one race, it’s an accumulation of a whole season’s and a whole year’s work,” Mullen said after receiving his award during the Dubai World Cup draw at Meydan.
“It was nice to get my head over the line and now I’ve got one, I want to do it again. It’s very special but you always look forward and look to the future.”
Seemar, for whom Mullen has been the stable jockey for nearly a decade, said the title was well overdue.
“He has missed it many times and very narrowly at times, and nobody deserves it as much as Richard this season,” the Zabeel Stables trainer said.
“His success also backs the stables results. It is a big team effort and Richard is an absolute team player.
“He is a cool and calm person and the horses can sense it and that’s the best attribute a rider or jockey can have to put that calmness and confidence on the horse.”
Mullen has the opportunity to make his best season in the UAE even more memorable with two rides booked on the Dubai World Cup card.
He rides the Julian Smart-trained Djainka Des Forges in the Dubai Kahayla Classic and Surfer for his Zabeel Stables in the Godolphin Mile 40 minutes later in the second race.
“In these big races, you get a buzz every time you ride,” Mullen said. “Whether it’s a regular season race or a World Cup, I approach it in the same way. I’ll sit down with the trainer and we’ll discuss the race as we do every time, whether we’re riding in a local meet at Meydan or any other place, we sit down and we go through the race.
“We go through every horse in the race, how we think the opposition is going to be ridden and what tactics we’ll adapt ourselves.
“We do the exact same preparation, we leave no stone unturned on how we’re going to approach a race.
“There are butterflies on the bigger occasions but now I’ve got the monkey off the back and we’ve won big races.
“You get butterflies but once you’re onboard you relax and all your preparation mentally is done. Once you get on the horse, get him out the gate, it’s a bit exciting.”
Mullen first arrived in Dubai as an apprentice to ride for Godolphin in 1998 and, having served for four winters, he became the stable jockey for Jaci Wickham at the Metropolitan Stables.
Ali Rashid Al Raihi took over the stable at Metropolitan in the following season and that year Mullen was tied for the jockey’s title with Ted Durcan, but lost on a countback of second-placed finishes.
Mullen was then approached by Sheikh Rashid to become the second jockey to Durcan at the Zabeel Stables where he has been employed since.
“The first time I set foot in the UAE, I just loved the place. I fell in love with it and it was a place I always wanted to come back to, like I was very privileged to come back every season.”
Mullen’s earliest horse-related education was riding the couple of ponies at home at the age of six but it was football that he wanted to make his life’s occupation. He did, though, have a problem with that ambition.
“I realised I wasn’t very good at that and I wasn’t getting any bigger,” he said.
“It’s funny, because my grandparents kept on telling me that I would make a good jockey because of my small size.
“I never really gave it much thought until I was in school and I did a work experience with the late (Donald) Ginger McCain, who trained national hunting horses (including Red Rum, the only horse to have won three Grand Nationals).
“I went to work for him and I realised, from the two weeks I was there, that that was what I wanted to do. I used to go there every weekend, summer holidays or school holidays, after school.
“For two years I worked for him, from the ages 14 to 16. He was a jump trainer and there wasn’t must choice for me. I was very small and he decided it would be a good idea for me to go to Newmarket, to the racing college.
“I did the nine-week course there and from there I went to trainer Michael Bell, served my apprenticeship, started as a lad and ended up getting my licence. It took a while for the penny to drop.
“I remember my first winner at Windsor over a mile. Like I said, I had 100 rides before my first. I was sort of prepared for the first one and that was fantastic. Once I had the first I wanted the next winner to come quick and fast.”
Mullen has plans to ride in Japan during this summer after riding in Mauritius in the past two years since relocating his family to Dubai three years ago.
Follow us at our new home on Twitter @NatSportUAE