Author: Duane Fonseca
FORMER UAE Champion Jockey Richard Mullen says landing Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s retained UAE rider role felt like an early Christmas. Mullen was appointed in September in a call that came absolutely “out of the blue”. Accepting the offer might have been a no brainer for the English rider, who had a winner in the famous yellow and black silks in Britain when riding eons ago for Alec Stewart.
The 45yo kicked off this new chapter as first choice rider at the Jebel Ali operation where Nicholas Bachalard is the head trainer last Friday in his backyard and opened his account the following day at Sharjah when guiding the Abdallah Al Hammadi schooled Kasaied to a battling victory in a 2000m maiden. Leaving Satish Seemar’s Zabeel Stables towards the end of last season after 16 years wasn’t an easy thing to do, but Mullen is looking forward to his new endeavour.
“I feel like I’m 21 again and starting from fresh,” Mullen told Al Adiyat. “It’s given me a new lease of life. I know I have some big shoes to fill because some unbelievable jockeys have been associated with these silks and now to say you’re the face of Jebel Ali it’s really exciting. “I think it’s the first year going into the season in a couple of years that I’m really excited about what lies ahead.”
Mullen said he didn’t know what lay ahead of him after deciding in March to step down from his role as first choice rider at Zabeel with whom he rode numerous big winners including his only two career Group One successes, with Reynaldothewizard and North America in the 2013 Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen and 2018 Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3, respectively. “The offer to ride at Jebel Ali came out of the blue. Back in March, I didn’t know exactly where I was going. I was on a path that did not have much of an ending.
“Obviously, I had done 16 years with Zabeel and a lot of marriages don’t last that long, so I really didn’t know what lay ahead. My plan was to come back and freelance and see where it took me, but then the offer came from Nicholas six weeks back and it was like Christmas coming early. “This is the one job I’d always had my eye on and always wanted because there have been so many fantastic jockeys that have donned the fantastic silks of Sheikh Ahmed.
Going back there have been riders like Lester Piggott and the late Pat Smullen, Johnny Murtagh and Kieren Fallon and there’s some big boots to fill. It’s a huge honour and I feel privileged. “Funnily enough, my first ever ride here in 1998 was for one of Saeed bin Suroor’s horses who ran in the colours of Sheikh Ahmed so it’s kind of gone full circle and I am really excited.”
Bachalard’s operation enjoyed a very fruitful 2020/21 campaign with eight winners from 52 dispatches, which further included nine runner-up placings and five thirds. There is plenty to look forward to this season too according to Mullen, who should get plenty of Purebred Arabian action as he partners with Al Asayl Stables. Mullen won the 2008 National Day Cup in their colours with Fryvolous, a big seven and a quarter length winner of that race.
Mullen added: “Nicholas has some nice horses, some nice fresh stock and it’s exciting. We saw last year what he could do if he had the ammunition and it’s exciting going forward with the Thoroughbreds at Jebel Ali and then with the Purebred Arabians to have Al Asayl to fall back on. “It is an absolute privilege to be associated with Al Asayl and to be riding for Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan Al Nahyan, her father Sheikh Sultan and her grandfather His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE President.
They are a huge stable with a huge amount of history here. “It is another huge job so I kind of still wake up and pinch myself because it was very different coming back this year not knowing what was going to happen. We have to do things right and the only way I can repay the faith shown in me is by getting some winners and that’s what I aim to do.” Mullen is happy with what he has seen at Bachalard’s yard.
“They have the horses we’ve seen last year and they’ve also restocked with some young horses,” Mullen revealed. “Some 2yos have come in and some horses have come from Europe so there’s a lot of fresh stock. I think that’s the thing that was lacking at Jebel Ali a few years back, but I think Sheikh Ahmed has his appetite back for racing with William Haggas’ horse Addeybb winning all those races. “Sheikh Ahmed belongs at the top.
Those colours are famous and he deserves to be challenging and at the top and hopefully we can do that here and win the big races.” Mullen might have admitted to feeling like a 21yo, but the man of experience that he is, he says he feels no pressure. “I’ve always said pressure is for tyres and cookers and I’m neither of those,” Mullen added.
“You put pressure on yourself and I feel there is no pressure because I feel I’ve probably earned the right to be employed by them. “I’ve been very lucky and successful and Jebel Ali has always been a very lucky racecourse for me so if I can bring home the winners I’ve had in the past here for the local team there won’t be any pressure. “We’re gonna have the crowds back soon, so it’s all building up towards what is hopefully going to be a successful and trouble free season.”