First Encounters: ‘Once you’re off the track, you’re friends’

Danny Mullins and Martin Harley in conversation with Frances O’Rourke

Danny Mullins at Listowel Racecourse. Photograph: Dominic Walsh/PA Wire

Danny Mullins is the retained rider for racehorse owner Barry Connell. He is the grandson of trainer Paddy Mullins and a member of the Mullins racing dynasty. He was first apprenticed to Jim Bolger. Originally from Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny, he now lives in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow

Martin and I would have first met pony racing, but we wouldn’t really have become friends until I started working in the trainer Jim Bolger’s yard. That was the summer when I was 15: we were both apprentices there for a few years. We were living in the same house and we got on like a house on fire. We were both well able to work hard but we were no strangers to having fun at the same time.

I suppose we spent a good bit of time around my homeplace, Goresbridge – it’s only 20 minutes away from Bolger’s yard. We’d go home in the evenings after work, go off shooting, or on quads, or go out at night together – we’ve spent an awful lot of time together.

Jockey Martin Harley on Samitar Mandatory at the Curragh. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

When you’re in the same yard, you’re competing against each other 90 per cent of the time and it got very competitive on the racetrack. But once you’re off the track, you’d always be friends.


I was there for about four years, then my weight started to go: so I turned my attention to riding over the jumps.

I don’t feel I’ve missed out by becoming a jockey so young – when you’re 16, you’re into a man’s sport. I had no interests as a youngster other than being a jockey. I missed out maybe on the likes of going to college – but you can still go to the parties. Myself and Martin never drank, so we were able to enjoy ourselves without a drink.

My late grandfather was the trainer Paddy Mullins (my parents and both my uncles are also trainers). When my grandad died I was 17. He had an unbelievable ability to understand his own horses. I’d consider becoming a trainer, but there’s an awful lot of stress in it, compared to riding.

I went over to England but didn't get going there; so I returned home, then I got a job as [retained/) rider to Barry Connell. When Martin went to England, things quickly clicked for him and he was snapped up very quick; now he's after getting the number one job with Marco Botti. We haven't drifted apart. We're on the phone to each other once or twice a week, chatting as we're driving to races.

I didn’t see the race in March when Martin fell. I was travelling, so just saw it on Twitter, so then I rang his sister to find out a bit more. I’ve been chatting to him plenty and he’s in good old form. Falls are part of a jockey’s life but you don’t like to see lads taking heavy falls.

Martin has stepped up the ladder and gets to spend his winters in Dubai. I’m a jump jockey and get to spend my winters riding around here in the muck. I might make a trip to see him in Dubai next year.

The Gowran Park Centenary Race Weekend takes place today and tomorrow, Paddy Mullins was inducted into the inaugural Gowran Park Hall of Fame last night

Martin Harley is a stable jockey to the trainer Marco Botti in Newmarket, England. He is a nephew of the jockey Paul Harley, and he rode for Jim Bolger before going to England. He is originally from Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and now lives in Newmarket.

It all started off with pony racing. That’s where I met Danny. I was probably about 12 or 13 years old. You’d do that every Sunday. It could be up in Donegal or down in Kerry; it could be all over the country. He always came across as a good guy, and definitely had plenty of talent. He was a good person, very well-mannered.

He was definitely bred in the purple: the Mullins name was something to look up to. He was very easy to get on with. We just kind of clicked. He was a good character and always liked a laugh – we just blended in together basically and went on from there. For character you’d have to give Danny 10 out of 10. No matter whether it’s a good day or a bad day, he’s always in top form, always pulls a joke out of something.

We both dreamed of being professional jockeys – no matter how young you are, you always dream of that. When I was 17, I made my way down to Jim Bolger’s yard – we really became better friends then, it’s where we really linked up, and spent four years there. He left before me and I left within four months of that.

Me and Danny went right through the ranks together: he got quite tall and went jumping; I managed to stay on the flat.

You do live, eat, breathe horses at that stage . . . when you're turning professional. You have to have a strong hunger for it. But me and Danny did go out. We used to go into Carlow on nights out. We always lived our lives. Danny was quite interested in shooting; if he wasn't racing on a particular day, we'd go off shooting rabbits, messing around like that, or maybe go out hunting with a few dogs.

I left Bolger’s when I was around 19 or 20 and I went to England. It’s been very lucky for me. It’s just three months [since a bad fall at Lingfield] but I’m okay now. It wasn’t the worst injury of my career – I had a bad fall in Clonmel one day and broke two vertebrae in my back. Danny contacted me straight after my accident, to make sure I was okay, as friends do.

We keep in touch, Skype and whatnot. We’re still close friends now even though we’re not working together. When Danny’s over in Cheltenham I try to make the trip down, even if it’s only for a night out and the next day, I’d go out of my way to see Danny, as he would for me. I know both of Danny’s parents very well: he has his mother Mags’s work ethic and his dad Tony’s character – his dad is a very funny person. Give his mum [the trainer Mags Mullins] a good mention – she looked after me very well when I was in Kilkenny for the few years. She was my mother down there, when my other mother was in Donegal. It was like being part of the family down there, the way they looked after me.