Navan boys with a passion for horses

Story by Conall Collier

Thursday, 30th August, 2018 7:15am

Navan boys with a passion for horses

17-08-18. Rory and Ben Mulligan. Photo: John Quirke / ©John Quirke Photography, Unit 17, Blackcastle Shopping Cte. Navan. Co. Meath. 046-9079044 / 087-2579454.

Meath man Paul Mulligan, his Leitrim wife Nora and sons Ben (13) and Rory (12) have a packed daily schedule that includes looking after about half a dozen equine stars from the pony racing world at their premises outside Navan.

That's not a major problem during the summer months with the benefit of school holidays, but that will all change this week as the schools re-open and the pony racing season heads towards a conclusion at the end of September.

While former jockey Paul heads for work in the construction industry, Nora and the boys make the short journey from their home in Navan to the stables to complete some of the less glamorous tasks that are necessary seven days a week.

While Ben and Rory are in charge of the steering duties at whatever circuit hosts the weekend action, there is also the daily grind or mucking out, riding out, grooming and cleaning that has to be completed.

Dad Paul makes his contribution when he gets home from work each evening. He completes his shift at the stables and then at the weekend has the role of towing the horsebox to the pony racing tracks that are spread around the country.

“We have six or seven in training, but I have to say at the outset that without the assistance of Jim and Dara Feeney, who own the stables, none of this would be possible, they let us use the yard and gallops for which we are very thankful,” he explained as he outlined the ambitions for the future of both Ben and Rory who hope to make a career in the ultra-competitive world of horseracing.


“Local trainer Joey Murrary has been very supportive and has ridden several bits of work with the boys at the Tankard (Navan), Skryne and Lee Valley (Ratoath),” added Paul.

“About two or three years ago the late JP Byrne was impressed with the boys, that was a great boost as JP helped nearly every young Meath jockey for the last 25 or 30 years, may he rest in peace, he will be sadly missed,” said Paul with a tinge of sadness. 

As a former jockey Paul is well aware of the demands and challenges that lie ahead, but for the moment he is quite happy to assist the boys as they learn their trade on the ultra-competitive pony racing circuit with action each weekend at venues around the country.

Speaking to the Meath Chronicle on Sunday night, Paul, Nora and the two boys were on the way home from the action at Ramelton in Donegal where placed efforts was the reward for all the work and and toil, but a valuable link was added to the learning curve.

The racing is organised in regions, Southern, Midland and North West and is a hugely popular spectator sport with the Dingle Derby the most well-known annual event.

That race was won by Emmet Butterly from Trim with Rising Tide in 2004.“I'm from Dunmoe just outside Navan, my wife Nora is from Kinlough in Leitrim. There are also a number of enthusiasts involved in the ownership of the horses that we have at the moment,” explained Paul.

“It's a hectic schedule during the season, Nora does a lot of work around the yard as well as looking after the housework and all that goes with that, she is from a farming background. I was pony racing before I ever went near the track, but then I worked in racing until I was about 30, I started off with the late JP Byrne and I was with Ger Lyons for a while.

“I was in England with Jimmy Fitzgerald, but when the boys were younger I decided to get a job in the construction industry, that was about 10 or 11 years ago and I'm still at that type of work.

“I brought Ben and Rory over to the riding school in Trim with Esther Keane, wife of trainer Gerry, the parents of champion jockey Colin Keane.

“That would be about eight or nine years ago when Rory and Ben were four and five and they started out like that, they learned the basics there and they enjoyed it, that was the main thing as far as myself and Nora were concerned.

“Then I got a quiet old racehorse for them, but I worked with the horse myself for a while and got her going like an old hunter, just to make sure it would be safe for the boys, she turned out to be fairly quiet.

“The two of them were tipping around the gallops and learning as they enjoyed what they were doing.

“All they wanted to do was go to the pony racing and about three years ago, Ben would have been about 10 at the time, myself and Nora decided that we better let them have a go.

“There was suitable races that the old horse was eligible for, we knew that she wouldn't be up there at the finish winning or anything like that, but it was safe for the boys and they also continued to learn.

“Once Ben had a go then Rory had to get his chance, the old mare would have been just about keeping up with the the runners at the back of the field, but it was a nice introduction for the boys, they learned plenty and found out what's involved in racing.

“Once they got the hang of it we thought that we better get them something else and managed to get a former Dingle Derby winner (Let's Go) last year.

“Ben had his first winner this year at Kilbarron in Tipperary with Let's Go, Rory also had his first winner this year and that was in Tipperary as well, Roscrea, with Where It Began,” he added.

For Paul and Nora, it's imperative that Ben and Rory complete their education and that was outlined quite clearly and it's something they boys accept.

Ben finished first year in St Pat's and is going into second year now, Rory will be starting secondary school this year also, they both went to St Oliver's here in Navan and we have made it clear to them that they have to complete the Leaving Certificate before they can concentrate on the racing,” stated Paul.

“They ride work in a few places and ride out with Killian Moore who is home at the moment, he is from Dunmoe and is with Jonjo O'Neill in the UK.

“Some of the local trainers know about them at this stage and they will certainly have opportunities to go racing, but for the moment it's the pony racing circuit and school, that will be the focus.

“If they were to go into racing and become jockeys they have to know that it's a relatively short career.

“I know all that end of it, I was a jockey for a number of years and then went into the building and construction and I'm still at that that type of work.

“While I have to go to work every day, I know that Ben and Rory can take care of the training with Nora who will be there watching what is going on.

“The boys know the routine at this stage, they will have all the tasks completed in the yard before I come home from work, but they won't ride out until I get there, that's just from a safety perspective.

“They have visited RACE (the apprentice jockey school) in Kildare once or twice, but they can't go there officially until they are 16.

“RACE had the simulator at Dingle a few weeks ago and Rory won the fitness challenge, that was some achievement for a 13-year-old boy.

“For the moment it's all about about getting the balance right and with school starting again now it will be back to the books for the boys and that will give us all a bit of a break, a short break,” he concluded.

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