Having grown up in Limerick, Stephen Mulqueen was a wet-behind-the-ears sixteen when he left home to move to the north of UK, following his dream of becoming a jockey.
And the dream came true. Stephen rode his first winner, Lets Go Girls for trainer Maurice Barnes at Market Rasen in the summer of 2011 and has ridden over a hundred and twenty more. Last year, he won a Listed race at Perth on Giovinco and, the pinnacle so far, the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April. Apple Away and Stephen made all the running, determinedly hanging on by just over a length – a popular win for her partnership and a first Grade 1 for her jockey.
Stephen has also added to his CV by successfully riding across the Atlantic, finishing second on his first three rides at the Queens Cup meeting in North Carolina in April. He subsequently scored doubles at Nashville and Virginia. In July, he won the Allowance Hurdle on L’Imperator, trained by Arch Kingsley who provided all of Stephen’s five winners on American soil.
Right: winning on L'Imperator
Photo Credit: Ted Marks
Based at Lucinda Russell’s yard in Kinross, Perthshire, Stephen explains, ‘Five days a week, I'm in Lucinda’s to ride out and then I’d ride out for a couple of little trainers on the borders as well.’ He lives in Glenfarg, five minutes from the yard, with wife Lauren, daughter Sophie and their two dogs. 'We waited a long time to get married because four wedding days were cancelled with Covid,' explained Stephen. Lauren and him finally wed in December 2023 and every minute was worth the wait.
Did you have a horsey childhood? There was no one in my family that had horses but my neighbour was Billy Lee, who rides on the Flat in Ireland. I got into racing just through being young and wanting to go back and feed the horses and stuff. One thing led to another and I started off riding ponies.
How did you get into racing? My parents bought me a pony when I was about ten, so I started doing the pony racing in Ireland. So, after doing that for a few years, I then went to the apprentice school, RACE. I used to ride out for Charles Barnes on the weekend and the head man there got me a job in UK.
Which trainers have you worked for? When I came over to the UK, I worked for Nicky Richards for a couple of years and got my licence there. Then, I went to Maurice Barnes' but I broke my back in a fall at Ayr as a couple of seasons. Since I was up in this area, I worked for Nick Alexander and then I came to Lucinda’s, and I've been here five or six years.
Favourite racecourse: I suppose, I'd have to say Aintree now, won’t I? Plus, also somewhere like Ayr or Kelso.
Best days racing: It will most definitely have to be Aintree, wouldn't it? Last year was very good on the whole and that obviously capped it off. I had some good days – even the day I rode Douglas Talking at Punchestown and finished second. It was the first time I'd ever really ridden in Ireland because I was so young when I left, I didn't even have a jockey’s licence in Ireland. It was also great that I had my first ride in Ireland at the Punchestown Festival and was second in a good chase.
There were plenty of highs last year but it was all capped off by Apple at Aintree.
What race would you most like to ride the winner of? I suppose, everyone would like to win the Grand National, wouldn't they?
What type of boss is Lucinda Russell? Lucinda is very fair. I've said it plenty of times that we work hard here but you don't mind working hard and giving it your all, if your boss is doing the same. You turn up here at 7:00 in the morning, Lucinda has fed or mucked out. She isn’t one to shout orders from inside a car or from in the house or something, she's out there with everyone. She's mucking in with everybody so you can't but have respect for somebody when you can see them working as hard as you're working yourself.
Horses to follow: Watching Apple Away go chasing will be very exciting this year. Giovinco – I won three on him last year and he's going novice chasing and I think he's pretty special.
Stephen winning on Giovinco
Hopes and dreams for the future: To stay fit and healthy and ride as many winners as possible.
Favourite meal: Chinese.
Favourite drink: Coke-a-Cola.
Favourite snack: I like a packet of crisps.
Favourite holiday destination: I’m not a fan of the sun because I burn very easily. I once went on a lads’ holiday and ended up with third degree burns. But, I do like Portugal.
Favourite music: Anything but I like country music best.
Favourite film: I like prison films and action films. I watched a good one called Fury the other day.
Favourite book: I'm not the biggest reader but I did start reading Tyson Fury's autobiography. I'm halfway through it and it's taken me about two years but I'll keep on until I've finished.
Ideal day off: Away from racing, I like getting out and seeing my daughter have fun.
After winning at Perth on Castletown
*Many thanks to Old Gold Racing for the help in securing this interview. They published it first in their fabulous newsletter Racing Weekly. To sign up, go to https://mailchi.mp/2f6ba62d6182/racing-weekly-lead-capture