Most Successful Horse Racing Families

willie mullins and ruby walsh with faugheen
Robert Watters, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Is horse racing a natural inbred industry? Obviously we know that it’s common for horses to be bred from the same family line, with breeders hoping that the success of a parent will rub off on their offspring. Yet it’s also interesting to note that many of the same names crop up again and again when you look at the people behind the horses in the racing industry. Whether you’re talking about jockeys or trainers, recognisable names will be there for all to see.

That isn’t to say that no one else can do well in horse racing. Countless people have won big races without being from one of the big families. Even so, it’s hardly a surprise when a name like Mullins, O’Brien or Walsh is involved in some form or another. It makes sense that a family that is involved in horse racing will see the offspring also get involved, so on this page we’ll take a closer look at some of those famous names.

The Mullins Family

willie mullins horse lorrys at cheltenham

When it comes to jump racing, it’s difficult to think of anywhere else to start than by looking at the Mullins family. Paddy Mullins was a horse racing trainer who saw his career get off to winning ways when Flash Parade won a race in 1953. He went on to train the winner of the Irish Grand National four times, in addition to six winners of races run during the Cheltenham Festival. He was named Irish Champion Jumps Trainer ten times in his career.

Whilst jump racing will always be Paddy Mullins’ main claim to fame, he also won the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Newmarket and the Group 1 Irish Oaks at the Curragh. Even so, it’s Dawn Run that cemented Paddy’s place in racing history, with a statue of the mare standing proudly at Cheltenham Racecourse. With Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup wins to her name, it’s no shock that she’s well-loved at the Gloucestershire course.

The patriarch of the Mullins family, Paddy passed the baton on to his son Tom when he retired in 2005. Of course, Paddy Mullins would be well-remembered on his own, but it’s what his children went on to achieve that really cemented the Mullins name into horse racing legend, with one of them in particular being standout….

Willie Mullins

William Peter Mullins was born on the 15th of September 1956, initially working as a jockey as soon as he was old enough to do so. He gained a good amount of experience in that position, winning the Amateur Champion Jockey of Ireland title six times. Perhaps his winning of the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in 1996 gave him a taste of the joy of winning at Prestbury Park, because he barely stopped in the years that followed.

Mullins went on to be a trainer, getting his licence in 1988 but not achieving his first real taste of success in the role until Florida Pearl won the Leopardstown Hennessey Gold Cup four times between 1999 and 2004. The success was far from short-lived, with Mullins following it up with victory in the Aintree Grand National thanks to Hedgehunter in 2005. Indeed, Hedgehunter had come close to winning the year before and did so against the year after.

Obviously it’s impossible to talk about Willie Mullins without mentioning the Cheltenham Festival. The Irishman has won pretty much every race there is to win at the Prestbury Park meeting, including the Gold Cup and a record number of David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdles. Doubtless part of his success was due to his relationship with Gigginstown House Stud, for whom he was the trainer of choice for years. In jump racing, Willie Mullins is one of the best around.

Other Members Of The Mullins Family

Whilst Willie Mullins is the standout name from the family when it comes to modern racing, other members also deserve a mention. Tony Mullins, for example, was a keen rider and was often found in the saddle of Dawn Run. He was a successful jockey in his own right before going on to be a cheerleader for his son Danny when he became a jockey and went on to win the Galway Mile back in 2009.

Tony Mullins married Mags, who was also a champion jockey in her own right. It’s little wonder, then, that Danny went on to be a talented man in the saddle. He won 126 times as a pony racer then became an apprentice for Jim Bolger, picking up the Kerry National and Ulster National on the back of horses. Meanwhile, Paddy’s wife Maureen and his daughter Sandra were both talented jockeys, with the former being well-respected on the point-to-point circuit.

George Mullins didn’t become a jockey or a trainer but instead set up a business that transported horses. His son Emmet did become a jockey, however, and battled with his cousin, Willie Mullins’ son Patrick, to gain dominance in the younger generation of the family. It’s fair to say that Patrick won the battle, taking the record from Billy Parkinson for the highest number of wins in a single season by an amateur jockey.

The O’Brien Family

It’s easy to assume that top-class trainers were born into the industry and simply carried on the family tradition, but in the case of Aidan O’Brien it wasn’t his family’s tradition that he was continuing. Indeed, it’s possible he may never have got involved in horse racing had he not fallen in love with Anne-Marie Crowley, whose father Joe was a horse trainer in Ireland. Anne-Marie took over from her father in the stables before handing the reigns to Aidan.

Aidan O’Brien

aidan obrienOne of six siblings had by Denis and Stella O’Brien, Aidan was raised in County Wexford and didn’t really get the racing bug until he began working for P. J. Finn at his Curragh-based stables. He also worked for Jim Bolger and saw the likes of Paul Carberry and Tony McCoy working as jockeys under him. It was when he met Anne-Marie Crowley and started working at her father’s stables in Piltown County that he truly began to understand his career path, though.

He took over the running of Ballydoyle training facility in 1995, knowing he had big shoes to fill given that Sadler’s Wells had been produced there. Within a year he’d notched up his first big win, seeing Desert King win the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh. The same horse won the 2,000 Guineas the following season, setting in motion Aidan O’Brien’s influence over the sport of horse racing in the years that followed.

In 2001 he followed in the footsteps of Vincent O’Brien, who was no relation, by becoming the first Irishman to be named Champion Trainer in England since his namesake had done so thirty years before. He became one of the finest names in flat racing, matching a record that had been in place since 1935 when he was able to add all five Irish Classics to his list of wins. It’s not just on the flat where he enjoyed success, however.

Aidan O’Brien also saw a number of his jump racing horses make records, including watching Istabraq win three Champion Hurdles at races between 1998 and 2000. That being said, it’s definitely flat racing that was his true love. His list of conquests in that discipline included the likes of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, both 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas and the St. Leger, plus numerous races in places such as Italy and the Far East.

Other Members Of The O’Brien Family

As you might have figured out from the name being on this list, Aidan O’Brien isn’t the only member of the family to have done well in racing over the years. His son Joseph O’Brien was born in 1993 and initially gained experience racing ponies. By 2010 he was already sharing the honour of being named Irish Champion Jockey, winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas the year after. He teamed up with his father to win the Derby in 2012, become the first father and son duo to do so.

Joseph O’Brien confirmed in March of 2016 that he’d be following his father’s footsteps and becoming a trainer, enjoying almost immediate success. Donnacha O’Brien, meanwhile, was born five years after his brother and began life as a flat racing jockey as soon as he was old enough to do so. He won the Moyglare Stud Stakes in 2016 on a horse that had been trained by his brother and bred by his mother, meaning it really is a family thing.

As you’ll have no doubt guesses, Anne-Marie O’Brien, Aidan’s wife, was a decent breeder of horses. Anastasia and Sarah O’Brien, meanwhile, followed in the footsteps of their brothers by becoming jockeys also. Though they haven’t achieved the same level of success as Patrick, Donnacha or their father, it wouldn’t be totally against the run of play if they went on to be top-notch trainers in the future to continue the O’Brien family name.

The Walsh Family

Ted Walsh was an amateur jockey and a racehorse trainer, based in County Kildare for most of his career. He won the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival in 1974, though it was his success on Daring Run that allowed him to really forge his reputation in the industry. That being said, even Ted is likely to admit that his biggest contribution to the world of horse racing was in fathering two massive names in the industry.

Ruby Walsh

ruby walsh riding blackstairmountain
nakashi, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rupert Walsh, better known as Ruby, was named Irish Amateur Jockey in both 1997 and 1998, making people within the industry sit up and take notice. The fact that he was just 18 when he won the first of those was definitely a cause of interest for most. He entered the Grand National for the first time as a 20-year-old on a horse that Ted Walsh had trained, defeating the Tony McCoy ridden Dark Stranger to win the race on the back of Papillon.

It was merely the start of an incredible career for the Irishman, winning the Irish, Welsh and English  Grand Nationals in the same season in 2004-2005. The fact that he’s already won the Scottish Grand National several years before merely served to confirm his status as one of the best jump racing jockeys around. He won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival in 1998, but added pretty much every race that there is worth winning in the years that followed.

In fact, there’s barely a jump racing event that Ruby Walsh didn’t win during his career. He won the Gold Cup for the first time in 2007, winning it again two years later with the same horse, Kauto Star. Whether it be the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the King George VI Chase or the Grand National, Walsh has won them all. He finished his career with 59 Cheltenham Festival winners to his name.

Other Members Of The Walsh Family

Ruby’s sister might not have enjoyed quite the level of success that her brother did, but she still achieved more than enough during her career to warrant a mention. Born in December of 1984, Katie Walsh notched up her first win thanks to Hannon winning at Gowran Park in 2003. That came after already gaining success in Eventing. She won two races at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010. Two years later she achieved one of the best finishes for a female in the Grand National.

That came thanks to a third-place finish with the Ted Walsh trained Seabass. She won the Irish Grand National in 2015, then saw her first Grade 1 win come courtesy of the Champion INH Flat Race at Punchestown the following year. She has also worked as a Racing Ambassador for Aintree Racecourse and the Grand National Festival, proving that it isn’t just training and riding in races that matter.

Nina Carberry is perhaps not a name you’d expected to read on a section talking about the Walsh family, but she married Ted Walsh Junior and therefore earns a place in the list. Her father Tommy Carberry was also a jockey, proving the notion that it really all is a family sport. Carberry notched up numerous wins as a jockey, including the Cross Country Handicap Chase and the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.

Why Do Families Do So Well In Racing?

family business stampHaving read all of that, the obvious question to ask is why it is that families do so well in the world of horse racing. The answer isn’t a simple one, but it’s fair to say that experience is crucial to being able to make it in the world of horse racing. Whether it be the names we’ve mentioned above or similar ones like Scudamore or Balding, horse racing isn’t a cheap activity to be involved in and therefore having family connections can be a big help.

Being able to practice riding on horses and given instructions from people who had already been there and done that is an incredibly good thing to be able to do. Having Ruby Walsh talk you through controlling a horse over jumps is the sort of experience that you would struggle to buy, yet Katie Walsh will have had it for free. A successful period for the family’s patriarch will mean that there’s money there to allow the children to train, too.

Then there’s the connections offered by success gained in the industry. If your father’s name is Mullins, Scudamore or O’Brien then doors will open for you that won’t open for people named Smith or White. Jockeys from previously successful families will be given horses to ride that other people won’t, so it will always make a difference to their chances of success. There are other reasons, of course, but they’ll be the ones near the top of the pile.