Barn Notes

Keelan and Mullen a Great Monmouth Park Match

Posted Sunday, Jul 1, 2012

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One describes their relationship as synergy. The other terms it “simpatico.” Despite the difference in semantics, Ollie Keelan and Michael Mullin are creating success. 

            Although from different generations and backgrounds, the Monmouth Park horsemen have formed a bond that enhances their considerable skills and experience. Together, they are building a racing stable and achieving results with others’ castoffs and claimers. 

            “Mike and I don’t have dissension. He is so smart. He sees what I see and it’s amazing how we think alike and see eye-to-eye on everything,” said Keelan, who has ridden, trained, and owned horses for many decades.  

            “Ollie and I are carved out of the same mold,” said Mullin, a former jockey who is currently based at Monmouth with a stable of 10 mostly New Jersey-bred claiming horses and two-year-olds. “I think he’s seen the gamut in this business.” 

There is little if any that has escaped the watchful eye of Keelan, who rode Thoroughbreds and steeplechase horses in England and Ireland before coming stateside at age 21 to ride for Raymond Guest, the American ambassador to Ireland during the John F. Kennedy administration. Hall of Famer Frank Whiteley trained for the ambassador and other top clients so Keelan worked closely with many horses also enshrined in the hallowed hall in Saratoga Springs, New York. 

“I was like Mr. Whiteley’s foreman and did all of the tough jobs. I galloped Tom Rolfe (the 1965 3-year-old champion). I was with Damascus (the 1967 Horse of the Year) at Saratoga and Belmont. I was involved with breaking Ack Ack (the 1971 Horse of the Year) and a lot of other nice horses for Mr. (Harry) Guggenheim,” he said. “Then there was Ruffian (two-time Eclipse-Award winner in 1974-75, 1975 Triple Tiara winner and arguably the greatest filly of the 20th century). I used to go in the stall with her and she was special. And what a beauty she was.” 

Mullin got his start with an entirely different class of horse. 

“My father was a small-time trainer on the Jersey circuit and I was around the barn but he got out of the business when I was still a teenager,” he explained. “I wanted to be a jockey and when I was 16, I went to Ocala (Florida) and was under contract to Hobeau Farm (then owned by former New York Racing Association Chairman Jack Dreyfus). There were 400 to 500 head on the farm, including racehorses, broodmares, stallions, babies, boarders and lay-ups. I learned to do everything from the ground up there, even floating teeth. It made me a well-rounded horseman.” 

Mullen, who retains his skills as a horse dentist to this day, said he next “ran away” to the old Keystone Park in Philadelphia, which is now known as Parx, to try to make it as a jockey.  

“I broke my neck when I was 18 and was paralyzed from the shoulders down for four months. I was in Temple University Hospital for two months and had therapy for four hours every day,” he said. “My real therapy was coming back to the racetrack. I went back into the trenches, walking hots and working my way back up. One year later, I rode in a race again, this time at Penn National.” 

But the after effects of his serious injury and weight problems killed Mullin’s comeback and he turned to the training side of the business, first as an assistant in Florida and New York before going out on his own in 1985 and arriving at Monmouth one year later as a 21-year-old with a string of eight horses. After years of struggling he decided to call it quits and put all of his equipment up for sale.  

The buyer was Ollie Keelan. 

“When I got back into the business last year, he brought it all back to me,” Mullin said. “Ollie and I have been friends for 10 years. I used to gallop horses for him at Overbrook Farm (in Colts Neck). Now Ollie comes to the barn every day. He walks a few horses, grazes them, and watches them train with me on their backs. Then he gives me his feedback. What we’re trying to do now is build this stable up.” 

Through June 24, Mullin had started 20 horses at Monmouth and won three races with Nicky Red and More Veggies in the lower level claiming ranks. They haven’t claimed any horses yet, but things are beginning to click. 

“I’ve picked up a lot of horses who have had problems, whether in training, whether physical, or whether they just got lost in the shuffle,” said Mullen. “Maybe some of them just needed some TLC. We train all of them as individuals. That’s the key to our success.” 

Keelan, who acts as the racing manger for the stable and is also heavily involved with show horses, steeplechase racing, and a shavings sales company, is equally confident that their partnership and friendship will lead to bigger and better things during the meet. 

“Mike is doing wonderfully,” said Keelan. “We have more races coming up and even though they’re not stakes horses, if you put them in the right spot…” 

Mullin’s current owners are all New Jersey breeders and include Nick and Joan Sacco, Peter and Helga Nemeth and the Wilkinson family of Hidden Acres Farm.  

            “They’ve given me their support and faith. We got off to a slow start last year, so they have given me their time and patience as well,” Mullin said.  

Kristen Lomasson, Mullin’s girlfriend, is another spoke in the wheel. 

“She’s learned from the ground up and is the backbone of the organization,” Mullin said. “We have a unique team. Basically, this is a teaching environment where everyone here is learning, from each horse to every member of the staff.” 

And everyone is on the same page. 

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