Flying back from Australia in late 2014, I was mad with
myself. I’d let myself down and I’d let my family down. It was four years since
I’d seen them and while I knew they would be understanding, they would be
hurting at the same time.
When I saw my mam Mary, I think she was torn between hugging
me and hitting me! Thankfully it started with a hug. And there were plenty of
them. But we did have a chat soon afterwards. And she put me right.
The morning after I arrived home, I went out shooting with a
cousin and a friend of mine. It had been a pastime I had growing up and loved
going out with my dad Brendan. We always had gun dogs and within a few days of
getting back, I bought Millie, a springer spaniel bitch. I couldn’t wait to
train her in.
But my only aim at the time was to get back riding. Within
two weeks of arriving home, I had started down at Ballydoyle. While I was away
I had stayed in contact with Michael Hussey and Christopher Geoghegan. We had
been apprentices together in Kevin Prendergast’s years before and are the best
of friends to this day. They had a word with Joseph O'Brien who I had ridden
with for a couple of years and between them, they got me in the gate.
From the first day, I knew it was a good place. I was
working with the best horses and the best trainer in the world. It was a huge
help that I knew a lot of good lads and girls who were there and I settled in
quickly. One of the first big horses I rode regularly was Johannes Vermeer
which rounded off the year winning the Group 1 Criterium International at
Saint-Cloud. In my second year there I rode Minding in some of her work and was
on board for her last piece before she won the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes.
My first winner back was Chatterton at Dundalk in November
of 2015 and I was delighted that it was for Paul Flynn. He’s another good mate
of mine. I’m lucky that Aidan shares the rides around in the better races. I
landed on Hydrangea in a Group 2 at the Curragh in August 2016 and we finished a
head second to Rhododendron. Aidan let me keep the ride in the Moyglare Stud
Stakes the following month and we were beaten a short-head. I was gutted to
miss out on a Group 1 but at the same time delighted for Joseph and Donnacha
who won the race with Intricately. Along with his Dad, Joseph was another
trainer to support me when I first got my licence back.
I finally got a Group winner when I landed the Group 3 1,000
Guineas Trial on Hydrangea at Leopardstown in April. That was a big day and my
biggest winner since my days as an apprentice. I first sat on a horse in Owen
Weldon’s as a kid. My career started off well, RACE was brilliant, we were so
well looked after there and I learned a lot.
My time in Kevin Prendergast’s was just as good, working
with the likes of Michael Hussey, Christopher Geoghegan, Stephen Craine, Brian Hughes,
Chris Hayes and Declan McDonogh. Damien Murphy was there too, a year ahead of
me. Tragically, he died following a fall in a race in Australia early in 2007.
Kevin is a master to teach young lads, he gives everyone a
chance. He gave me loads of nice winners, including Ulfah for Sheikh Hamdan in
the Scurry Handicap on Derby Day at the Curragh in 2004. I rode the winners of
both premier handicaps that weekend, just a week after winning the Ulster
Derby! I also had big winners for Paul Flynn, Ger Lyons, Noel Meade, David
Myerscough, Bill Farrell and Pat Martin back in the day.
I took my chance In England and both John Quinn, who fired
me up on everything, and David Evans were very good to me. I knew Thomas
Gillespie from the Curragh and went out to him in Malaysia for a while and from
there I went to Australia to work for Noel Mayfield-Smith and his wife Emma who
is a daughter of Willie Robinson. I rode 31 winners in 18 months for them and a
few other including Bart Cummins, Scott Singleton and Chris Waller.
I had actually paid up front to go on a friends stag to
Kilkenny last weekend but I was more than happy to be flying from Cork to
Farnborough instead. I spoke to my dad on the phone on the night before the
race and he wished me luck. He also told me that he nearly had the church
burned down with all the candles he’d been lighting for me!
I had ridden at Epsom before but only over a mile and never
over the Derby course before Saturday. We got there in plenty of time to walk
the track as a group, Aidan, Joseph and all their jockeys. It is a pretty
special place and just as undulating as everyone says it is. It is some test
for any horse. We chatted the whole way round and at the bottom of the home
straight, Aidan said to me, “It’s still a long way home from here”. How right
The plan for me was to get Wings Of Eagles relaxed and to
drop him in. It didn’t really matter where. I was going to take my time and to
follow Ryan Moore. And it all went to script. When the gap appeared, I switched
Wings Of Eagles out to the right. I pulled my stick through to my left hand and
gave him a few reminders. He picked up in an instant and started flying home.
Inside the final furlong, I said to myself to put down the stick, keep him
straight and balanced and you’ll win the Derby!
It was a brilliant feeling. I thought I had a chance at the
start. Michael Aguair rides Wings Of Eagles out every day and he told me that
he was in great form and was confident he’d run a big race. I made sure to give
him mention on ITV! Robbie Manton runs the yard when Wings Of Eagles is stabled
and what a job he has done with him. Aidan was straight over after race, shook
my hand and congratulated me. He also reminded me to weigh in! The owners
couldn’t have been nicer, I’m so grateful to Mr and Mrs Magnier and their
family, to Mr and Mrs Smith and to Mr and Mrs Tabor.
What an opportunity they all gave me. I had dreamt of the
winning the Derby but it was never as good as this. The only negative thing was
that some of the press tried to make a big deal of my ban. That upset me a bit
but I wasn’t going to let them ruin my day.
Ruaidhri Tierney is my agent and I know he does his best for
me. Hopefully, he’ll find it easier to sell me now. I’m available for rides! I've
been in work every morning since, we started at six on Sunday as we had runners
in France that afternoon. There is not a bother on Wings Of Eagles, I asked the
lads how he’s getting on and they tell me that he ate up after Epsom and came
out of the race well. I've seen him riding out and he looks great. I think
he’ll improve again as we head into the summer. He’s a big boy but he handled
Epsom very well. He has loads of stamina and where ever he runs next, he’ll
take all the beating.
But he won’t be 40/1! He shouldn’t have been that price in
the first place, of course. Some of my family backed him alright. I went up to
my sister Laura’s house in Blanchardstown on Sunday evening and met up with
them all. My brother Michael and another sister Tara were there, along with my mam
and dad. It was all hugs this time, not a wooden spoon in sight!
And the next time I see them all, it will be better again.
My girlfriend Megan is eight months pregnant with our first child. The due date
is Sunday, July 2nd. D-Day and not just Derby Day at the Curragh!
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