When I look back, I was blessed with the riding career I
had. I rode some great winners for some great people but it all came to an end
very suddenly that day in Aintree.
I suffered my second spinal injury in less than a year with
my fall in the 2015 Grand National. Paul Townend and his girlfriend Anna were
the first people to come and visit me in the hospital later that evening and I
said it to them straight away that it was all over. It was a big blow and to be
honest, I had no plan in place for what I was going to do after racing.
The problem was in my neck and not in my back. I had
fractured a few vertebrae in the fall at Cork at the end of August in 2014 and
the doctors had me back in action a little over three months later. I was back
riding and had one of my best days with Gordon Elliott’s Bayan, part-owned by
Gary O’Brien, in the big Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot that December. It was just my
third ride back and it was a pretty emotional occasion. Little did I know at
the time that it would turn out to be my last big thrill.
The scans after the Aintree fall showed that one of the
vertebrae was slipping and touching the spinal cord. Adrian McGoldrick and the
specialists I saw in the Hermitage Clinic in Dublin said the injuries were like
what they had seen with some rugby players.
Professor Ciaran Bolger operated on me in the summer of 2015
and did a great job. I had been suffering pins and needles in my shoulders, but
I was 100% after they went in and took out the vertebrae and replaced it with a
steel plate and four screws! I was free to ride horses again but there was to
be no schooling.
I was blessed that I had Louise. She’s been great and we are
getting married next month. Robbie Colgan’s wife Laura set us up, a blind date
on the Hill Of Tara! Preparations for the wedding are going well and I’ve more
than played my part in the build-up. I can’t wait.
After my second operation, Louise saw that I was at a low
ebb and decided that the best thing for me was to get me out of Ireland. So we
went travelling for three months. Louise organised it all which was just as
well. We started in Hong Kong, visited China and then did all of south-east Asia.
A fantastic experience and it did us the world of good.
On the way home, we stopped off in Dubai. I have a load of
friends there and one of them David Flannery brought me to look around the yard
Sheikh Hamdan uses to break his yearlings. I met John Hyde who was running the show
out there and before I left, he had offered me a job! That was December, myself
and Louise came home for Christmas, but we were back in January and ended up
staying for 18 months. Louise works in marketing and she quickly got a job with
We came back to Ireland just before the Punchestown festival
in April. Olly Murphy was assistant to Gordon for a couple of years and I had
always said to him that when he was ready to return home to England, he was to
let me know. My plan was to ask Gordon for Olly’s job. It all worked out well
and I started here the week before Galway.
I split the duties with Ian Amond. There is plenty of racing
and Gordon has loads of runners at virtually every meeting. When he can’t go
racing, he likes someone to be there, primarily to look after our owners. They
keep the show on the road and that’s not lost on Gordon.
Since I started out with Willie Mullins when I was 15 years
of age, I have always been surrounded by the best of horses. From Willie’s to
Noel Meade’s and even when I was here before the falls. And it’s no different
now. I’d do four or five lots every morning and one I ride every day is
Tombstone. I was at Down Royal when he won last Friday. He is a keen sort but
has loads of class and there is plenty more to come from him. When Lisa O’Neill
isn’t around, I get to sit on Apple’s Jade. She is in great form and training
well. She has had a few away days for schooling races and hasn’t missed a beat.
Definitely one to look forward to.
Death Duty was very impressive at Tipperary and Punchestown.
Gordon says he is a different horse these days. He’s stronger and much more
grown up. He was very babyish last season. He has plenty of speed and jumps
quickly. Samcro is nothing flash at home and saves it all for the track. He really
wakes up when he goes racing and his record speaks for itself. He’s clearly
very talented and could be anything. He’s Shane McCann’s but in truth a child
could ride him.
Outlander was disappointing at Punchestown but he was right
back to form when taking the first Grade 1 of the season at Down Royal on
Saturday. Emily McMahon had him jumping poles and brought him hunting and it
certainly worked the oracle, just as it did with Don Poli in the past. He has
won three Grade 1s now and will probably end up going for a repeat success in
the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He certainly has a fresh
outlook on life which is great to see.
I was in Cork on Sunday and we were delighted with Cracking
Smart. Jack Kennedy rode him and said that he was still green and babyish. He’s
only a shell of a horse but is one with a great future. We can’t wait to see
him over fences. He’s a huge horse, almost 17 hands. Although Jury Duty lost
out at Cork on Sunday, he will come on for that and is definitely another to
look forward to. The yard is full of potential and it’s great for everyone here
and all the owners.
One of the reasons I was so keen to come back here is that
it is a lovely place to work. Gordon has built up a brilliant team. It’s a
happy, friendly place and there really is great camaraderie here. Lying in that
hospital bed in Liverpool, I hadn’t a clue what I was going to do with myself.
It was a scary time, but I needn’t have worried. Racing has been my life for 18
years and long may it continue. Just don’t ask me to school one.
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