• In the Stables with Ronan Whelan

    It was great to win the Ulster Derby at Down Royal last Saturday. It was one of the biggest wins of my career to date and it almost coincided with the anniversary of my success on Jennies Jewel at Royal Ascot.  

    That was undoubtedly the highlight of my career so far. It meant so much to me. Just to ride at Royal Ascot is pretty special but to get among the winners was something else. It was fantastic to share such a big winner with Jarlath Fahey. Jarlath’s late dad Brendan was very good to my own father Tom when he first moved to Kildare from Abbeyleix and we go way back as a result. It’s great that all the Fahey boys have enjoyed so much success, Jarlath, Peter, Paul, Seamus and their nephew Mark are some operators. They all live on the one road but have their own yards.

    But it was George Kent who gave me my first big winner. It was the year after I won the apprentice title and I was still claiming 3lbs when I won the Group 3 Gladness Stakes on Custom Cut in the first weeks of the 2013 season. He was a 25/1 chance that day and we made all the running. He was some horse back then and it was great to see him win at Leopardstown only last month, a little over four years since I last won on him! What a career he has had.

    In the same year, I won the Irish Cambridgeshire on Moran Gra for Joanna Morgan. I won three races on him including a big handicap on Derby day at the Curragh a couple of seasons earlier. He was a great horse to be associated with so early in my career.

    I rode a second Group 3 winner last season when Mick Channon brought Divine over for the Ballyogan Stakes at the Curragh in early June. Dave Keena has been my agent basically since I started and he got me the ride. Mick has been a great supporter of Irish racing for many years now and I have ridden for him a good bit since. It was a big deal to ride a nice winner for an overseas trainer, it certainly opens up other doors. We went close with Opal Tiara in the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes on Guineas weekend. The ground just went against her that day.

    The Curragh have a huge weekend ahead of them but my Derby win for the season came at Down Royal on Saturday. It looked an open handicap but the more I went through the race, the more I fancied the chances of Clongowes. He was sent off favourite in the end so I clearly wasn’t the only one!

    He’s a very uncomplicated horse, all he does is gallop. Once I got to the front about two furlongs down, I knew it would take a good one to beat me. It was a big winner for a couple of reasons, a nice pot to win for the yard and it was also my first winner in the Godolphin colours. Clongowes got 7lbs for winning and I’d be more than hopeful that there is another big day in him, maybe over the same trip or even over further. He could well end up running in Group races. Stellar Mass won the Ulster Derby for the boss (Jim Bolger) and Kevin Manning last year and went on to better things. Clongowes wouldn’t be as quick but hopefully he will kick on from this.

    Saturday was a big day as I came away with two winners in all. I had earlier won on Cappadocia for Johnny Feane. Down Royal can be a tricky place to ride but everything fell into place for us and we got a great run. It doesn’t always work out like that.

    Johnny is just one of a number of trainers I ride out for. I’m on the Curragh every Wednesday and do a good bit for Treacy Collins and Patrick Prendergast. I’d sometimes link up with Sheila Lavery when she brings one to the Old Vic. And it’s paying off, I have 11 winners ridden in Ireland so far this season. I take it day by day and I’m happy to get what I can.

    Royal Ascot aside, I’ve ridden a couple of winners in Britain and have one on the scoreboard already this year. Twentytwowontdo is a horse my dad and a friend bought at the sales and couldn’t sell on. They put her in training with David O’Meara and thankfully she came good at Catterick earlier this month. She’ll go through the ring again next month and hopefully someone will take a fancy to her.

    Buying and selling horses is my dad’s livelihood and in the years to come, it will be mine too. I take a great interest in the sales and absolutely love everything that goes with them. I spend a lot of time on pedigrees and conformation and I love tracking horses from the sales ring and the breeze-ups to see how they get on at the racecourse for their new owners.

    Like every jockey, I’m looking forward to riding at the Curragh over the weekend. It is three busy days for us and one I can't wait for Sea The Lion in the Ragusa Handicap on Friday night. Jarlath Fahey trains him and I think he’ll improve on his win at Navan at the start of the month.

    But one event I’ll be happy to take a watching brief for is the Hurling For Cancer match in Newbridge on August 15. It is something the boss, Úna Manning and James Dowling have been running for the past five years and it’s unreal the money that has been raised, well over €500,000. I played in the match at St Conleth’s Park in the first year and it was competitive stuff. The lads were all a good bit bigger than me so I’ve been in the stands ever since!

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