• In The Stables with Philip Dempsey

    My family was never involved in horses or racing, however, as a child horses always attracted me. If I was on the school bus and saw a pony in a field I would cycle back to that field with a good friend of mine, Pauric Cully and we’d ride it around bareback. 

    At the age of nine or ten, my father decided to try and get horses out of my system by getting me an ass. The ass was great at going across the field but when it came to turning him I could never seem to get him out of our neighbour’s hedge! That experience did little to deter me and wanting something better, my father got a loan of an old pony. From there I progressed to doing a bit of show jumping and hunting and was riding ponies for anyone I could. 

    My first job in racing was with Bob Jolly who was a horse dealer and who held a trainer’s licence. There were all types of difficult horses coming and going and it taught me a lot about riding. I had my first winner for Bob in Kilbeggan on a horse named Ragged.  After that I worked with various trainers; Peter McCreery, Brian Malone, Homer Scott and Mick O’Toole. Indeed, I rode winners for most trainers in Ireland at some stage. 

    I won the GPT, as the race was known for so many years, in Galway on Fergal’s Delight for Michael Cunningham only to lose it in the stewards’ room afterwards. My horse drifted slightly at the line and Tony Martin (who was Michael’s stable jockey at the time but couldn’t do the weight on Fergal’s Delight) was awarded the race on a horse called Cul Chulainn for Jim Bolger. In a lot of people’s view, it was a harsh decision and it resulted in Tony losing his job! 

    I rode at Cheltenham every year for about ten years. The closest I came to a winner was in the Kim Muir in 1996 on a horse called Encore Un Peu for Martin Pipe. It was Ken Whelan who just beat me on the line. My son Luke won the Martin Pipe Opportunity Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham two years ago and Ken was one of the first people to ring me afterwards with his congratulations.

    Later on, I rode out for John Oxx. My first love is National Hunt racing but working with John was the most enjoyable time in my riding career. There was a great bunch of lads in the yard and John is a very fair and straight man to work for. A thorough gentleman in every regard. It was a golden era for the stable at the time with two Derby winners, a Prix de l’Arc winner, a Breeders' Cup winners and no shortage of Group 1 winners. He always kept one for me in the amateur races and I rode plenty of winners for him. I often thought of what might have been if I started off with him as a young apprentice. 

    At this stage, I was breaking a few horses and the natural progression was then to take out a trainer’s licence. My first winner was with Rossdee Lad in Thurles in early 2006 and we kept going from there. In those earlier years, I mainly had point-to-point horses and we had a lot of success with them. Our big break came with Jacksonslady. 

    Little did we know when we were given two poor, unassuming full-sisters to get ready for the August sales, just what was on our hands. As the sales got closer and they got bigger, there was something about this big, gangly three-year-old filly with the white star that kept catching me. So I decided to try and buy her, purchasing her for €3,500. 

    In her first season, she ran twice but was too weak to take the training. When we brought her back after the summer she was a completely different horse. She won her first point-to-point in Castletown-Geoghegan and went on to win several races including a big handicap at the Leopardstown Christmas festival. Mr McManus bought her for the Galway Plate where she finished third behind Carlingford Lough. She then went on to win races at all the major festivals. She opened a door for us with a great owner in Mr McManus, who we have had several winners for since.

    It is 12 years since I rode in my last race but I’m putting back on the colours to ride in the John Shortt Legends Race at Punchestown on October 19. I rode with John for years and we were great friends since our days in Homer Scott’s. He was a brilliant character and a very popular figure in racing. Sadly, he passed away following a hard-fought battle with cancer earlier this year. 

    His final wish was to purchase a plot of land and secure planning permission to build a home for his family. Through the Legend’s race, we are hoping to fulfil John’s wish and are doing all we can to help John’s wife, Anne Marie and his daughter, Alex. All proceeds raised through the race will go directly to them.  

    To kick off the sponsorship drive, we are holding a coffee morning and a stable open day here in Carbury, County Kildare this coming Saturday, August 12. The day will begin at 10am when all the horses will be ridden out. Everyone is free to come and have a look around and we’d be delighted to see you. A number of local businesses have generously donated some fantastic prizes and we will be raffling them off. There will be plenty of tea and coffee and the yard will be open until 3pm. It’s all in aid of a very good cause. 


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