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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