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My Racing Story

My Racing Story

Derek O'Connor

Mon 5th Feb 2018, 21:05

Derek and Carol at Leopardstown
©Healy Racing Photos
I left home at 8am yesterday morning with my wife, Carol, and we headed to Ballinaboola in Wexford where I had one ride at the point-to-point on a horse called Appreciate It for Pat Doyle. I probably didn't think that when I got home at 10.30pm yesterday evening that I’d be after winning an Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

It probably sunk in today really as people are very good with text messages, tweets, you name it, the phone was hopping. People are very nice and the comments in the media and the papers - it’s just a special feeling when the whole lot comes together like that.

There was no pressure or great expectations going into the race with Edwulf and for a jockey to be going in underneath the radar with no hype is ideal. It worked out a treat.

Winning an Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown is a massive thing and I probably don't appreciate it fully yet, but to win the race for Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus and the McManus family is what is very special. Just to be involved with those people, the greats of Irish racing, is an honour for me and my family. It’s very special.

It’s funny, I wasn't going to Leopardstown full of confidence, but Joseph was extremely happy with the horse and what I felt was that if things had worked out better in the four-miler at Cheltenham I think he would have been a very impressive winner on that day and then he would have been well in the reckoning for all the top chases this year. Nobody really knows what happened that day, he ran out of oxygen or got a slight heart attack, nobody clinically knows what, but I thought without that, he would have been a very impressive winner and because of those incredible circumstances and the way people looked after him since, he was able to come back racing this year and then come in under the radar in these races.

I rode him in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown and he gave me a great feel for a long way but he was just getting a little bit tired and we were out of contention in the race so I made the decision to pull him up rather than blagarding him and giving him a hard race just to finish a well beaten eighth or ninth in that race and in hindsight it was a good decision because he came out of that race in great form and he’s improved every day since.

But when you think about what was happening at Cheltenham last March, it’s incredible that the horse has come back and won a Grade One when it looked like he would never race again. It’s been an incredible training performance by Joseph. I knew at the third last fence that I was still getting a lovely feel from him and there were a lot of horses under pressure around me and my lad just gave me his all to the line.

To be perfectly honest, Belharbour point-to-point was on yesterday as well and that would be my local point-to-point at home and during the week I hummed and hawed a little bit and I really was quite sorry that I was going to miss it. The only other time I’ve ever missed Belharbour was 14-years ago when I went to Leopardstown to win the Hunters’ Chase on Never Compromise so maybe there was an omen in that! But it’s a big thing at home here with all the schools getting involved and all the kids go and there’s a great atmosphere and I was really sorry to miss it, but it turned out I had a good excuse not to be there!

Point-to-pointing is very important to me, it has got me everything I’ve got and I owe point-to-point racing a whole pile, I’ve spent all my life point-to-pointing. I was just quite fortunate at the weekend that Barry Geraghty was riding Anibale Fly and Mark Walsh was riding Minella Rocco so they had other rides and that left Edwulf spare for me to ride. He had jumped reasonably well for me at Cheltenham and again at Christmas and it was very kind of JP to leave me on him.

The point-to-points are still my bread and butter. I’m not as busy as I once was for different reasons. There’s a whole host of young talent there at the moment and they are grabbing the opportunities and the top tier is divided again even further with Jamie Codd, Barry O’Neill and Rob James, there’s a good bunch there. I think there’s so many young lads coming along that I can see it being divided even more in a few years.

I actually think the sales companies are responsible for the quality of the jockeys coming through. The reason I say that is because the trainers now are demanding a high standard from their jockey because every horse that races in a point-to-point these days is for sale so therefore trainers won’t accept an inadequate jockey anymore. You need to have a good level of fitness, good dedication, be a good rider, or trainers won’t use you because there’s too much money at stake. It’s a professional amateur industry now.

There’s people there now to buy a horse at every level, be it the six figure horse or the eight-year-old maiden, every horse has a value and trainers are well aware of that.

In my role as an agent with Goffs UK I can see that clearly and it’s always nice to be involved in getting a point-to-point horse to the sales. It can be quite challenging but very satisfying if you see an owner, a selling man, getting a lot of money for his horse at the sales, it’s very rewarding.

I’m also involved with RACE and from a personal point of view I want to try and give as much back to point-to-pointing as I can. The course I’m involved with in RACE is about educating jockeys and it is very important to me and I really, really enjoy doing that. A lot of good riders attend the course and I’ve seen a lot of them go on to win and be competitive in point-to-points afterwards and while the course itself is only a small part of their careers, if I could help one rider on each of the courses I do to ride one winner it is certainly worth it.

I’m enjoying riding at the moment, especially the opportunities that I’m getting in bumpers. The calibre of horses I’m riding for Joseph are better than I ever got to ride in my whole career and I’m 35 now and not going to be at it forever so I may as well make the most of it for these couple of years now!

It would be lovely to get to Cheltenham and maybe win a Kim Muir to get a clean sweep in the amateur races there and I’d really love a good spin in the Cross Country race at the Cheltenham Festival and maybe some day something will pop up. I don’t really set myself aims or targets now, I’ll just continue to do the best I can and give something back where I can.

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