© Photo Healy Racing
There probably haven’t been too many jockeys who rode in their first ever National Hunt races as professionals at the age of 33 but I won’t be making a full-time conversion from the Flat game.
I got the leg up on Townes from my father, Tom, in a Limerick maiden hurdle on St Stephen’s Day and then picked up a ride on the Tony Mullins-trained Wonwabbitwon at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.
The main reason I took the licence out was Dad having one for the hurdles and if he was up for it, I’d do it. I always wanted to have a ride over hurdles but I’m on the light side — I’d be a lightweight jockey on the Flat. So there was a lot of lead. I’d say there was the guts of three stone of lead!
Wonwabbitwon is owned by a friend of mine. When I had the jumps licence, he offered it to me, so of course I said I would.
There was a little bit of slagging in the Weigh Room, saying things like, ‘Is your weight gone?’ They are a lovely bunch, the jump jockeys, and were very welcoming.
Needless to say it is a completely different experience but a thoroughly enjoyable one. Things happen a lot slower! It’s a completely different way of riding and it was lovely to experience. Both horses jumped well and just got tired on very testing going.
I’ll probably ride a couple of more times, but it will only be the odd one here or there. I’m not looking to be riding in any big races or anything. I just wasn’t doing anything else and I may as well be riding as sitting at home watching it on the telly.
Rory being presented with a cake for his 18th birthday in 2005
© Photo Healy Racing
It is actually a busy time of the year. I have my own place outside Kildare, where I’m doing a bit of pre-training, and then there is Dad’s as well. And of course I have been with Jim Bolger for eight years or so now and am there six mornings a week. After that, I meet whoever I can at the Curragh to ride some work, and Dad brings a bunch there once or twice a week. And then each day I’m flat out with my own from two o’clock.
I have been lucky to ride for a lot of trainers and I make myself available for as many as I can, riding work at the Curragh and it goes from there. Most of them don’t have stable jockeys while I also pick up the lightweight rides in the big handicaps.
That has proven an advantage that has paid off over the years when I’ve picked up some good winning spares, such as Dr Simpson for Tom Dascombe in the Group 3 Al Basti Equiworld Mercury Stakes in 2019 and Verhoyen for Michael Grassick in the Tote Scurry Premier Handicap a few months earlier.
I am just very lucky that I can do those very light weights. When the likes of Dr Simpson came up, it was great, it was purely because there probably wasn’t a whole pile of people that could do the weight. The same with Verhoyen. It was the first time I had ridden him so it is great to take those chances when they come.
Mac Swiney and Poetic Flare are looking great in the yard at the moment and I’m looking forward to sitting up on them when they do their bits of work. It is between myself and Kevin Manning that rides them in their work so it’s very exciting to ride those types of horses. They’re so big and strong and so athletic, it’s an incredible experience to come up the gallop on them and be smiling from ear to ear when you hit the top. It’s unreal.
It goes without saying that Jim Bolger's is a very well-run operation and you get plenty of opportunities. The knowledge you pick up along the way is very good as well and it’s helped me, not just with race riding, but with my own pre-training and helping out Dad as well. I am very lucky to be there and it has worked out well.
Rest assured that is where my future lies, and not over jumps!