Sean McDermott at Leopardstown over Christmas
©Healy Racing Photos
Being based in America is quite different than here at home - and sometimes not the easiest when you are a homebird like myself - but it was nice to come home for Christmas with my girlfriend and thanks to Ruaidhrí Tierney I squeezed in a winner at Leopardstown too!
Because of the weather along the east coast of America there’s no jump racing from November through to March, we’re lucky we only get rain in Ireland, but in America the ground would be frozen solid and it is just not feasible to have racing on the grass.
I’m based in Maryland and the closest city to us is Baltimore, Washington would be about an hour away. There’s a good jumping community in Maryland so it works out well.
Originally it was the late Tom Voss that brought me out to ride in a couple of the bigger races in Saratoga. I got on great and rode a couple of winners, and the prize money is quite good out there so it was a nice start. Then in October 2014 I contacted the leading trainer Jack Fisher and he asked me would I be interested in going to him full time so I went out and haven't looked back since!
Sean Flanagan was previously out here with Jack, as well as a few other lads from England; if you want to ride the big winners over in America, Jack is the man to be riding for.
After a nice stint at home I’ll head back to America on Thursday. I think it was -25 degrees wind chill in our area yesterday but despite that it would be still busy enough with the jump horses back in.
Jockeys income in Ireland is very different to what it was five years ago and there’s not a lot of lads making a whole lot of money out of it now for the same effort. The morning or weekly wage seems to be almost a thing of the past, and from what I can see from the lads, it is almost expected that you drive around the country to meet trainers and school two or three horses with the hope of riding them in a race; it’s hard to make a decent living doing that, in what is a short career, so bar you are in one of the top jobs in Ireland you are depending on just the riding fees.
There are a few lads from home doing well over in America at the moment, such as Ross Geraghty, Jack Doyle, Willie Mc Carthy and Darren Nagle. At the moment anyway there’s just a lot more opportunities in America for me and I am a firm believer in the harder you work the luckier you’ll be, so that is where I’ll base myself for the next year or two and we’ll see where we are after that. Maybe then I’ll go back to do something in college and we’ll see what opportunities arise along the way.
In previous years I came home for Christmas to ride as normal, but this year was more of a holiday and a few rides just popped up and it was great to get a few nice spins and a winner for Tom Mullins at Leopardstown. I’ve got commitments in America now and nice horses to ride over there so there’s no point in me going back over there with an injury so I wasn't looking too hard for rides this Christmas but it was great to get a winner all the same.
The profile of jump racing in America is certainly rising with the likes of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson sending horses over and Charlie Longsdon has been over a few times also. The initiative to put up a $500,000 bonus for any horse that wins the Iroquois Hurdle and the Cheltenham World Hurdle is a big thing now.
I’ve enjoyed a few Grade 1 winners over there since I went over, winning the Iroquois Hurdle is probably the pick of those. I rode a horse called Scorpiancer to win it last year and he had won a point to point in Ireland for Eugene O’Sullivan and then went to Rebecca Curtis. There are a good few of the former Irish point-to-pointers doing well over there now, which is great to see.
The aim is just to try and ride a few more Grade 1 winners when the season gets back going, stay off the firm ground and stay injury free and see where I go from there.