©Healy Racing Photos
Riding Next Destination to win at Naas on Saturday is a sharp reminder of how good a position I am in as second jockey to Ruby Walsh. I’d say this is my ninth season being second jockey to Willie Mullins and it is a fantastic position to be in, but I do know that the downside to that job is that I’m only borrowing Next Destination and I’ll be handing him back to Ruby the next day!
That said, I have rode some fantastic winners and Grade 1 winners and I’ve been champion jockey which I couldn't have even dreamed about and I’m still only 27 so I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next number of seasons to add to all of that and I certainly appreciate the opportunities I have been given, and most importantly, the experience I gained.
I’ve ridden in nearly every big Grade One race in Ireland and England so that experience is priceless really and, touch wood, it will hopefully help me any day I go out with a fancied ride in a big race that I know I’ve already ridden in the race and know what it is like.
The other side of being second jockey for Willie Mullins is that most of his second string horses would be stable stars in other yards and so often you are still going out with a very good chance.
I got to win on two very smart novice hurdlers, Bramha Bull and Next Destination, because Ruby was out injured but even when he’s riding and I’m on the second string, they are only referred to as second strings because Ruby hasn't picked them. It is inevitable that sometimes when you have to make that choice that you’ll get it wrong and thankfully I have benefited from that on occasion. When you have to pick between some of Willie’s novices, it can be an almost impossible task and sometimes one can improve more than another and that just means I have a chance of riding a very good horse even when Ruby is still riding. There’s times when Ruby has to make a choice and it is obvious which one he’ll ride but there’s also times when I won’t even mind what he picks because there literally is so little between them that I know I’m going to have a very good ride in the race.
There is also less pressure on me in that instance as Ruby’s on the favourite because that is the one he has picked whereas my horse is the one that looks like he’s the one left behind so there is a benefit to that and as the likes of Penhill and Arctic Fire proved at Cheltenham last year, it can happen.
There’s also a huge benefit in working so close to Ruby too. The amount you can learn from somebody like him and the amount he can help you is quite something else. When he is out injured it is incredible how much he can help you or tell you about a horse even if he has only ridden it once or twice. His knowledge of all the horses in Willie’s is remarkable and he’s a real team player. He’s a massive help and his longevity at the very top speaks volumes about his ability. He was able to juggle going between Ireland and England for a number of years and now he is able to maintain his place at the top of the pecking order here and he really is just at the very top of his game and somebody that you look up to.
The one year that Ruby did miss a chunk of the year was the 2010/11 season and I ended up being champion jockey and I’m just very fortunate that Willie is very loyal and when something does happen I can pick up the pieces.
I definitely look back on being champion jockey and appreciate it much more now than I did at the time. When I was champion jockey I nearly didn't know anything other than winning. When that happened I was on the crest of a wave from the age of 18. My first ride in a Grade 1 was a winning one, I was riding horses like Hurricane Fly, I’d never been injured and it was just all happening for meâ¦ everything was happening for me.
But then a few years ago I had 37 winners in a season. I hadn’t seen that side of the game when I was champion jockey and I think that makes you appreciate it a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, the season I had 37 winners I still had a couple of Grade 1 winners and it wasn’t a bad season but it was just a tougher season that I had known before and made me appreciate the position I am in even more. I just thought everything was very easy up until then.
I now appreciate that it is probably quality over quantity in the position I’m in but there’s nothing wrong with that when Ruby is going to ride in a John Durkan at Punchestown and I’m going to Cork to ride Douvan in the Hilly Way and Listen Dear in a Grade 3.
If I retired in the morning I’d have had an absolutely fantastic career with some days I’d never forget on horses of a lifetime but hopefully I’ve many more days like that still to come.