18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Wagering and T&Cs apply | Play Responsibly | Advertising Disclosure
Sponsored By
My Racing Story

My Racing Story

Jerry Hannon

Jerry commentating at Ballinrobe earlier this yearJerry commentating at Ballinrobe earlier this year
© Photo Healy Racing

I was born and reared in a town with a racecourse, I was lucky I suppose! When I was growing up in Listowel there was just a September festival. I recall it was a five-day festival from Monday to Friday and all the schools in the area closed. We got a half-day on Friday for the festival and we weren't back until the following Monday week. For me it was an early Christmas.

I got into racing with the late Liam Healy, the renowned racing photographer. My late dad Joe was a carpenter and he would have known Liam all his life. They were great friends and my dad was always called upon if there was any carpentry or odd jobs to be done in the house or office. I was always hanging around with my dad growing up.

Liam used to take me to the local Kerry meetings and the Mallow's and the Punchestown's. I was the camera bagman from the start! Then he put a camera into my hands and he said I had a great eye for photography. I had been to every racetrack in Ireland with the Healys I'd say when I was 16 or 17. My last one to visit was Laytown and, ironically, it was also the last one I got to commentate on.

Liam was like a second father to me. Honestly, I don't know what career path I would have taken if it wasn't for him. When I did my leaving cert in the summer of '98 I went straight to work for Liam. I was helping in the office and I did photography at the racetracks.

All through this time I was just fascinated the way a course commentary created an atmosphere. On Saturdays they would show a few clips of the meetings during the week on TV and I used to tape them on a cassette and play them back, I'd mute the sound and practice my own version. An odd time my mother would still come across an old tape! I had a Michael O'Hehir Foinavon 1967 Grand National commentary party piece - when he passed away there was an excerpt in the Racing Post, I think, and when it came to Foinavon I remember I cut it out and put it into my scrapbook and I relived it on nights out.

It was a pony meeting I called first - in Athea, west Limerick on 17th October 1999. I got it through James Horgan who was a well-known pony-racing figure who was involved with the Athea committee. His daughter Liz used to say to me to try my commentary in public. I got called for another few pony meetings and then I graduated to point-to-points. I called one race in Askeaton, Limerick in January 2000. Then I called my first full point-to-point in Bruff in March 2000.

Then it was on to Downpatrick in May 2000. The purpose of my trip was to take pictures. It was a two-day meeting - Friday evening and Saturday day. Pat Healy and myself were staying over in Denvir's in Downpatrick and we were invited out by the Polly family who were sponsoring a race the next day. I re-enacted one of the races on that Friday evening and Brian Polly asked me if he could speak to racecourse manager Iain Duff, so that I could call his father's (Willie Polly Memorial Handicap Hurdle) race on the Saturday. Neville Ring was the course commentator in Downpatrick back then and he agreed. When the race was over, Neville said I could call a chase later on. I've never forgotten Iain for giving me the racecourse opportunity.

I had them all tipped off at home and they went down the betting shop to hear the commentary. Downpatrick didn't race again until August and Neville said to me a few weeks later that I could work away with Downpatrick, so my first full meeting was in that August.

That September I called a couple of races in Listowel when I was 19. I think that was a more overwhelming experience than Downpatrick was as it was my home town where I grew up. I couldn't believe that it was actually me that was in the commentary box that I used to look up at when I was a young age.

Jack Kennedy and Roaring Bull winning at LeopardstownJack Kennedy and Roaring Bull winning at Leopardstown
© Photo Healy Racing

I gave 18 years working point-to-points. They were a great foundation. For a few years when I was starting out, I was kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I wasn't able to solely survive on point-to-point commentary money and the racecourse commentary fee. I was on the Cadbury's sales team for a good few years, and I worked for Paddy Power retail for nine years up until I got permanency in July 2018 (as lead racecourse commentator). I used to drop everything at a hat if I got a late call up for course commentaries.

The soundest bit of advice I got was from good friend Pat Keane who was the Irish Examiner racing correspondent for many years, a brilliant scribe. He took interest in my career and always said to me to keep it simple and you can't go wrong, and to leave the editorial to us. I've always stuck to that.

The one commentary that springs to mind was Roaring Bull in the Paddy Power (at Leopardstown, Christmas 2019), people bring it up all the time. It just seemed to hit a note with people. I was just so relieved when the horses went past the line that it was Roaring Bull because Gigginstown had multiple runners in the race.

Some tracks in England used to run these Irish-themed meetings and to make it authentic they would invite an Irish commentator. I called meetings at Kempton, Worcester, Wolverhampton, Sandown. The Worcester one meant something to me because all my family were there. It was a big occasion, my late dad was there.

Latest Stories which may interest you