I'm a late starter but Agent glory justifies early mornings
Published 18/01/2013 | 05:00
Winning the bumper at Navan on Agent James on Sunday was a surreal experience. A couple of years ago, my two daughters started riding ponies, so I used to hack around with them on half-bred horses. A man always likes to push himself, though.
I fancied a bit of speed, shortened my stirrups and then my old friend Richard Hughes began taking me into Richard Hannon's to ride out. I've been dumped on my back a few times, but it's a great way to keep fit, a healthy break from work in London.
Soon enough I started thinking about getting an amateur rider's licence.
When you're running around an Astro Turf pitch doing a beep test with a bunch of 16-year-old kids, you do wonder what you're at, but that was all part of the challenge.
James Collins, a mutual friend of Richard's and mine that rode in Ireland years ago, was tasked with sourcing a suitable conveyance. He found a horse by Oscar at Charlie Swan's before Christmas. I named him Agent James in honour of my 'agent'.
Next thing, I am navigating my way through the dense Navan fog. I don't know whether I was more nervous or excited, but there's little anyone can do for you once you have been legged up, and Charlie had walked the course with me beforehand.
You've just got to get on with it. Apart from sleep, I've never had a quieter five minutes in my life – I was in the zone.
We kept it together to beat the favourite under Patrick Mullins, who gave me a pat on the back afterwards. That was a nice touch.
Charlie and his team had the horse primed, and I had done a lot of work to make sure I wouldn't let the side down. In the summer, I cycled from Marble Arch to Knock with five others for the local hospice, doing 100 miles a day for five days.
Six days a week, I ride out at 4.45am with Thomas Gallagher, whose Ratlett yard is just a couple of miles up the road from where I live in north London. I jog up there and back twice a week and ride two lots every morning, so I am very active.
I also gave up junk food and smoking. It may all seem a big commitment for a 40-year-old man, but it's a fine feeling to be riding out on the gallops every morning. There is nothing like it.
Sure, it's easier in the summer when you are rising with the sun, but I need to be gone from the yard at 6.30am for work, so early morning is the only time to do it. It's a good habit, and I manage just fine on five or six hours' sleep. As I see it, it's great to be able to do it, and one thing London has taught me is that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. It's the best city in the world.
I came as a labourer from Bohola in Mayo in 1988 and set up my company in 1996. Business is good and the Irish community is strong – 75pc of my staff are Irish. People moan about having to leave Ireland for work, but it's a small world. London is only an hour away on the plane, yet you'd swear they were going to the moon.
I was back in Thomas' at 4.45 on Monday morning. He has set up his yard with a view to taking out his licence shortly, having done a number of years with Ger Lyons, so I was never not going to turn up for him. Sunday was great, but life goes on, too.
All being well, I will be back to ride Agent James in a winners' race. If he proves himself again, Cheltenham or Aintree might be considered. The thought of it!
If I'm honest, though, I'd happily mooch about in low-key bumpers for the next few years. I started late, so I just want to knock as much fun out of it while I still can.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie