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Canavan waiting patiently to show the world what he's got

Young jockey has already had the taste of success and is desperate for more

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Harsh reality: Jordan Canavan admits that it will probably take an injury to a fellow jockey for him to get the opportunity he craves. Photo: Patrick Browne

Harsh reality: Jordan Canavan admits that it will probably take an injury to a fellow jockey for him to get the opportunity he craves. Photo: Patrick Browne

Harsh reality: Jordan Canavan admits that it will probably take an injury to a fellow jockey for him to get the opportunity he craves. Photo: Patrick Browne

National Hunt racing is unique in its nature - it will provide the highest of highs, those heartwarming moments that leave emotions stirring long in the memory.

Think Faugheen and the emotional reception the old stalwart received when returning to the winners' enclosure at the recent Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown. Think Tony McCoy's farewell success on board Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2015.

Jump racing stirs those feelings deep inside, it provides those 'I was there' reactions and for those with a fondness for the game, reinforces the reasons why we enjoy watching our heroes running around fields, flying over hurdles and fences on horseback with an ambulance in tow, just 20 yards behind.

On the same day as Faugheen's glorious triumph at Leopardstown, 20-year-old Jack Kennedy added another huge win to his CV when he guided Delta Work home in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

However, an hour later he added to his list of injuries when breaking his leg and undergoing surgery in St Vincent's Hospital. Highest of high followed by a devastating low.

Kennedy, while unlucky, has been at the top of the game for three years, while other young talents scrap and claw, begging for opportunities.

Jordan Canavan is not the household name of a Kennedy, Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty or McCoy, but he could be, given the chance. That opportunity will probably need to come in the form of an injury. Rides are difficult to come by in an ultra-competitive pool of talent.

Entries

"I would do a lot of calendar-watching, to be honest with you," Canavan says. "Every day of entries I'd run through them and see what's running where and for whom. I will be on the phone then to almost every trainer to see if they could use me on one they have entered up.

"That's with the exception of the likes of Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins, Joseph O'Brien - you know, the real big trainers. I'd ring as many of the smaller trainers as I can because they're the only ones, realistically, I'd have a chance of getting a ride from.

"It's tough going, but I will be onto them telling them who I am and that I work in (trainer) Robert Tyner's yard and I see that, for example, they have one entered in Gowran Park on that Thursday. That I can do 10 stone and do they have any interest in using my jockeys' claim off it.

"Ninety-nine per cent of the time it's a 'no' but those one-per-cent days are the ones you're hoping for.

"The answers would generally be 'I don't know who's riding yet' or 'I haven't discussed it with the owners yet and I'll get back to you'. Of course, some do but I'd say half of them don't.

"And then I'll do it all again the next time because they always tell me to. They'll say 'look, I have someone sorted but keep ringing me because I may need you the next day'.

"It's soul destroying, being told 'no' all the time, but like I said, that odd 'yes' gives you such a lift and keeps you going, reinforces the confidence."

It began so well for the Belfast-born 22-year-old as, after a couple of years educated at Ross O'Sullivan's, life at the Jonjo O'Neill stable kicked off with a win on board a JP McManus-owned runner at Chepstow.

It was exactly where Canavan wanted to be and he can be forgiven for believing it was the start of something special. Legendary trainer O'Neill, at the time three years ago, was still a powerhouse in the UK, with Cheltenham Festival Grade One contenders in the yard.

Clubs Are Trumps was no world-beater but he certainly had ability, and it was an exciting booking for the then-teenager.

"It was great to be given the ride, that was exciting, because we didn't really fancy him as it was his first run back for a while," adds Canavan.

"I didn't know too much about the horse, but I was booked for the ride. He did have form but he had only ever run to any kind of form under Will Kennedy - nobody else could get a bit of spark out of him.

"And in the weigh room I was getting it from all the lads. 'Look at this lad here, he reckons he's going to be able to win on Will's horse' - that's what they called the horse because he was a rogue of a thing.

"Fast-forward then to turning into the home straight, he was travelling sweet as a nut for me and I knew that if I got the gap between the two horses in front, he'd be gone. So I gave him a squeeze and didn't do anything too smart with him over the five fences up the home straight and we won by 13 lengths.

"So afterwards I thought, 'this is a piece of cake, this riding business'. He was the first horse I'd ridden who had the real proper ability to win a race like that, so there was me thinking, 'jaysus, this is easy if I can ride a few more like that'.

"We had the Gold Cup runner-up in the yard at that stage, Minella Rocco, and More Of That who was the only horse to beat Annie Power when she stood on her feet, so Jonjo had some really good horses. And to be riding for Mr McManus too and winning races as a 10lbs claimer was just dream scenario stuff."

Unfortunately, Canavan arrived at the yard at the same time as Jonjo O'Neill Jr, whose meteoric rise has seen his services become highly sought after, as evidenced by his win on Gold Cup hopeful Native River on Saturday. The opportunities dried up. Canavan came back to Ireland, to Tyner in Kinsale, Co Cork.

He got off to the same start for his new boss, too, after an injury to stable jockey Philip Enright. Passed to ride on licence after Enright was hurt, Canavan did the business on Dontdooddson at Clonmel in late October 2018, seeing off none other than legendary Walsh at the finish, and it led to some more of those golden opportunities.

"I couldn't have gotten off to a better start and I rode everything we had for about six weeks when Philip was hurt. Fair dues to Robert, I can't thank him enough, he stuck with me and has still given me rides even since then while Philip has been back and injury-free. So if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be able to keep improving.

"Last year was my best year for rides and winners, so I want to keep getting better and keep getting rides so I can win races. I'm just working hard to get into that position again.

"I'm still young and I'm still a 7lbs claimer for a reason, so I need to keep my head down and work hard. if I can ride a few winners in a short space of time and my name can get out there, then I know it will take off for me.

"I'm working very hard and Robert sees that I'm working very hard and he does repay me for working hard, so it's 99 per cent down to him as to how I progress at the moment."

Canavan feels lucky to be riding out of Tyner's yard, it projects as he speaks of his boss, as well as Enright - the man who stands in his way of the opportunities he craves.

"I get on great with Philip," adds Canavan. "He has also taught me so much and helped me learn and progress, and we would travel to the track together, he gives me lifts all the time. We have good chats and good craic around the yard.

"He's the yard's number-one jockey - and for good reason - so I need to work hard and hope he gets injured again for me to get my chance!"

It is said with a chuckle and is abundantly clear that Canavan bears no ill-will towards his friend. However, the brutal nature of the jumping game means it is likely to happen again, and Canavan will need to step in to do a job.

"Don't get me wrong now, I don't want anyone to get hurt at all but it's the truth. In the position I find myself - we're in a game where falls happen and one jockey's misfortune is another jockey's fortune.

"It worked perfect for me when Philip got injured and I took that opportunity, so it's a case of grabbing it with both hands.

"Look at Jack Kennedy for example - he's only 20 and has had a torrid time with injuries, he just had surgery on a broken leg. But I'd swap my position with his, I'd give anything to ride the kind of horses he rides. Gold Cup winners, Cheltenham Festival winners, that's the dream.

"I know what needs to be done and what effort needs to be put in to get to that level, and I'll keep going until I get there."

Irish Independent