A 12-year-old boy is pummelling the heavy bag. Then we cut to him pounding the roads. Then it’s the pads. It is a tough regime for a kid but one he adheres to piously, such is the clear vision of his goal, revealed with a grin.
He is a good boxer, good enough to be an Ulster champion, but the discipline and fitness is what he likes most about it. It contributes to where the pre-pubescent Dylan Browne McMonagle wants to go. The vision is outside the ring and on a horse’s back.
So we get a shot of him on the simulator, too, honing his style in the saddle, strengthening his core and arms and legs, and tidying how he’ll look and operate in a finish.
Five Stone Of Lead was an acclaimed short film chronicling the young Donegal lad’s early days in pony racing, and an appearance at a meet at the other end of the country, on the Kerry beach of Glenbeigh.
The title comes from the five stone two pounds in lead the waif had to carry in his saddle to supplement his four stone ten.
“You have to make yourself as big and as competitive as you can,” he tells us, smiling broadly. The personality crashed through the screen. Behind it is a resolution forged in steel. This buck had the mindset, the bottle and the desire.
Browne McMonagle would win the first of his two Dingle Derbys just a short while after Five Stone Of Lead was filmed and booted home a monumental 218 winners in pony racing; his uncle, Adrian Browne, providing much of the artillery and guidance.
Since making the transition to horse racing, under the eagle eye of Joseph O’Brien, he has continued upon his merry way and when the Irish Flat season concludes at Naas next Sunday, he will be crowned champion apprentice.
“I got off to a really good start and it snowballed from there,” says Browne McMonagle. “Everything went pretty smooth and it’s just gone from strength to strength. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve gotten loads of support off loads of great people, and things have never stopped since I started. Hopefully the success continues.”
Acknowledging the support system that has been there from the start is a regular theme, from his family in the early days, right through to O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan, his agent. But it wouldn’t have happened but for his own single-mindedness. “Since I’ve been a young fella, that’s all I’ve dreamed about, to be living this life now and going good. It’s just a privilege.”
He never felt the weight of expectation to deliver after the documentary was aired. He remains proud of it, and thankful for the profile it gave him. These included the 20-time British champion jump jockey AP McCoy inviting him to his yard to ride out.
“Five Stone Of Lead was very special and definitely a big push to get me started. It really got my name out there. Loads of people saw it. But I was brought up really well and I can’t say enough about my family, the things they done for me when I was younger. There was no pressure.”
O’Brien has built a strong team of riders. Former champion Declan McDonogh is the experienced hand, but it has been notable how the boss has looked to bring young talent in. He has already made Shane Crosse a Group 1 winner.
“I went down riding out a couple of days and then Joseph asked me to sign on, and I couldn’t refuse that offer. He’s very straightforward, very easy to work for. He’s very good to ride for, he keeps it very simple. All the horses have their own way of being rode and if you make a mistake, you should know yourself, but he’ll correct you as well, which is very good,” Browne McMonagle acknowledges.
“All the jockeys get on well. There’s loads of good horses for us all and Joseph is very fair to us. If you win on a horse early in its career, you usually stay on. If you get on well with a horse, you keep the ride. In another big yard, if you won on a horse, you might have the professional on the next day if the horse keeps progressing, but Joseph sticks with us and gives us opportunities. Baron Samedi winning the Group 3 in Navan (Vintage Crop Stakes) was the biggest win for me this year.”
It was Baron Samedi he was on board in last weekend’s Long Distance Cup at Ascot, in which he finished sixth, the horse running well before just flattening out. Afterwards, however, Browne McMonagle found himself in the headlines after Frankie Dettori branded him “a disgrace”.
It is clear that the teenager rode a perfect race and Dettori’s claims that “the kid did everything he could to get me beat” were rightly dismissed as sour grapes, having gotten himself into a world of trouble of his own making on Stradivarius. O’Brien backed his man and that backing was almost universal, the rider entitled to hold his ground and make anyone else have to go wider than they’d like to make a run.
Browne McMonagle is happy to consign it to the past. He was unperturbed by the Dettori rant — in that moment, the 18-year-old seemed far more grown up than the all-time great 32 years his senior.
“I’d rather not go into detail on it. It’s forgotten about now. It didn’t bother me at all. I knew I didn’t do much wrong and it was just race riding. It was blown way out of proportion I felt as well in the media, but it’s all forgotten about now. You learn plenty from those things, too, and riding with those good jockeys and those good horses. I really enjoyed the day and it’s just a pity the horse didn’t run a bit better,” he says.
Baron Samedi is just one of a slew of good horses he has to look forward to next year, and that will be vital as he closes in on losing his claim. The road to the top is littered with the detritus of champion apprentices slated for superstardom, who found the phone no longer ringing once the advantage of the claim had disappeared.
The thing with Browne McMonagle is that he has opportunities, he has a level head and he has the workrate. Sometimes precocious talents struggle for credit because the external expectation is deemed inevitable. What people invariably ignore is the diligence, the assiduous adherence to daily rituals of preparation, work and learning, to get to this point. Talent alone is never enough.
“I’m in a big yard with loads of horses. Joseph has supported us really well and I couldn’t be in a better spot. There’s no real targets in racing. You’re only as good as your last winner. You just have to keep working hard and keep your head down and whatever comes your way, you have to take it with both hands.”
But what about wanting to be champion jockey? “That’s what everyone wants to do. That’s the dream. You want to be winning those big races and be champion jockey. I’m a long way off that yet, but we’ll keep working hard and, hopefully, some day it might work out.”