Sport Horse Racing

Friday 19 July 2019

No sweat suit or sauna for lightweight Cleary

In The Stables

Rory Cleary rode his first winner 15 years ago but is in the lucky position of never having to worry about weight issues. Photo: Patrick McCann
Rory Cleary rode his first winner 15 years ago but is in the lucky position of never having to worry about weight issues. Photo: Patrick McCann
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Being a lightweight is not generally seen as a good thing, but it's a blessing for Rory Cleary.

Whether it's in a bar trying to order a drink or on the playing fields, being small in stature can be a drawback but Cleary has used it to his advantage to carve out a successful career as a Flat jockey. One of the main reasons why many jockeys leave the game or fall out of love with it is a constant battle with the weighing scales which leaves them physically, mentally and emotionally drained.

As a self-proclaimed "five foot nothing", Cleary doesn't have the same problems as some other jockeys who wear sweat suits, spend hours in saunas, jog the track and ration their food and water to lose valuable pounds before meetings.

Grand National-winning jockey Timmy Murphy is one of many who has been forced to hang up the saddle in recent seasons for that reason and while most bodies and metabolisms change, Cleary's has stayed the same.

His father Tom - a dual-purpose trainer in Westmeath - remarked during Rory's teenage years that his son left Naas racecourse after racing "with a Mars bar, a Crunchie and a bottle of Coke and a smile on his face" and he can still afford to enjoy the good things in life if he wishes.

While most jockeys are keeping one eye on their plate and one on the scales at Christmas, the Athlone native can let his hair down somewhat as it's something he's always been able to control.

The 31-year-old - who rode his first winner aboard Keen Look for trainer Gerry Keane in Fairyhouse 15 years ago - realises he's in a lucky position which is the envy of most jockeys.

"I'm one of the lucky ones that I don't have any weight issues, that's probably what makes it easy for me. I never grew an inch, it's not a bad complaint to have in this job," he says.

"I'm very lucky that way and all the lads in the weighing room have a great sense of humour and some of them find it funny and they'd make a joke of it more than anything else."

His weight allows him to take mounts towards the bottom end of competitive handicaps and he's been prospering since joining Jim Bolger's Coolcullen team in recent seasons.

"I'm based as his lightweight jockey and it's a nice position to have. He's been very good to me, any of the light weights he's had no problem throwing me up on any of them and luckily enough we've had a lot of success and long may it last," Cleary says.

"I've been lucky to get rides in a lot of the big handicaps at light weights that maybe others can't do and there's lots of handicaps with light weights.

"It has been a big help for me, if I wasn't able to do a light weight I'd probably struggle a lot more than I am. Thankfully, my weight has never come against me."

Cleary is tying up a horse as we speak and could follow his father into the training ranks on a small scale - he is already doing some pre-training - although it's not something he has given much thought.

For now, attention is on his young family - his third child is on the way - and he'll enjoy Friday night racing in Dundalk, which he feels offers more to Irish racing than meets the eye.

"I've done all that craic and went away for the winter but I like to stay at home now with the family and do a lot of hunting, I really enjoy it and it's like a holiday being out enjoying yourself on a horse for a day with no pressure," he says.

"All-weather racing is huge because when we didn't have Dundalk, we had to go away.

"We had no choice if we wanted to make an income but at least now we're able to make a wage out of it. It's a big help for owners, trainers and jockeys."

Irish Independent

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