Resilient Mangan looks the genuine article
Of all those likely to be presented with end-of-season gongs at Punchestown on Saturday, none have experienced quite the roller-coaster campaign that Paddy Mangan has.
On the eve of the Kildare festival's grand finale, the 21-year-old is riding the crest of a wave. Eight winners since February have catapulted him to the top of the conditional jockeys' table, one ahead of Eddie O'Connell, who looks doomed for the runner-up berth for a second year in a row.
In all, O'Connell has ridden 31 winners, but a quirk in the system means that only 26 of his tally count towards the title. He rode out his claim in November, so from the point of view of the conditionals' championship, he has been in the clubhouse since then.
Declan Bates, who has enjoyed as lucrative a back nine as Mangan since the turn of the year, is two behind the new leader. Outscoring him over the next six days is not out of the question, but it is a formidable ask given the standard of racing from tomorrow onwards.
That Mangan -- a twin son of Grand National-winning trainer Jimmy and sister to Jane, the latest teenage riding sensation -- might be in the position he is now would have surprised few at the season's outset. Last term, his first full one in the paid ranks, he notched up a tidy 19 winners, so this was always going to be a campaign with breakthrough potential for him.
"At the start of every year you set out to do the best you can," the Cork-born rider says now. "I'd a good year last year, so it was in the back of my mind to give the title a go, but when you try to do something like that it will never happen. You just have to let it unfold by itself."
When he partnered Slieveardagh to a fortuitous victory -- his third of the new season -- for his boss Edward O'Grady at Tipperary on July 17, things could hardly have been unfolding more smoothly. His very next ride that day, though, thrust him into a flurry of controversy.
Acres of space have already been devoted to The Real Article debacle but, suffice to say, consensus holds that the race-day stewards' failure to act after Mangan's tender handling of O'Grady's horse in going down by a head to Captain Cee Bee was a damning indictment of Irish racing's integrity procedures.
For Mangan, having gone a long way to establishing a solid reputation as an intelligent and strong rider, it was an unflattering episode that might have had far-reaching consequences.
As it was, it didn't, and you couldn't but be impressed by the way he has knuckled down in the interim. "It was something I put behind me as soon as I could," he concedes of the drama.
"Once it was done, it was done, and you have to look to the future, not the past. I followed the instructions that I was given on the day. If The Real Article had been beaten four or five lengths, people would have been saying he ran great, but when he was beaten a head, people were disappointed that I didn't hit him. That's the way it goes."
Mangan was soon back to his forceful and recognisable best, lifting Ever Dreaming home by a head from a seemingly impossible position to complete a Ballinrobe double for John Morrison just two days later. Having generated a depth of intrigue from the wider sporting media that racing rarely attracts for the right reasons, The Real Article affair lingered on like a bad smell, but his aspiring young jockey came through with his reputation intact.
Indeed, over the course of the next few months, Mangan's stock rose steadily. He rode a slew of winners for Morrison -- who trains just a stone's throw from Mangan's Conna homestead in Tallow -- and fellow local handlers James Motherway and Sean Aherne.
All the while, his blossoming association with his father yielded another five winners courtesy of the well-placed mares Quarryvale and Noras Fancy. Support came from further afield too, with Jessica Harrington and Tom Taaffe both calling on Mangan's services to ride smart prospects Jenari and Distant Memories to their debut hurdling successes.
Mangan was on the up and up, and, while only two of the 24 winners that he has ridden since The Real Article saga have been for his employer, O'Grady has been responsible for his highest-profile mount. At Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, the partnership went agonisingly close to pulling off a glorious Irish Grand National coup with Out Now.
After a gruelling three-and-a-half-mile examination and a rare old tussle with Lion Na Bearnai, it was only 50 yards from the line that Out Now yielded. Heavy rain at Fairyhouse on the day of the race ultimately undermined his chances of seeing out the marathon journey, but in defeat both horse and jockey emerged with immense credit.
Out Now, a relative novice, fenced superbly in the middle of a packed field under Mangan. Neither was overawed by the occasion, with the red-haired pilot -- as courteous and affable an individual as you would expect of his famously hard-working parents -- easing his mount through to join issue with Lion Na Bearnai two-out, before touching down in front at the last.
In the conditions, Out Now didn't have the reserves to see it through, but Mangan could have done no more.
Plenty of young tyros who seem perfectly capable on everyday fare seem less so under a more unforgiving light on a good horse in a big race. Mangan, no less than Lion Na Bearnai's rider Andrew Thornton, was never anything other than composed in the moment.
"I knew going into the National that I had a good ride but my biggest worry was the trip," he admits. "In the end, it caught us out, but it was great to have such a good ride and finish second.
"Turning in, when you are so close, you do get excited. The ground had gone against Out Now a bit, though, so I had to settle for second, but it was still a great experience."
For the 12-year-old boy who felt that the best thing about his father and mother, Mary, taking Monty's Pass off to Aintree in 2003 was that he got the week off school -- "someone had to look after the place!" -- a National victory would obviously have been sweet.
Nonetheless, the chances are that Paddy Mangan's best days in the saddle are still ahead of him.
There might even be one or two at Punchestown this week. The rollercoaster will keep spinning until Saturday and beyond.