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Riding crest of a wave after Salsify triumph

From the time I got injured in a fall at Tipperary in April 2010 up until the end of last November, I never set foot on a weighing scales. I didn't need to. A couple of my brothers had changed my nametag on their phones to Fatty, which tells you all you need to know.

After the fall, I failed the concussion test a couple of times. Then I got married and started a degree course in computer science and I just stopped watching my weight.

I had never said that I would or wouldn't ride again -- my mind would change from one month to the next -- but my father Rodger was telling me the whole time that I couldn't let my last ride be a faller.

"You'll have to at least come back to ride one more winner," he'd say, knowing full well that, if I came back at all, I'd stay going.

I was 13st 10lb in November, but Salsify was the incentive for me to get in shape. My good friend Richie Harding had ridden him to win two of the top hunter chases for my father last year and I knew he could go to Cheltenham with a chance this time.

I began running and playing squash so that I could do 12st to ride him at Dromahane on New Year's Eve. My wife Niamh helped with my diet and eventually I got there.

While Salsify got beaten on the day, I won on Green Flag for Niamh's father Liam Walshe 24 hours later, so I was back in business. Salsify then fulfilled the dream by flashing home late for me in the Foxhunters' at Prestbury Park this day last week.

Victory was pure joy, but more than that, I felt relieved. Richie did nothing wrong on the horse, so it was important to me that I justified the decision to replace him.

By winning on him at Cheltenham, I felt that I had done that, so I was finally able to relax. As a result, although it was my second time winning the race, I was fairly jubilant afterwards and I have been riding a wave of euphoria ever since.

After returning home to Castlelyons on Saturday morning, I met up with all my family in Barry's Bar in Rathcormac that night. I was due to ride in Lismore the following day so I was on the dry, but I didn't need drink -- I was on a real high.

bouncing

It was the same at Lismore. I had two heavy falls to start off, but I didn't even feel them -- I was bouncing around the place.

Then I rode a very special horse called Teelin Star to win for Pat Hughes and the reception I got afterwards was wonderful. I've been lucky to ride good horses like Denman and Finian's Rainbow in their point-to-points, but Teelin Star could be the best I have ever ridden. He is a freak of nature.

That night, I met up with Sean O'Brien, the trainer who has endured me as a squash partner. All I will say is a quiet pint in Kilworth turned into a bit more than that! Still, I was due a day off at that stage and the boss -- Dad -- didn't deny me Monday to recover. It has been back to the grindstone at home since.

We only have nine or 10 riding out and Liam Burke has accommodated us with the use of his facilities in recent years. I took a couple over there to school on Wednesday and then popped two more for Liam, which is fairly typical of my daily routine.

I ride our own horses in the mornings, then I'll go and school a few for other trainers and I'm at college in CIT at night. With training such a tough game these days, I started the degree course so that I would have something to fall back on if need be.

It gives me some added security, but I knew once I began riding again that it would be a case of doing it properly or not at all. While Salsify scoring at Cheltenham was the culmination of my efforts, I am back in full have-saddle-will-travel mode now.

To that end, it's onto Liscarroll on Sunday, where Uimhir A Seacht (Ken Budds) and Musical Knight are two that I ride with live chances. Musical Knight is unraced, but he comes from Ronnie O'Leary's with a tall reputation.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie

Irish Independent