Saturday 20 January 2018

Riding Golantilla at my first Festival a dream come true

It may only be a month since I got the job as Barry Connell's retained rider, but it was still nice to finally cement the deal with Mount Benbulben's win at Thurles yesterday.

I suppose it's a bit like when a striker joins a new football club, all he wants to do is get the first goal out of the way.

We had hit the crossbar plenty lately, so it was sweet to get off the mark on a horse with as much quality as Mount Benbulben.

He has taken his time to get the hang of jumping fences and yesterday was the first time that I rode him in a race. Going right-handed suited and he put in his best round of jumping so far to win in the manner of the good horse that we know he is.

To say that it has been a whirlwind few months for me would be an understatement.

Over Christmas, I rode half a dozen winners to take my tally for the season into double figures for the first time over jumps. It's only a couple of years since I started riding over jumps, so I was delighted with the way things were progressing.

Even then, though, I wouldn't have dreamt that I'd be going to Cheltenham in March with a bunch of nice rides, including a favourite in the Grade One Champion Bumper. Sure, I haven't even ridden at the Festival yet!

Once Barry offered me the job, everything changed. I jumped at the chance. Barry has had horses with my father Tony and my mother Mags for years and I have always been lucky in his colours, so it was an exciting opportunity.

Because he had just bought Golantilla, I now find myself looking forward to a ride on one of the market leaders at Cheltenham.

Last week, I sat on Golantilla at Tony Martin's. He felt great and will do another bit of work soon, although I don't know if he will gallop after racing at Leopardstown on Sunday.

The ground is drying up all of a sudden and the last thing you want to do at this stage is risk jarring him up, so Tony will decide what's best.

Inis Meain will run in the handicap hurdle on Sunday. He may need to earn a winner's penalty to be sure of a run at Cheltenham but Denis Hogan reckons he has come on a lot for his last run – he certainly seemed well when I gave him a blowout on Wednesday.

When I finished at Denis', I went back to ride out for dad. I rode Bridget's Pet to be third for dad and Barry on Saturday, and he and Glam Gerry are two horses that I'm desperate to see make the cut at Cheltenham, as they are finding their form now.

My father's horses have been performing quite well all season but they seem to keep running into one or two. Neither he nor Barry have had a winner at the Festival since Pedrobob won the County Hurdle in 2007, so it would mean an awful lot to me on a personal level if I could steer Bridget's Pet home in front in the Coral Cup.

And it will be nice to be going over there having had that winner yesterday, as Barry has put a lot of faith in me.

To be honest, riding for someone like Barry is a privilege as, having ridden himself, he has a great understanding of the nuances of race-riding. He still rides out five days a week and we speak most evenings to discuss the horses. For the first few weeks I was like a kid in a sweet shop, driving all over the country to ride out so that I could get to know the horses properly.

Now where I ride out is dictated more by what is due to run and every one of Barry's trainers has made the job very easy for me from the get-go. In a way it is a new arrangement for all of them too, so I appreciate that they have been supportive.

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

Irish Independent

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