Saturday 16 December 2017

Ronan Whelan: When Mr Bolger is quiet, you know you're doing alright

Travelling to Leopardstown last Sunday, I was a bit more nervous than usual. Kevin Manning is suspended at the moment, so I got an opportunity on a couple of nice horses for my boss, Jim Bolger. As well as that, I was due to be presented with my Champion Apprentice of the Year award.

Leopardstown kindly gave me tickets for my family to mark the occasion, and an entourage of 14 ended up coming along.

It was the first time my grandmother had ever been racing, so I was anxious to do well. Thankfully, it all went to plan. The two horses that I expected most from, both won at their ease, so I needn't have worried -- pity you don't know that beforehand.

Lady Wingshot's win in the Knockaire Stakes was my very first Listed winner. To bring the curtain down on the season on such a high note was a real bonus.

After racing, a bunch of us went for a meal and we ended up in Cunninghams in Kildare for a celebratory drink. Brian O'Connor, Mr Bolger's head lad, had told Rory Cleary and I to take Monday off, so it was grand to be able to relax.

The last few weeks had been quite tense. I had a small cushion over my closest rivals in the championship, but you are still worrying that they might be able to catch up.

It was a relief to get there, not least because you feel as though you are repaying the faith of those who supported you all year. And it was lovely to see the amount of well-wishers that wanted to pat you on the back afterwards -- that was a nice surprise.

If I'm honest, the highlights of my year probably didn't even involve me riding a winner.

I ride Dawn Approach in all his homework and did the pace-making duties for him in his last three races. That meant that I got to ride at Royal Ascot and I met Sheikh Mohammed before the Dewhurst.

Everyone was a little on edge so there was little said, but I ended up finishing second to Dawn Approach on Leitir Mor.

It was my third time riding in a Group One and my third time finishing in the first three, so I am grateful for those chances.

Being involved so closely with such a good horse was a huge buzz. Because I was doing most of the work on him at home, I used to get concerned that things might go wrong, but he never let us down.

I am still riding him out every second day before he is let off.

He is getting bigger and stronger all the time -- a real barrel to look at -- so that augurs well for next year.

Of course, Mr Bolger is well versed on getting the most out of his riders too. He doesn't always say much, but when he does speak, he is worth listening to, as it's usually when you have done something wrong that he will have a chat with you.

In other words, if he's not saying much to you, you are doing something right.

There has been increased media interest this week after my being crowned Champion Apprentice, but that's to be welcomed and I will make the most of it while I can.

Although I am only 19, my weight is a bit of a struggle. If I stop growing I will be okay, but I might not have a long career if I don't as jump racing doesn't appeal.

My father Tom, my uncle Buddy and the Faheys near home in Monasterevin, all helped me on my way starting out. Dad buys and sells young horses and I enjoy that side of it, so that's a path I might go down if it eventually comes to it.

In the meantime, though, I will do what I can to beat the scales. Having racing at Dundalk through the winter is a big help and I have six rides there tonight. Rapid Approach and Heavy Weight, the two I ride for Mr Bolger, are probably the pick of the lot. It would be great to pick up where I left off last Sunday.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out

Irish Independent

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