BOTH my parents were jockeys who rode winners under rules. Having grown up in a household containing photos, videos and clippings of those successes, it was always my ambition to follow in their footsteps.

Last Thursday at Gowran Park, I was fortunate enough to realize that goal when winning the penultimate race on Thyestes Chase day.

Given my family background in racing, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that I was on horseback from a young age. With ponies and a sand ring at home, Mam taught myself and older brother Joseph how to ride.

Dad built a simulator, on which we perfected the balance and stick work techniques that we had learned both from Mam and at the equestrian centre in Gurteen.

Initially, it was dressage and showjumping that piqued our interest but as we got older, hunting and cross-country took over. At one time, Dad (Joey Donnelly), Mam (Lulu Oliverfalk), Joseph and I, all hunted with the Ormonde. After some years, my parents gave that up and more recently Joseph did likewise, in order to concentrate on his career as a marine biologist.

Racing yard

I was in first year in school when I started in my first racing yard: Denis Hogan. After a couple of days on the ground, I was soon riding out two or three lots, eventually moving up to double that.

In all, I spent a very educational and enjoyable two and a half years working weekends and holidays with Denis. The undoubted highlight for me being the occasional opportunity to school some of the more experienced National Hunt horses.

I then moved on to join trainer Ray Hackett, who is based in Toomevara. It was while with Ray, that I first took out an amateur licence and had my initial rides under rules. The intention had also been to compete in point-to-points but as I was still in full-time education, I just never found the time.

After my Leaving Certificate, I spent a year working for Willie Mullins. During that period, I got two rides on the track; Lissadell Lass and Criminal Mischief (trained by Steve Jones for Patrick Mullins). The latter called me aside one day and advised that I should move to a proper point-to-point yard.

He very kindly put me in touch with Enda Bolger, who asked me to come down for a trial. Having come through that initial test, I started full-time with Enda last September.


Although I went in as an amateur, Enda felt that given my weight (9st 3lb) there was no point going down that route. Enda advised me to turn conditional, promising, that while he might not be able to give me many rides, he would get them for me.

After just six rides as an amateur, I had my first as a conditional for Ray Hackett at Punchestown in mid-January. I have continued the association with Ray over the years, riding out six afternoons a week for him after finishing in Enda's.

I was delighted to get the ride on Champagne Platinum at Gowran Park last week. After the horse had run at Leopardstown over Christmas, Enda promised that he would try and get me on him next time.

Having consulted with Mr. Frank Berry and Mr. J.P. McManus, he came back to me with the good news; Champagne Platinum was to run at Gowran on Thyestes day and I would ride. To be honest, it was just a privilege to wear those famous green and gold colours for Mr. McManus and get the chance from Enda. They are two of the best people in the sport; having been very supportive of me since I arrived in the yard.


Even on race day, I was never put under any pressure; Enda just told me to go out, enjoy the experience and don't forget to breathe!

Unfortunately, prior commitments meant my dad missed the race but given her shouting as I edged home in front, no one in the stands that afternoon could have been in any doubt about my mam’s presence!

Mam and Dad have been both an inspiration and constant source of encouragement to me from the very first day, so it was as much their winner as mine.

Luke Donnelly was in conversation with John O'Riordan