Although I could claim off bottom weight when I started out as an apprentice, I found my weight gradually crept up day by day. By the time I had lost my claim, I was only able to ride the colts in maidens off 9st 5lb, or higher weights in handicaps. I took the decision to extend my riding career by switching to jump racing, but I knew even that would only give me a couple of more years. Longer term, I knew that my future would be in the training ranks. 

My father had an interest in horses but never really got the chance to do anything. He would have gone racing a lot when he was younger and always followed it. When I was growing up, RTÉ Racing was always on in the house at home. I think that’s how I got started. Point-to-pointing was very strong in Cork at that time with local trainers Eugene O’Sullivan, Mick Winters and Adrian Maguire going quite well.

I would have gone to the races as a child and been aware of those men. Around the age of seven, I learned how to ride at Eden Hill Racing School, which is owned by Bill O’Callaghan. I was lucky that my father bought me a pony that could do almost anything. We did pony club, hunted with the Duhallow and later went pony racing.

Try again

My first experience at the local Buttevant races didn’t go that great but I went back the next year and it went better. After that, I went on to race on the southern circuit and all over the country. I was champion jockey and leading rider at the Dingle Races, where I rode six winners over the weekend. 

From about 11, I had started going to Billy Lee’s mother and father’s place in Ballingarry. They had a lot of ponies for racing, so I would have been down there weekends and school holidays. I learned an awful lot about riding while I was with them. Billy (Lee) was second jockey to David Wachman at the time, so he got me in there when I was 15.

I got my apprentice licence the following year and rode a winner on my very first ride: Precious Stone at Leopardstown in October 2012. Although I was still in school and rode at Dundalk over the winter, it wasn’t until the following April that Harry Trotter became my second winner. In 2013, my first full season riding, I was champion apprentice in Ireland. I won that title again in 2015, while Colin Keane was champion the year in between. 

Too tall

After school, I went full-time with David Wachman but not long after he finished up (training). I went to Joseph (O’Brien) for a time, then Johnny Murtagh. They were the two main people I rode for. I found it harder after losing my claim, especially as I was quite tall and struggled with my weight.

I continued to ride on the flat for another season, then in 2017, I went over to Malton in Yorkshire. I soon ended up falling in with trainers John Quinn and Tim Easterby. I really enjoyed it in Malton; there are a lot of Irish, so it’s like a home away from home. I saw a different way of how people go about training horses.

They had all sorts of different types: sprinters, stayers, jumpers, young horses, older horses. I would love to have stayed a bit longer but the trainers I was based with just didn’t have that many National Hunt horses to make it worthwhile. 

Assisting Paddy

I came home in 2019 and went back to Joseph (O’Brien) for a while. I had ridden a few for Paddy Twomey before I went to England and he rang me to ask would I go and work for him full-time. He had me down as assistant trainer, although it was a strange time with Covid. When you are riding, you are in and out of a yard very fast, so you never get to see much of what goes on.

During the two years I spent with Paddy, I saw that other side and learned so much in terms of training. I started to think about it more, asking myself what would I do with a horse if I was the trainer. After two years with Paddy I missed the riding a bit, so I went to Sam Curling. I had a few rides over jumps and rode a couple of winners for Joe Murphy.

I was glad I went back, as prior to that, I hadn’t ridden a winner over jumps in Ireland. With that out of my system, I was happy to leave it at that. It took me a bit of time to come to terms with not riding again but I am fine with it now. 

First runner

I did the trainers’ course around Cheltenham time and got the licence soon after. Oscars Brother was my first runner at the Killarney May meeting. He found the ground a bit too quick there but went close to giving me a first winner when just beaten at Wexford on his next start.

He is a horse that should really come into his own as a staying chaser. I am holding off on sending him over fences for the next few months, as he is still a novice over hurdles. I am based in Golden, just outside Cashel. I have three horses in at the moment with room for more.

Earlier this week, I booked flights to go over to the Newmarket July Sales, so hopefully I can buy a few there.

I’m doing the majority of riding out myself. My brother Daniel pops over when he can when he is finished work, while my dad Richard helps out as well. My younger brother Rory is doing his Masters at the moment but comes in whenever he can. Julia, my girlfriend, is also a big help. She qualified as a vet last year and is based at Fethard Equine Hospital. 

John O’Riordan was in conversation with Conor King.