RIDING the first double of my career, at the opening Dundalk meeting of 2023, ensured I made the perfect start to the new year.

Two days after, I recorded a third success, giving me a really solid platform upon to which to build over the coming months.

Having felt my riding gradually improve over the course of last season, it is satisfying to reap some rewards in the shape of winners.

For as long as I can remember, all I ever knew were horses. Unfortunately, I was too young to see my dad Trevor ride but he enjoyed a very successful career as a National Hunt jockey.

By the time I was born, Dad was training point-to-point horses, so I grew up in a racing environment. There is a photo at home of me sitting on a thoroughbred when I was no more than two years old. Shortly after learning to walk, I was riding a pony.

From there, I went on to hunt, compete in hunter trials and ride out a few quiet ones for Dad.

My mom is Breda Crowley so, as I was growing up, I always followed the fortunes of my first cousins Joseph (O’Brien), Donnacha, Sarah and Ana.


Two memories that stand out from my teenage years were Joseph winning the Racing Post Trophy on Camelot and Pat Smullen, an uncle through marriage, winning the Epsom Derby on Harzand.

I rode out for my dad until I was 15, at which point I started doing weekends/holidays with Joseph. The following year, I left school and went full-time at Owning Hill.

Basically, I started from scratch as a jockey, having neither attended RACE nor done pony racing.

Not competing at the latter is one regret I have, as some lads my age had ridden upwards of 50 or even 100 winners by the time they became apprentices.

In that regard, I was playing catch-up at the beginning, so it has really taken me until the current season to feel confident in my own abilities.


I am very fortunate to have Joseph as a boss; he has always done right by me, never asking more than he thought me capable of.

Even now, if I do something wrong in a race, he will sit down with me after and go through everything, pointing out where the mistakes were made. Equally, if I give one a good ride, he is the first to acknowledge it.

Riding my first ever winner, aboard Rockfish for Joseph, was an unbelievable experience.

Following that success at Dundalk in April 2019, I felt I could relate that much more with my dad, cousins and family members who had done likewise.

The following season, I rode three winners; all for Joseph. Another four followed in 2021, including two on San Andreas. I had also been successful on that horse the previous campaign and he has undoubtedly been brilliant for my career.

Royal Ascot

Aside from three wins, I also finished second on San Andreas in two premier handicaps and got to ride him at Royal Ascot. Every young apprentice needs a horse such as him starting off, so I have been very lucky in that regard.

Last year saw me add another four wins to my tally, bringing my career total to 12. As the season progressed, I could feel myself growing more confident as a jockey and I could literally see the improvement.

River Rain, a homebred mare, was my final winner of last year, when taking a Dundalk maiden in late November.

A new incentive, which was introduced last year, restricting the first few meetings in January to jockeys who have ridden less than a certain amount of winners over a specific period, has been hugely beneficial to young apprentices such as myself.

Full book

With the senior riders on a break, I found myself with nearly a full book of rides on occasions, even picking up mounts for four or five outside trainers.

Up until recently, I had ridden predominantly for Joseph, so it was great to build some new contacts, in terms of both owners and trainers.

My agent, Kevin O’Ryan, has been working hard to get my name out there and push me with outside trainers. Hopefully, the success I have had in the early weeks of January will show people what I am capable of and make his job that bit easier.

Restricted races

Although competition for rides will be much tougher now the senior jockeys have returned, there are still a few restricted races in the coming weeks.

I would like to think that I will be one of the first lads trainers look for when it comes to such races.

Looking further ahead, the main aims are to continue improving and ride as many winners as possible.

I have another 10 (winners) left before my 7lb claim is reduced down to 5lb. I’d be happy if I achieved that ambition by this time next year.

Hugh Horgan was in conversation with John O’Riordan