Although he was caught on the line when trying to do the Queen Mother/Punchestown Champion Chase double on Tuesday evening, Captain Guinness gave me some incredible memories over the season. From making a winning return in the Fortria Chase back in November, to winning at the Cheltenham Festival, to that agonising defeat earlier this week, it has been thrilling to be involved with such a great horse. Getting beaten at Punchestown was heartbreaking but that’s just racing unfortunately.

I am originally from Scotland; a little town called Langholm, which is just on the borders. My grandfather always had horses in training back home with local trainers, so my interest would have come from there.

He also bred his own horses, so I was always going to see the foals and mares. My stepdad was also big into racing; he worked as a betting ring manager who covered a lot of the Scottish tracks as part of his job.

When I was quite young, I would have gone racing with him. Alistair Whillans trained the horses for my grandfather. He has since retired but his son Ewan has the licence now. I have great memories of going to the yard to watch horses work or see them in their stables.

My grandfather used to name his horses after his grandkids. At the time, I was the only grandson he had. I was also obsessed with Spiderman! He called one horse, Sammy Spiderman. That horse, which was born the same year as me, won five races – all at Ayr. By the time he won his first race, I was five, so had just started riding myself. I got lessons at the Langholm Young Riders Club but never really did any pony club or show jumping.

I grew up doing Common Riding, which is the big thing where I am from. It’s a traditional kind of thing, which mostly involves parading through the local towns on horseback. It is held on the last Friday in July every year.

At 12, I got a weekend/summer job with local trainer James Ewart. I only rode two or three lots at first but as I got more experienced I rode more. I kind of knew that I wanted to work in racing long term, so I left school at 16 and went to work for James full-time. I would have mainly been based at home in the yard but I did get to go racing the odd time.

I spent from 16 to 18 with James, before moving over to Henry de Bromhead. I wanted to leave home, go and see what it was like to work in a bigger yard. That was three years ago and I am still here! It was quite a big change, going from a small town where nothing happens except for a week in July to a big city. Not coming home to my mother’s cooking every day after work was another big change; the one downside! I had wanted to come to Ireland, to one of the bigger yards. An ad for the job in Henry’s came up on the Irish Racing Jobs Facebook page and I applied. I came over in July 2021.

When I started, I would have ridden out/looked after different horses all of the time. Captain Guinness was the first really big name horse that I looked after.

First horse

One morning, I was just put down to ride out Captain Guinness and since then, I ride him most days. Last season, I was half-sharing him with Jack Kelly. This year, both of us go racing with the horse. I didn’t travel to Cheltenham last season but remember watching it (Champion Chase) at home in the yard. He was the first horse I rode out who was running in a big race. I was fairly nervous.

I had to watch the race on my own. It was so thrilling to watch Captain Guinness come second to Energumene. When he won the Fortria Chase at Navan this season, I would have said it was my greatest day in racing.

I am always very optimistic when Captain Guinness runs and I had said to everyone that he would win the Queen Mother this year. I don’t know if I fully believed it! I felt we needed a bit of luck and we ended up getting it.

At the end of the day, the horse has to stand up and finish in front and Captain Guinness did that. I half-expected to win but to be honest, it was still a surprise.

Walking back in after the race was some feeling alright, one of the best feelings of my life. The best day of my life. All of the Irish crowd were roaring and the horse was loving it. The reception we got was miles clear of anything I had ever experienced before. Although Jack (Kelly) and myself got to lead Captain Guinness back into the winner’s enclosure, Bernie Bustin, Davy Roche and Chris Dunne also look after or ride him out at home. During the summer, the bigger names go out to grass, as the flat horses and two-year-olds come in.

The day after Captain Guinness leaves is always a strange one for me. I go from riding him every day to him not being there. I go to the board to see what lots I am down for and his name isn’t on it. It does take a bit of time to get used to. Thankfully, in a busy yard like Henry’s, the time flies by, so before I know it, Captain Guinness is back with us for another winter. I also recently got my amateur licence as well, so that is something to look forward to in the months ahead.

Sam was in conversation with John O’Riordan