“There are some great riders coming up but the unfortunate thing about a jump jockey is, you don’t know how good any of them are going to be until they get broke up and come back. That’s going to happen to all of us. Until you get broke up, you think it’s the greatest game in the world. It’s so simple.“Then you get slapped. Your leg is wrapped around your ear. And then you realise how hard this is and it’s how they come back. It’s interesting to see when they come back what they are. There are so many prodigious talents until they get hurt and then it stops. That’s when you find out how good they are.” – Ruby Walsh, December 2016

JONATHAN BURKE was a headline act as an 18-year-old, in a line of work where the men at the peak of their powers were twice his age. Before he knew it, he was yesterday’s news.

The worst of it was that it wasn’t his fault. Sure, he was young and thought he was bulletproof, but he didn’t slack off, he didn’t become full of himself. He just got injured, and every time he tried to build up a head of steam, he got injured again. His job as the man for Alan Potts and his late wife Ann fell by the wayside. More injuries followed.

The reaction each time was enlightening. Sure, he wasn’t always much fun to be around, but he knuckled down. Horses were all he knew, growing up surrounded by them in Glengoura where his father Liam is a well-known trainer. Having had a taste of the big time, he wanted more. The pain – physical and mental – would not deter him.

All Burke needed was break – a good one, rather than those he had suffered in his back, leg and shoulder. It arrived when the man who steered AP McCoy to 20 consecutive jockeys’ championships in Britain, Dave Roberts, rang “out of the blue” and asked if he would have any interest in having a stab at resurrecting himself across the water.

He responded enthusiastically and the next day, Roberts was on the blower once more, putting the option of becoming Charlie Longsdon’s number one pilot to him. He did not have to ask a second time.

Burke moved over a month ago and is glowing with optimism. A new season, fresh with countless possibilities does that anyway but there is a sense that the slate has been wiped clean and he is starting from scratch again. He likes that but is willing to reflect on the journey because it has made him understand and value what it is that he has in a way he never could 18 months ago.

First though, some housekeeping. There are numerous people to thank and he wants to use this opportunity to put the gratitude on record. His family, his friends. The lads in his father’s yard at home. Willie Mullins, Noel Meade, Gordon Elliott. Garry Cribbin, the Potts’s, Paul Townend. Adrian McGoldrick, Paul Harrington, Enda King. The senior jockeys at home that he knows gave glowing testimonies when enquiries were made before he was offered this new role. Will Kennedy, Rachel Hawkins, Adrian Heskin, Aidan Coleman, Richie McLernon. Roberts, the team at Hull Farm, Longsdon.

He won’t be 22 until December 23rd. There is little doubt he is made of the right stuff. He’s been slapped and he’s back for more.


GETTING to know the horses, the owners and the staff has been the order of the day since he landed but the gaffer has given him licence now to spread his wings a bit, conscious that the 80-odd horses at Hull Farm will not be enough to keep his pilot active throughout a season.

With his attendance only required twice a week from now on, he will ride work for others. Fergal O’Brien has already welcomed him and the likes of Kim Bailey, Emma Lavelle and Richard Hobson are just some of the others he may look to visit.

Cribbin will keep an eye out on opportunities back on home turf when his prime responsibilities allow. He would love to steer a few of his father’s to victory, including major handicap chase contender Sumos Novios and former Thyestes Chase hero My Murphy, who has taken well to being schooled over banks and may have a future in cross-country chases.

The Corkman is putting down roots though. England is home now.

“It’s a massive opportunity,” Burke explains. “When it was mentioned to me first I jumped at it. The last year to 18 months have been tough. I didn’t expect the injuries to come at such a young age. Just one after the other, knocked me, knocked me, knocked me. Hopefully we’ll get a clear run now. It’s a fresh start.”

Western Miller got him off the mark with a facile success in a novice chase at Stratford a fortnight ago but Burke properly announced himself to British racing last weekend. Riding the enigmatic Azure Fly for Longsdon, the pair looked beaten as far out as the fifth last in a three-mile-two-furlong handicap chase at Newton Abbot. Flat to the boards, the pilot cajoled his nine-year-old and pushed him into contention in the straight. Even here Azure Fly made things difficult by trying to duck in behind the horses he had just caught up to but Burke managed to steer him around and get him up to win by a length. If another effort wins the At The Races Ride of the Month for September it will be a deserving winner indeed.

Burke went on to Uttoxeter on Sunday and rode two more winners for his new boss, the second of which, Midnight Shot, was another excellent ride, this time in a £25,000 handicap chase.

With the vast majority of the Longsdon string yet to get their campaigns under way, the trickle will become more of a flow inside the next two week. Burke sees plenty of promise (see panel) already in Longsdon’s string of horses.

After landing the Goffs Land Rover bumper for Mullins on Very Much So in April 2014, he turned professional. By September, he was in the Potts hot seat and in the first week of October, was guiding the legendary Sizing Europe to the gelding’s fourth consecutive PWC Champion Chase win at Gowran Park.

Sizing John provided the teenager with his first Grade 1 prize in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle just four days after the rider’s 19th birthday. The winners flowed over the following 12 months and he was crowned champion conditional. He bagged the Midlands National on Goonyella, the Galway Plate on the notoriously tricky Shanahan’s Turn, the Craddockstown Chase on Sizing John and a Grade 2 juvenile hurdle triumph on Apple’s Jade.

The first serious setback came on January 28th, 2016 when he suffered a T3 & T4 compression fracture at Thurles. That only kept him out for five weeks but within a month of his return, he was sidelined once more, a T6 fracture incurred as a result of a fall schooling for his dad just a few days after finishing fifth in Aintree’s Grand National on Goonyella. That kept him out for three months.

With so many of the Potts horses being moved to Colin Tizzard and those rides no longer available to him, he came to an agreement with his employers to end their working relationship in November.

The blows kept coming. He broke his right leg at Fairyhouse in December and was back a matter of weeks when chipping the bone on his shoulder and suffering tendon and ligament damage. That ruled him out for the best part of four months until last July.

During his seemingly interminable absences, he had a bit of fun commentating at Cork and Tramore, as well as for some point-to-point and pony races, but Des Scahill, Richard Pugh, Jerry Hannon and Tony O’Hehir can rest easy. Burke wants to be a lot closer to the action.

“I was very fortunate to compete at such a high level at such a young age, which I probably didn’t appreciate at the time. I was 19, 20, on the crest of a wave. I was living the dream. With the injuries, when you take it away from a fella, that’s when you appreciate it. Now all I want to do is get back to that level.

“You can’t see it going wrong when everything is going right. I don’t know where I’d be without the Alan Potts job. I could still be claiming. That’s the reality of it. I was coming through the conditional title race with Shane Shortall and Ger Fox, both very, very good riders but I just got a lucky break. And then we had 18 months of injuries which shows how quickly it can twist and turn.”


He describes the Potts job as a “phenomenal” opportunity which he believes had a say in being offered his current role. There is an admission of some mixed feelings as Sizing John thundered up the hill to claim the Gold Cup last March but the positive thoughts far outweighed the negatives.

“What Sizing John went on to do – obviously you think ‘What if?’ but I was delighted for the horse and delighted for Ann and Alan. It was great that Ann was there to experience Sizing John becoming the Gold Cup horse they always dreamed of having.

“For the horse, having chased Douvan around for so long… I was fortunate enough and unfortunate enough to chase Douvan so much on him. He gave me great experience of riding at that level, he gave me my first Grade 1 winner so he’s obviously a horse that’s very close to my heart and it’s great to see him go on and be the Gold Cup star he is.”

Winning on Sizing Europe was “special”, and he speaks almost in disbelief of doing that as an 18-year-old 5lb claimer. There must have been pressure but a friendship with Paul Townend stood him in good stead.

“He’s been very good to me from a very young age. He’s a neighbour of mine and I was lucky to be living with him at the time because Paul was put in a similar position at 18, riding Hurricane Fly and them. He said ‘It’s just another horse race.’

“There is times you can do too much thinking about it and during the time I had the Potts job Paul was a massive help to me. At the end of the day, it is just another horse race and you just do what you do.”

Andrew Lynch took weigh room camaraderie to another level however, despite having been shocked to lose the Potts job.

“I didn’t know how to approach Andrew. I knew him from riding for my father but I wouldn’t have known him very well. You’d always ask someone about a horse if they’d ridden him previous and obviously Andrew had ridden Sizing Europe for the best part of his career and he knew him better than anybody.

“I was sitting down at the weigh room, he came over, sat down beside me, told me what he could and just said ‘Go out there and enjoy it.’ Those couple of words were probably the best thing anyone could have said to me. That’s what I did and to be fair, the horse delivered on the day. Myself and Andrew became very good friends and he was a great help to me throughout my time with Ann and Alan Potts.”

The fractured T6 vertebra caused agony like he had never felt before and confined him to a back brace. It was maddening. He broke his leg riding in JP McManus’s colours. Every time he looked like making strides, fate knocked him back. The time out with the shoulder was the ultimate test.

“You’re a freelance, trying to get going and I could just see things slipping away from me.”

Then came manna from Roberts and Longsdon. He was in peak condition to capitalise too, having been put onto Santry Sports Clinic by Turf Club chief medical officer Adrian McGoldrick. Geraghty and Walsh are already acolytes of the clinic’s physio Enda King. Burke is in his corner too, feeling stronger than ever thanks to the rehab work carried out with King as well as with his own physio, Paul Harrington.

“I hadn’t even had my first ride back and I was in talks with Charlie. It’s funny how things pop up. I was fortunate enough to be recommended by a number of weigh room colleagues, senior members, and people from the racing circle. Charlie was looking for some continuity and was looking for someone who could ride all his horses. I was just lucky. I don’t know how it happened because I hadn’t ridden in so long.

“It definitely is a vote of confidence and makes you start to believe again and start to think ‘I can do this.’ One thing I’ve learned is confidence is a lot of it. If you don’t believe you’re capable and you’re the best, you’re at nothing. Horses feel it. They definitely feel it. Since I’ve come over here, I feel I’m riding with a lot more confidence.”

He was to move in with Adrian Heskin when he got the paperwork on his new house sorted but Kennedy approached him very quickly to offer lodgings at the house he shares with partner Rachel Hawkins until that happened. It was a relief, one less thing to worry about. As a bonus, it is situated just 10 minutes from Longsdon’s yard. He finally became Heskin’s lodger this week but is forever thankful to Kennedy and Hawkins.

“(Adrian) only moved over last year and I think he’ll be happy to have me and I’ll be happy to have him. But Will and Rachel were brilliant. (Will) was in these shoes once before and following on from that, Aidan Coleman, Richie McLernon – all those guys, they’ve been brilliant.”

The racing is very different. Fields are smaller, races fall apart quicker as they go out hard and head for home a lot sooner than in Ireland. It will take a little adapting to, as well learning the nuances of the various tracks. He may never get used to the traffic, but it’s a small price.

He reckons Longsdon considers his current bunch of novices the most exciting he has had for a few years. He certainly likes them and is ready to rock.

“When you are injured and on the outside looking in, you appreciate what a great game it is. I just feel this has given me a new lease (of life), a new burst. I’m hungrier than ever now.”

JONATHAN BURKE IS LOoking forwaRD TO MONTY’S AWARD, who was bred by Jimmy Mangan, was very impressive in a bumper last year, had a little dip in the middle and came back at Doncaster where he wasn’t quite right. He’s schooling well and he could be, potentially, very exciting in novice hurdles this season.

LISDOONVARNA LAD and STORMY MILAN (half-brothers also bought in Ireland) are both very good. There’s a filly called JET SET who won a point-to-point for Robert Tyner (at Dromahane). She was sold at the (Goffs) Punchestown Sale. There are a lot of novices to come out.

“The horse of The Queen’s, FORTH BRIDGE, was a good juvenile last year. He’s going chasing so as a four-year-old, he’ll be getting all the allowances, which will be a massive help. He’s a fine, big horse who looks every inch a chaser.

SNOW LEOPARDESS should be competitive in graded mares’ hurdles throughout the year. She could even wind up in the Mares’ Hurdles at Cheltenham. Her and Forth Bridge would definitely be the two best in the yard on what they have done but there’s no reason why Monty’s Award and a few others couldn’t pick up that trend this year and drive on.”