A RECENT treble at Al Ain and winners at Meydan have helped re-establish my profile over the winter months. Following a bright start to my career in Britain, an ongoing shoulder injury had temporarily slowed that momentum. Hopefully, when I return to Britain for the coming flat season, I can draw on the experiences of the past few months and stake a claim as one of the leading apprentices. Although born in London, we moved back to Ireland when I was only a few months old due to my parents’ work. I grew up in Mount Merrion, which is less than 10 minutes from Leopardstown Racecourse. My first encounter with horses was on a family holiday in Donegal when my parents decided to stick me up on a pony. I was hooked from the outset and ever since that day, all I ever wanted to do was be a jockey. By the time I had done by Junior Certificate, I was still completely obsessed with horses.
Through a family connection, I secured a job riding out for Willie Mullins during the Christmas and Easter holidays of transition year. It was a great first experience of working in a racing yard and further strengthened by resolve to make a career in the industry.
From there, I got the opportunity to go to Johnny Levins, without whom I doubt I would ever have become a jockey. My parents were adamant that I completed my studies up to Leaving Certificate level; which I did. Johnny allowed me to take out my apprentice licence while still in full-time education, something that was relatively new at the time.
I would ride out at weekends, on school holidays and later, at the Friday night meetings at Dundalk. I learned an awful lot there with Johnny and it was definitely my first real helping hand in racing.
My first winner came in 2017, aboard Bainne, in a 30-runner apprentice handicap at the Curragh. It was a really special day, one that I will never forget. By the time 2018 rolled around, it would have been my second year riding but I was still in full-time education. Johnny gave me the chance to ride a couple of the stable runners on the all weather in Britain; a great education riding on different tracks against different jockeys.
Later that summer, I got the opportunity to further that education at places like Ayr and Hamilton. That definitely got my eye into British racing and started me thinking about possibly going over there. I had a great time with Johnny in 2018, riding two winners in my first real serious season.
I had been looking into going to England for some time, so set about ringing around different trainers towards the end of the year. Having seen an advert from Richard Spencer, I reached out to him directly. Kevin O’Ryan, my agent at the time, followed up on the interest and in October 2018, I made the move to Newmarket.
With 2018/19 being my first winter riding out full-time, I benefited from that experience when the turf season rolled around. I rode 19 winners during the year, developing some great contacts such as Julia Feilden, Mark Loughnane and Amy Murphy.
I had a fantastic agent in Paul Clarke, who helped get me rides for leading trainers like Saeed Bin Suroor. A win on Ice Cave at Kempton towards the end of 2019 was significant, being my first ever ride for Godolphin. That really helped me along in terms of getting noticed.
I was then offered the position of apprentice to Satish Seemar for the 2019/20 flat season in Dubai. My first season in Dubai riding for the Seemars was really enjoyable. All their work at home is done off the clock so that was fantastic experience in terms of putting a clock in my head.
Before going out to Dubai, I had never had a full book of rides on a card but out there I was riding regularly. That certainly helped to bring about further improvement in my race-riding and I definitely progressed during that season.
However, a dislocated shoulder in February 2020 meant that I had to leave Dubai earlier than planned. The following month, March 2020, I went to David O’Meara as an apprentice but following the outbreak of Covid, I didn’t get to race-ride until June. I had some luck for David early on but then the shoulder injury reoccurred in July, so I was out until the start of August.
Following my return, I rode some more winners, including my first double but after the same injury flared up for a third time, I was forced to undergo surgery. I missed the remainder of the 2020 flat season from September and all of that winter.
In February 2021, I came back riding out but it took me a while to get going and regain the contacts I had established. David O’Meara was very good to me and after being placed in the Lincoln for him and riding a couple of winners, I started to get the momentum going again.
Towards the end of 2021, I formed some new contacts, particularly with Adam West, a fantastic trainer based near Epsom. From there, trainers I had previously ridden for started to use me again, most notably Saeed Bin Suroor, for whom I rode a winner (Big Team) towards the end of the season.
High-profile winners such as that helped get me noticed again, with the result that Satish Seemar offered me the same position I had held two years previously. I thought it would be a good idea to come out to Dubai again in order to progress my riding further.
I find myself in a tough position right now, on the edge of my 3lb claim, as you are expected to ride almost as well as a professional jockey. You have to be serious value for your 3lb if a trainer is to put you up ahead of a fully fledged professional.
I have been very busy since I came out to Dubai and the Seemars have been very good to me. A couple of recent winners in Meydan will have helped, as those races are all shown on television in Ireland and Britain.
I rode my first career treble at Al Ain earlier this month, another momentous occasion. On my return to Britain, I will be based in the north of England where I plan to spread myself around and build up further contacts.
Right now, I am concentrating on improving my riding out here, which should set me up well for my return. I am under no illusion that things will be easy for me next season - I am coming back as a 3lb claimer having missed a full winter season in Britain.
It will definitely be time to ride out for some new faces and built new contacts that will hopefully help me through my claim and beyond.
Coming straight from a full season here in Dubai, I am very fit and rearing to get going. I’d definitely fancy my chances of equalling or bettering my tally of winners from last year.
Sean Kirrane was in conversation with John O’Riordan