RIDING a winner at the Dante meeting at York on Wednesday was the highlight of my career to date. To do so on Kihavah, a horse trained by my boss Adrian Keatley, made it all the sweeter. Adrian has been very good to me since I came over from Ireland last June, so it was great to share in such an important success together. Being based in the north of England, York would be very much a local meeting for us, so that in itself added to the significance.
My older brother Kevin taught me how to ride on a hunter before getting me a job with Peter Fahey. Being somewhat of a latecomer to the sport, I only started riding out at the age of 14 and the following year I did a season of pony racing.
Having spent every weekend and holiday at Peter’s yard, I left school at 16 and enrolled in RACE. After a work placement with Ken Condon, I returned to Peter Fahey with whom I signed on as an apprentice. I rode a winner on my first ever ride on the racecourse - Stellaire Enfant at Limerick in July 2020.
Over the course of the next two years, I had 23 rides, finishing as I had started, with another winner - Angel’s Trumpet at Killarney. That final Irish winner came in May (2021) but two months earlier I had made initial enquiries about making the move to Britain. Sean Davis put me in contact with Adrian Keatley, who himself had only moved over a year before.
I came over to Britain in June of last year but it was August before my licence came through. My first British winner came on Captain Vallo for Philip Makin at Newcastle in October. Four days later, I rode my second; Lord Torranaga at Catterick for Philip Kirby. I tipped away over the winter but, despite the initial success, things went a bit quiet.
My agent Wilson Renwick does a fantastic job and he managed to get me on some nice horses early in the new year. I rode three winners from just nine rides in February and a further three from 13 in March.
Northern trainers tend to support apprentices based up here and I was delighted to get the ride on Safe Voyage in the Lincoln.
April saw a further six winners from 29 rides, as things started to really pick up. That same month, I rode my first ever double - Empirestateofmind (John Quinn) and Skycutter (Philip Kirby) at Ripon.
In 2022, I have ridden four winners for Adrian Keatley with whom I am based. I am in the yard every morning and really enjoying it. Adrian has been brilliant, both in terms of giving me opportunities and sitting down to go through my rides post-race.
Lewis Edmunds comes in to ride out on work mornings and I have learned plenty from him as well. It is great to be able to go to either of them if I have a problem or just need some advice. Along with my old boss Peter Fahey, Adrian and Lewis would be the biggest influences on my career.
Wednesday’s York winner, Kihavah, had run at Chester on Friday but didn’t handle the track at all. He found it far too sharp and actually ran a nice race, all things considered. As he came out of the race in great form, we decided to let him take his chance at York.
To be honest, we gave him a very good chance but were obviously concerned about his wide draw. Kihavah jumped very well and got a nice early position but things got quite tight in the straight as the field came across to the stands’ rail.
I had to sit and suffer for a bit but was always happy I was travelling well once the gaps appeared. To the horse’s credit, he quickened well once I was able to get him off the rail and he stayed on to win nicely.
On a personal level, I am thrilled with how the season has been going. It was nice to ride a winner at one of the bigger meetings but, aside from that, I have already reached the 14-winner mark for the calendar year and hope to add to that tally in the coming months.
For me, this season is all about building new contacts, learning how to ride the different tracks and picking up as many rides as possible. If I can do that and keep working hard, I am confident the winners will continue to come.
This is only my first full season riding as an apprentice in Britain, so I know I still have much to learn. I have been picking up more outside rides of late, something Wilson Renwick has been working hard on. Winners like Kihavah help build my profile and bring me to the attention of both trainers and owners.
Ryan Sexton was in conversation with John O’Riordan