Donie McInerney with his Champion Conditional Rider trophy
©Healy Racing Photos
It was great to ride out my claim on Nibblers Charm for Ray Hackett at Cork on Monday. I went there thinking Fred The Foot was my best chance but he was a non-runner so I didn’t think anything more about the rest after that. But Ray said Nibblers Charm wouldn’t be far away and fair play to him, he was dead right. So it was great to do it.
You have to be satisfied with a landmark like that especially to have done it in two and a half years. It has gone far better than I could ever have hoped for.
It is a long way from thinking about giving it all up and going to college when I was struggling in the point-to-points, though I had no idea what I might go and do. Luckily for me, Enda Bolger said I should have a go at turning professional first. It worked for Rachael Blackmore and JJ Slevin, and with college holding no great attraction, I didn’t need much persuading.
From the start it went well, with a winner on my first ride, and in my first full season I was champion conditional with 32 winners. I did it again last season with 21.
It is mad really. My mother is a receptionist in the hospital in Limerick and my father worked for the county council before retiring. We had no connection with horses but my father suggested going with some of the local children that were riding ponies on Saturdays and it went from there.
I loved it and after a few months, bought my own pony, did some pony jumping and hunting with the Scarteens.
When I was 15, I went to Enda’s and started schooling thoroughbreds. That was probably when the addiction really kicked in. I just couldn’t get going in the point-to-points though. I’d four winners in four or five years and I had to start thinking about making a few quid. That’s why I started thinking about college.
But Enda suggested to have a go at turning pro, that I could always turn back and thankfully I haven’t looked back since. To have my first ride in JP McManus’s colours, on Auvergnat, and win was unbelievable and I am so thankful to Enda for the opportunity. I got great support then to be champion conditional in the next two seasons.
I have won three more times on Auvergnat and will never forget the Paddy Power at Leopardstown last Christmas. We had won the La Touche before that. He’s been a very lucky horse for me.
Enda has been so good to me. I spent a little time with Charles Byrnes and Robert Tyner before going full-time with him, but when I started getting busy the last few years, he gave me a couple of days a week to ride out for other yards, the likes of Ray Hackett, John McConnell, Michael Winters and Martin Brassil.
Of course the next thing now is people ask if you’re worried whether you’ll be as busy without the claim but I honestly don’t think people think much more differently between three pounds and no claim. If it was five pounds to no claim, you’d be worried but I will just focus on working hard and hopefully stay sound.
I have had five winners so far this season and John (McConnell) has provided three of them. He has a lot of horses and they’re running out of their skins at the moment, so it’s a good link to have and I try to make it up to his place once a week.
A lot of Ray’s are coming back in after their breaks now and he’s always been loyal to me. So has Michael Winters, from the very start.
Enda is still my base and he’d never steer you wrong. He’ll always have horses for the big handicaps and especially for the banks races. And they get you to Cheltenham and Punchestown and places like that, which is where you want to be.
The goal for me is to just keep riding as many horses as I can and as many winners as I can. I can’t really hope to be riding Grade 1 winners, because you need to be attached to one of the main yards or the main owners for that.
But you would love to maybe get another big handicap winner, like the Paddy Power. It would be fantastic to win an Irish National.
Given where I was a few years ago and where I am now, I can’t complain and will just keep working hard.