Maurice Linehan: A rising star of the racing game

Sportsnewsireland’s racing correspondent John O’Riordan recently caught up with Maurice Linehan, who has been making a name for himself since joining the Jonjo O’Neill stable:

Recently nominated for the ‘At the Races Ride of the Week’, young Irish jockey Maurice Linehan has been making a big splash on the British racing scene. The twenty one year old, from Fermoy in County Cork, has only held a Conditional jockey’s license for a month, but has already had four winners.

While his recent success has seen him catapulted into the spotlight, Linehan has been around horses all his life. Racing is in the family’s blood: Maurice started out at home in Fermoy riding work on point-to-pointers trained by his father, and his grandfather had also been a successful handler, while brother Brian is currently plying his trade between the flags on the Southern circuit.

At sixteen, Maurice enrolled in RACE and joined the Dessie Hughes’ yard. After completing his time in Kildare, he took out an amateur license, initially going to work for Jim Culloty at his new yard in Churchtown. He followed this with a move to trainer Denis Leahy, to whom he will always be grateful for his encouragement, and finally to the North Kerry establishment of John Supple.

Abbeyfeale based Supple provided Maurice with his first winner on the racetrack, when Top Strategy was successful at Punchestown in May 2010. By this time Linehan had already won three races in point-to-points. His initial success was on a horse named Shuil On Sli for his neighbour in Fermoy, Liam O’Brien. His talent as a jockey really blossomed under Supple and Linehan is quick to praise his former boss and the Byrne family, who own the yard where the Ballyduff man is based, “John Supple was a tremendous help to me starting out, and the Byrne brothers, Patsy and Johnny were always there if I needed any advice. I can’t thank them enough”.

One morning last spring, after consultation with Supple, it was decided that Linehan should turn conditional. His boss felt that opportunities would be limited in Ireland and advised his young protégé to look further afield. Maurice sought advice from his mentors, the Byrne brothers, and was put in contact with Jonjo O’Neill in Cheltenham who trains a number of horses for Patsy and is a long time friend of the family. Linehan went over to Jackdaws Castle to view O’Neill’s yard in July, and immediately decided that this was where he wanted to be. A month later he moved to the UK and set up home in Gloucestershire.

Linehan’s first ride for his new stable saw O’Callaghan Strand finish second in a handicap hurdle at Wetherby. The disappointment of going so close on his opening mount was soon forgotten, as two days later, at Huntingdon, Linehan rode his first winner for O’Neill aboard a horse named Tarvini. The 6-y-o proved a difficult ride,and looked likely to be pulled up with a circuit to race, but Maurice never gave up and miraculously got up on the line to win by a head. The internet forums were awash with clips of the race and praise flowed for the performance of the young conditional. Linehan is quick to acknowledge the impact Tarvini has had on his career thus far, “I owe that horse a lot. He is just a lazy horse, but he keeps at it. Although he looks a hard ride, he will give his all and answer every call”.

Following his second victory on Tarvini at Doncaster on 25th November, Linehan enjoyed a red letter day twenty four hours later, when he rode a double aboard Valley View and Spot The Ball at Towcester. His efforts aboard the latter saw the young Cork man nominated for the ‘At The Races Ride of the Week’. Remarkably, despite his success to date, the Fermoy native has only held a Conditionals license for a month. He is as surprised as anyone by his progress since moving to Britain, “I can’t believe it to be honest. It has all come good. I have only had thirteen rides since I turned conditional, and to have ridden four winners and a couple of placed horses is fantastic”.

For this season, Linehan’s main goals are to “learn more about the game and stay in one piece”. In twelve months time, a shot at the Conditionals title would be a realistic target, while long term, as with almost every other young rider, becoming champion jockey is the ultimate aim. With the backing of the powerful O’Neill-McManus partnership, Maurice Linehan may well achieve all of these ambitions.

This article first appeared in The Irish Field on Saturday 17th December.

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