HomeRacing irish“I had a huge amount of confidence in Serpentine” admits Emmet McNamara

“I had a huge amount of confidence in Serpentine” admits Emmet McNamara

Limerick’s Emmet McNamara was one of seven first-time jockeys in Saturday’s Investec Derby at Epsom, and became just the third first-time jockey to win the 1m 4f Group 1 this century when guiding 25/1 shot Serpentine to success.

The three-year-old colt, who had only won his maiden at The Curragh a week before, blazed the trail from exiting the stalls, with the combination never being headed in the race.

“I couldn’t hear a thing,” admitted McNamara, “I could just hear the horse breathing, he was in a good rhythm, he was relaxed. I couldn’t hear a thing around me, I didn’t want to be looking, I wasn’t aware of it, I knew I was a few clear alright. I knew I wasn’t after going a million miles an hour, so I was imagining they were ignoring me a small bit and I was just hoping that the clock in my own head was working a little bit, because I thought I had saved enough in the first half of the race going up the hill, I didn’t think I had gone mad, I thought I had enough to get home and thankfully I did.”

“It is unbelievable,” admitted the former Irish champion apprentice jockey, “a huge amount of thanks and gratitude to Aidan O’Brien and all his family – I have spent a fantastic six years there – and to all the owners who have shown a bit of faith in me today. I really appreciate it.”

The thirty-year-old rider, who became the fourth jockey to win the Epsom Derby in the colours of Sue Magnier, daughter of the legendary trainer Dr Vincent O’Brien, said of the race:

“I think I got a little bit of a freebie! I had a huge amount of confidence in the horse having spoken to Aidan during the week. He filled me with confidence and said that he is a horse that is going to stay a mile and six furlongs for you well. He said jump, go your own tempo, from halfway after you give him a breather from the six to the five, you keep building to that winning post, he will keep going. God, he was right!”

McNamara stressed the importance of his discussion with record-breaking trainer, Aidan O’Brien:

“The only thing I would say in that regard is that Aidan O’Brien filled me with a huge amount of confidence, so it’s not a complete surprise. He said that if things worked out well, he was one horse who could win the Derby. He instilled that into me and I actually did believe him, because when that man tells you something about a horse, if he tells you that the sky is green, you’d believe him.”

The jockey, who had just won the biggest race of his career, was quick to praise all those involved in the preparation of Serpentine, stating:

“I have ridden the horse in a few bits of work, but the girl who led him up, does a fantastic job with him riding out, and Aidan O’Brien is happy enough to leave the people who are doing a fantastic job on them, on them, so the likes of Séamus (Heffernan), Ryan (Moore) and myself just get to sit on them sometimes in work, and then obviously on racedays as well. There is a background team of staff there who are extremely capable riders and do a fantastic job.”

2020 Investec Derby winner Serpentine.

Asked in the post-race press conference if it was correct that he hadn’t ridden a winner since October last year, the Accounting and Finance graduate laughed, and said:

“I’ve been saving myself! Things are very tough in Ireland in terms of getting rides, and I am at Aidan’s every morning of the week so I am not going here, there and everywhere to ride out. I am not the lightest guy in the world, but thankfully Aidan knows I am riding out every day and I am fit as a fiddle, or I like to think I am, so when a race like this pops up and he has got a few extra runners in it, thankfully he seems to give me a couple of spins, and I am extremely grateful to both him and the owners for showing their faith in me, having not been riding on a consistent basis.”

Discussing the importance of a victory like this to someone who grew up in a racing household, being the son of trainer Eric McNamara, the jockey said:

“When you are born in racing and you are coming up, you are always dreaming of these races and you think that they are possible, but it’s only when you actually start riding against these guys, different professionals, that you realise just how hard it is to win the likes of these races, and whatever ability you have, if you don’t get on the horses, you’ve absolutely no chance. I was lucky I got on the horse – there are a thousand other lads in that weighing room that are far more talented than me, but they didn’t ride Serpentine in the Derby today. I am very lucky to get on him.”

Emmet McNamara added:

“I was impressed by Serpentine’s performance in his last race (he won a maiden at the Curragh on June 27) and Wayne (Lordan) went a good gallop on him all the way. He clocked a time that was four seconds quicker than the Group Three on the card, so it was a good performance. One of my mates, Gary Carroll, had pulled up at the winning line at the racecourse that day and said he ran out to the winning line and nearly out to the board – he said he was an extremely impressive winner of a maiden having gone a good gallop, so while I’m obviously surprised to win the Derby, it wasn’t a huge, huge surprise.”

He had been deemed unfortunate by many observers to have finished second in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby the previous weekend, and when asked on Saturday at Epsom whether he thought his chance of winning a Derby had gone, McNamara replied:

“Luckily when you are in Aidan’s, you have the chance of getting on this type of horse at different stages through the years that you are there, so I didn’t think when I pulled up the other day, ‘that’s it, gone forever’, but there is a sense of, this is a funny year where we’re running horses that we’re not 100% sure where we stand with them, whereas by this time of year normally they might be a bit better sorted out and I might be on a slightly lesser one that isn’t as unexposed as this one coming here today. I thought myself a couple of weeks ago that this could possibly be a big year, just with the way things worked out, and that is the way it is after working out – second in an Irish Derby and to win an English is unbelievable. I can’t imagine it will ever happen again, so I’m going to try to savour it while I can.”

Referring yet again to the advice of Aidan O’Brien, McNamara stated:

“Aidan said, down to the halfway you can go a nice, even tempo, but make sure from the six to the five to get a little breather into him, so I just sat, sat, sat, six down to the five, and from there let him fill himself up and let him slide along there. From the five I was stepping up on it a little bit all the way to the line. It’s a difficult camber for an inexperienced horse like that and I probably should have switched my stick into my left hand, but I had visions of ending up in the grandstand if I did that, so I was probably a bit hard on it with my right hand, try to keep him straight, and he just got a little bit unbalanced. It was my fault – I should have helped the horse a little bit more, given that he’s a balanced horse, by Galileo out of an Oaks second (Remember When), he’s bred in the purple and he ran all the way to the line. He could run in the Leger! He’s classy.”

Following his successful trip to Epsom on Saturday, the Investec Derby-winning jockey will now have to self isolate on his return to Ireland. When asked about having to do this, the Limerick-born jockey said wryly:

“I would take 14 months quarantine for this! I am sure I’ll be OK. Maybe I will watch replays!”

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