Sportsnewsireland recently caught up with apprentice jockey Ross Coakley, who we are tipping for the top in 2011. Coakley has been one of Ireland’s top pony racing riders over the last few seasons and recently became apprenticed to the Denis Cullen stable. Ross rode his first winner on the track yesterday(7th Feb). Here he tells John O’Riordan about his career to date. Ross will be writing a blog every week from 20th March here on SportsNewsIRELAND :
“I am originally from Dublin and lived there until I was 12. I got into racing through my father who was an amateur jockey. As a child he spent his summers in Glenbeigh, where his mother was from. He used to work in Cournanes trekking stables and that is where he got his interest from. He rode in a few pony races for Cournanes and like many, got the racing bug! He then went on to ride as an amateur with moderate success!
We used to go to Glenbeigh for our holidays also and I think I sat on my first horse in Cournane’s when I was 2. It progressed from there really. Like my dad I used to work in Cournane’s taking out treks. No money involved, just the pure love of being involved in horses. At the age of 9, I started tagging along with my dad while he rode out in Pat Martins in Meath. I loved the whole set up and Pat very kindly let me keep a pony in the yard that I used to ride out with the racehorses. After a year I was allowed progress to the quiet racehorses and eventually I was allowed the illustrious task of galloping them. Pat was brilliant to me over the years and I learnt an awful lot there. When I turned 13 we moved to Kildare so it was no longer feasible to ride out for him. I started to ride out for Michael O’Brien and for Jarlath Fahey. I was also able to get a lot out before school in Jarlath’s which I loved. In the summer of 2009 I started riding out in Michael Halford’s which is next door to our house.
I rode in my first pony race when I was 9. It was the confined race at Glenbeigh on a little grey pony owned by Cournane’s. I finished about 4 furlongs behind the second last horse! But it didn’t matter, I loved it. The following year I got my own pony, passed on to me by Paul Townend. I used to ride her every week, never got a winner out of her but it was great experience. The next season I had six winners but the following season was frustrating as I had about twenty runner-up finishes only getting my first winner of the season at the final meeting on a pony called El Paso for Chris Hayes’s uncle Dinny. Virtually all of the second place finishes were behind the famous pony called Maniac who was ridden for the early part of the season by Emmet MacNamara and then by Danny Mullins.
Things went great from there. I rode 23 winners the following year including the Glenbeigh Derby for my cousin Gerard O’Connor. The next year I had 16 winners up to mid season when I broke my collar bone. I missed Dingle which was devastating because it is the Cheltenham of pony racing. I returned after 5 weeks but I then broke my arm and punctured a lung. That was my season over and my ambition of winning a championship or a Dingle winner was looking very slim with only one year remaining until I turned 16 when I hoped to progress to the racecourse. Thankfully my final year in pony racing was a dream. I rode 44 winners, stayed injury free, won the Glenbeigh Derby for my dad and was Leading Rider in Dingle. Dingle was particularly special after not even getting to race there the previous year due to injury. The fantastic year would not have been possible without the support of owners such as Colm O’Connor, Joe McNamara and Jerry and Aileen Daly and Paul Harrison. I didn’t really ride for any big stable but our own three horses had a great year winning nineteen races between them. I won the midlands Championship and finished runner-up in the National Riders Championship this year and signed off with ninety Horse and Pony Race winners.
Then in October I signed on as an Apprentice with Denis Cullen and got my licence. He was very good to give me my first taste of racecourse action very quickly when I rode Daring Man in an Apprentice Race in Navan . I also got to ride Essex in the November Handicap at Leopardstown. It was brilliant to get the opportunity on such a high class horse in such a good race and he ran a great race to finish in the middle on ground that he would not have favoured off a bad draw. Denis is a great mentor to have and having ridden a winner at the Cheltenham festival, he has great knowledge on race riding. He is always willing to give me pointers that will help me improve. I have had 8 rides so far and hopefully that first winner won’t be too far away!
I have great admiration for jockeys overall. Each and every one has to make huge sacrifices and the work that needs to be put in is massive. I admire Michael Kinane for the international success he achieved and how he opened the door for Irish riders with his success. I would try to model myself on Kevin Manning and Fran Berry, two very stylish and talented riders who are both tall like me.
Next season I hope to get a number of winners, establish myself and hopefully challenge for the Rookie Award in the Derrinstown Apprentice Series. By 2012 I would hope to be in a position to challenge for the overall Apprentice Championship. While my stable is not one of the big flat yards, I believe that Pat Smullen became champion apprentice from a similar type of stable. While I am tall at about 5”7’, I can claim off the bottom weight so I am hopeful my weight will stay good and allow me to concentrate on the flat. It is very competitive in Ireland with the best jockeys in the world here and it may be necessary in the future to have to go to the UK where there is a lot more opportunity due to the number of big stables there, but I will try to make my career in Ireland”.