If you could ride any one race again, which one would it be?
I’d love to ride Commanche Court again in the 2002 Gold Cup. I wouldn’t ride much of the race again, just from half-way down the hill. I was looking at Best Mate thinking Commanche’s won an Irish Grand National so he’s guaranteed to get 3m4f.
Best Mate had never won beyond 3m. I moved down towards his outside and went to challenge at the second last. Commanche pricked his ears at the last and made a bad mistake and Jim Culloty got through my inner.
These are the small decisions that can win and lose races. Best Mate went on to win three Gold Cup’s, but I think tactically we could have beaten him that day.
You were quite emotional after you won the 2016 Champion Hurdle on Annie Power, what was the significance of that particular race for you?
She only got beaten twice in her career and both times were at Cheltenham. She pulled too hard in the Stayers’ Hurdle (2014) and she fell in the Mares Hurdle (2015). Other than that she would have been unbeaten.
For her then to win a Grade 1 at the highest level, having supplemented her, was unbelievable. We nailed the tactics, bucked her out and got the fractions right.
She was an incredible racehorse and probably wasn’t given the plaudits I thought she deserved.
If there was one thing you’d change about racing, what would it be?
I think we need to make it more entertaining. It’s difficult in the winter, but in the summer months the cards should be mixed, there should be jump racing and flat racing alternatively every 15 mins. I’m not talking about more concerts or best-dressed lady competitions. There’s too much hanging around between races.
Who is the most competitive sports person you’ve ever come across?
Ronan O’Gara. He never shirked a challenge. He was a pretty average tackler, yet he would stand out in front of some of the biggest players that would come down his channel. He had ice in his veins when it came to taking penalties and he’s a terrible loser. He could man up straight after a performance and say where he was wrong and what should have been done better. He never basked in glory. He was selfish and focused and stuck rigidly to practicing. He didn’t give an inch, and had all of the attributes that a top athlete needs.
You’ve had a tough spell with injuries these past few months, and many have asked if you considered retiring at any point. Having watched your friend and colleague AP McCoy struggle with the prospect of his retirement, does the thought of giving up scare you?
I always saw things a little bit differently than AP. I am a trainer’s son and probably understood the game better. I knew before I started that there was going to be more loses than wins. I’ve always felt lucky to be in the position I’m in and I know that day will come to an end. How will I be when it’s over? I don’t know, and I don’t know how you prepare for that either.
I think when you get beyond 35 as a jump jockey everyone starts wondering when you’re going to call it a day. But we’re fitter now than guys used to be and I don’t see myself pulling the plug any time soon. That’s the thing about riding, the older you get the more experienced you get and the cleverer you get. It’s not like football or soccer or rugby. It doesn’t matter if I lose eight yards of speed, I’ve never had to move anyway.
Like a fine wine, jockeys get better with age.
How would you like to do it?
How would I quit the dream? I’d love to get off one in Punchestown, pull the saddle off and tell Willie that I won’t be out for the next. That’s how I would do it if I had my choice but you don’t often get to do things your own way or have a choice in these things.
What has been the most frightening moment in your career?
Breaking my back at Cheltenham in 2005. That was the most frightening moment of my career. Sporazine fell coming down the hill and I landed on my head. I crushed a couple of vertebrae in my back but I wasn’t winded, I was suffocating and that was a terrifying experience.
Have you ever used a sports psychologist?
No, but I think I could teach a sports psychologist a couple of tricks! I have a great support network in my wife, my father and my friends and I always had an advantage over a lot of my colleagues in that I was a trainer’s son. I always knew that losing was racing.