I remember one occasion during my career coming back into the parade ring having won but not ridden to Willie’s instructions. There was no quiet word after – just a big smile and a ‘well done, you knew what you were doing’.
He put a lot of trust in me as a jockey, and obviously the older I got, the more trust he put in me.
I had changed tactics on that particular day and made the running in a race that had no pace, but I think he liked that. The plan we had beforehand wasn’t what transpired on the track so I changed and adapted to what was going on in front of me.
I suppose that was another string to my bow that he liked, but there were obviously times when you would change tactics and it didn’t work. You had to come in and take the blame those days, and I wasn’t afraid to do that either.
I always felt that if the trainer trained the horse, he had to have trust in the jockey when he went out to ride him that he was going to do the right thing, or at least try and do the right thing. No-one can do the right thing all the time but if you’re trying to do the right thing people tended to back you up.
Willie had a big influence on my decision to turn professional, but the first time I was Champion Amateur I was in school. I would go to school every Thursday knowing I wasn’t going to be there for the last four classes. I would get picked up at lunchtime and go to Thurles or Clonmel or wherever the racing was on. I was in school but I was living an adult life. It was a bit surreal but it was really enjoyable.
I finished school and was Champion Amateur again, and then it was a crossroads – do you turn professional or do you stay amateur?
My dad had definitely advised me to turn pro and so did Willie. You need the backing of people to turn professional and I had the backing of dad while I was also lucky enough to have the backing of Willie. I never looked back, but it was a big decision at the time.
As an amateur you are predominantly riding against amateurs, and in Ireland that meant basically riding in the bumpers. So I could have 21 outside rides through the year in professional races over jumps, I could ride horses owned by my mother in as many races as I wished, so I went from probably having 30/35 rides a year over jumps and riding the rest in bumpers on the flat to turning professional and riding solely over jumps because in Ireland a professional can’t ride in a bumper. I went from basically riding on the flat to riding over jumps overnight, and another big difference was the competition.
I was moving in to compete against Conor O’Dwyer, Charlie Swan, Paul Carberry. Barry Geraghty was the same age as me but they were the three predominant jockeys at the time, so I was at the top as an amateur and I was going in then to take on the top lads as a professional as well.
Willie had been Champion Amateur himself as a jockey the year before he retired, so when he retired I became Champion Amateur basically riding the majority of Willie’s bumper horses. I was lucky enough to get that job and I was Champion Amateur twice.
When I turned professional Willie didn’t have as big a yard as he does now but I was lucky in that I got to ride most of Francis Crowley’s horses, Willie’s horses and my dad had more horses at the time as well so I had three good yards behind me and I got the opportunities.
But you needed these opportunities – I think I rode 96 winners that year but you needed the horses. I was lucky enough to be yards that were going upwards. They were all getting bigger, and all getting stronger and I was coming with them.
FROM PADDY POWER’S RACING ICONS DOCUMENTARY WITH RUBY…
- I took Annie Power home for the summer… and horse joined our family BBQs!
- My biggest Cheltenham regret and one race I’d love to have a second chance at
- Ruby’s hilarious story about dad Ted’s terrible medical advice after nasty leg break