It is beggars belief that there is even a distinct possibility that Irish pony racing could be discontinued. An organisation that is the bedrock and foundation of the sport.
Would the likes of Jack Kennedy be where he is today without the Irish pony racing circuit? Some might say no. If the current insurance dilemma is not sorted out swiftly, then sadly many talented jockeys won’t be given the opportunity to gain valuable riding experience in order to progress their careers.
I spoke with Calum Hogan last week, a very talented up and coming young rider from my neck of the woods in Rathkeale, County Limerick. This is proper horse racing territory with the likes of trainers Eric McNamara, Richard O’Brien, Michael Hourigan and Charles Byrnes operating in the area.
Young Calum will spend the summer riding out for Donnacha O’Brien and also spends weekends up at Richard O’Brien’s yard. He has a great career ahead of him.
Calum is very passionate about the sport and rides out at Eric McNamara’s yard several days a week with his father Ray, who himself was a fine pilot in his time. The young man is also hugely passionate about the Irish pony racing circuit, and travels the length and breadth of the country to improve his skills in the saddle.
Many thanks to all of the horse and pony racing committees for the hard work behind the scenes. They are leaving no stone unturned to try and resolve the insurance issues. Just looking at the success of champion apprentice Dylan Browne McMonagle and Jake Coen among others who are banging in winners emphasises how important Irish pony racing is to the country.
Why is pony racing so important to you?
Pony racing is so important to me because it teaches you so much about race riding and tactics. It would be difficult for me to pick up these skills and experience anywhere else at my age, so I feel it is absolutely vital for my dreams to become a professional jockey.
Who is your favourite jockey to come out of the pony racing circuit?
Emmet McNamara is probably my biggest inspiration and he is proof that you can achieve anything in life if you put your mind to it. Imagine, a lad from Rathkeale going on to win the Derby at Epsom, it is the stuff of dreams.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully riding winners on Irish race tracks. It has always been my dream to become a professional jockey one day and I will work as hard as I can to make sure it becomes a reality.
What is your fondest memory in the saddle to date?
Probably winning the mile and a quarter race on Champions Weekend at Moira. I also enjoyed winning the 2m race on Bubba Watson recently because it was all Rathkeale and West Limerick people involved on the day and we had a great time.
Who are your biggest inspirations in life?
It is probably very cliché but I have to say my family! My father is always hugely supportive of me and will do everything he can to realise my dream to be a jockey and my mother is the rock of the house, while my siblings are also very supportive too. Family is everything.
What impact would it have on Irish racing if pony racing no longer existed?
I think the jockeys who go to ride on the track would not be as experienced or as sharp in the saddle. Not only is pony racing important for the aspiring riders, it is also important for the safety of others on the big track as we learn how to handle a horse properly on the pony circuit.
Is pony racing just about the jockey or do the horses benefit from it too?
No. Pony racing is not all about the jockeys. It gives horses that might have been retired otherwise or might not be good enough to make it to the track a chance.
If the insurance fiasco is sorted out, will you have a ride in the Dingle Derby this year?
Fingers crossed, it’s a long way to go yet.
What do you think you would do without pony racing?
I would still be riding out at Eric Macs. Eric has always been very supportive of me and it is a beautiful place to work.
What will win the Epsom Derby on Saturday?
I hope Piz Badile wins the Epsom Derby on Saturday because I rode him as a two-year-old at Donnacha O’Brien’s yard. I will be spending the summer riding out for Donnacha.