Ireland has produced a plethora of top-class jockeys over the years, with many displaying their expertise on this side of the Irish Sea.
The greatest of them all, Sir AP McCoy, arrived in England back in 1994, making an instant impact as a conditional jockey for Toby Balding. His domination of jump racing began when joining forces with leading trainer Martin Pipe. McCoy retired with 20 consecutive jockey titles to his name, and more than 4,000 career wins on the board.
Richard Dunwoody was also stable jockey for Martin Pipe, and Champion Jockey from 1992 until 1995. Born in Belfast, he won the King George on four occasions, riding a pair of outstanding greys, One Man and Desert Orchid. He was successful in the Gold Cup and twice victorious in the Grand National.
Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh spent a decade together, winning every prestigious prize on offer. The man from County Kildare is recognised as one of the modern greats of the saddle, and until 2013, split his time between his home in Ireland and Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard in Somerset. Though no longer plying his trade in England, he remains at the pinnacle of the sport as number one jockey for the Mullins empire.
Add to these goliaths, the likes of Mick Fitzgerald, Barry Geraghty and Aidan Maguire, and you start to appreciate the immense role Irish talent has played in the history of jump racing on these shores.
And this latest season is notable for an influx of fresh talent, with exciting additions to several yards in England, Scotland and Wales.
Adrian Heskin has proved a revelation since arriving as stable jockey to Tom George at his Down Farm stables in Gloucestershire. Formerly the retained rider for owner Barry Connell in Ireland, he has found his feet quickly in new surroundings. A strike rate of 22% is testament to that, and his victory on Sir Valentino in the Haldon Gold Cup a couple of weeks back, will have given the 24-year-old a huge boost.
The young man had already proven himself a talented jockey in Ireland, and had a Cheltenham Festival victory to his name, when winning the Albert Bartlett aboard Martello Tower in 2015. He’s both stylish and strong in the saddle, as he proved when getting the better of Richard Johnson on Sir Valentino at Exeter. Heskin can also look forward to high-profile races on-board God’s Own throughout the winter, having looked an unfortunate loser on the horse at Aintree last time in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase.
Another young Irish raider to make an instant impact is Jonathan Moore; now stable jockey for the resurgent Rebecca Curtis. The partnership struck at Wetherby, in the prestigious Charlie Hall Chase, with the fast improving Irish Cavalier. Moore’s delight was clear for all to see, and he summed up the reason for the move to Wales, when saying: “It's days like this that you dream about, and it was the chance to be able to ride horses like him that I came over to ride."
Moore’s strike rate of 24% for the campaign shows that he is a young jockey worth following. And despite still being a conditional jockey with a 3lb claim, he can still look forward to rides such as the Betfair Chase this coming weekend aboard Irish Cavalier. The opportunity to get on-board such talented horses was a major draw for the 22-year-old.
If Heskin and Moore have arrived with ‘all guns blazing’, then Shane Shortall’s opening period in new surroundings has proved rather more low key. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old from County Offaly in Ireland, is another young jockey with a bright future. He recently made the move to Scotland, joining Iain Jardine’s yard, and looks to be a key component in a developing enterprise. The dual-purpose trainer continues to add more horses to the team, and last week had Yogi Breisner visit the yard for a spot of staff coaching.
Shortall is a talented horseman, and given the right opportunities will surely make a name for himself on the northern circuit. You get the feeling that he’ll need to be patient as his new employer adds quality to his stock.
If Shortall needs to build a reputation, then one young Irishman who has already gathered a following in the north is the conditional jockey Finian O’Toole. From County Galway, O’Toole worked for Charlie Swan in Ireland before arriving in England to work for Malcolm Jefferson a couple of years back. He rode 17 winners in his first full season, and got the ‘leg-up’ for 24 different trainers. He’s now with Micky Hammond at Middleham in North Yorkshire, and the trainer has praised the young jockey’s natural ability and terrific work ethic.
Hammond has a pretty large set-up at Oakwood Stables, and O’Toole is having plenty of opportunities to learn his trade on the racetrack. He has a decent return of seven winners from his 67 rides during this latest campaign, and that valuable 5lb claim is unlikely to last much longer.
Ireland has for some time now, been a thriving breeding ground for racing talent, both equine and human. Greats of the sport have showcased their ability on this side of the Irish Sea over the years, and this winter is proving no exception. Heskin, Moore and numerous others, look sure to make their mark during the months ahead.