Riding the favourite in the famous colours of JP McManus and on a Joseph O’Brien-trained gelding at the Curragh is a dream challenge for most jockeys.
But for amateur Graham Atkinson, first past the post at the famed Kildare racecourse on Sunday last was “a million dreams come true”.
The emotional Co Cork man said: “I’m speechless,” but added: “For 20, almost 30 years I’ve been in this game and it’s the first time I’ve ever crossed the line in front, I just can’t believe it!
Graham, 40, a landscaper from Upton near Bandon, is one of the competitors in the Irish Injured Jockeys’ Corinthian Challenge.
A three-race challenge at top racecourses, Graham won the opening leg on the 15-8 favourite, four-year-old Air Supremacy, to edge out Six Silver Lane, by a head in the charity stakes. There were 13 runners.
It’s the third year of the successful fundraising challenge which has already raised over €250,000.
Two further races will take place at Navan on September 23 and Leopardstown on October 27 and a points system will run throughout the series to decide on the overall winner.
Graham has grown up in racing and his brother Don Atkinson recently retired from point-to-point riding following four decades in the saddle. Their cousin is Wayne Lordan, one of Ireland’s top flat jockeys also, who rides out of Baldoyle.
Graham celebrated his great win with his wife Theresa, children and family including his mother Eileen.
In preparation for the series, Graham has been training hard to lose weight and increase his fitness.
Leaving his Co Cork home in the early hours, he has been riding out at top young trainer Joseph O’Brien’s yard at Carriganog Stables in Piltown, Co Kilkenny every weekend for almost two months. There, he rides on average four lots a morning and a variety of horses on each visit.
Further, he has been working hard in the gym most weekday mornings before work which has helped him to see a loss of over two stone in preparation for the race.
Ruby Walsh, chairman of Irish Injured Jockeys, was quick to thank the industry for supporting the fundraiser so strongly.
Competitors are amateurs from all walks of life who have made a huge commitment signing up to take part in the series, not to mention a rigorous training regime.
- For further details about the individual jockeys and to support their fundraising campaigns, visit www.corinthianchallenge.com or text JOCKEY to 51777.
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