Down-to-earth Hutchinson takes it a day at a time

Look back through the years at the Irish names which have graced National Hunt’s Pantheon of greats and you’ll find no shortage of contenders.

Going back to the middle of the last century, guys like Eddie Dempsey, Leo McMorrow and Jimmy Power laid the foundations for generations of Irish jockeys who would make their names in the UK.

Pat Taaffe, Bobby Beasley, Willie Robinson, Aubrey Brabazon, Martin Molony, followed on and in turn did the groundwork for the likes of Tommy Stack, Jonjo O'Neill, Eddie Harty and Tommy Carbery, who in turn inspired another batch like Adrian Maguire, Declan Murphy, Mark Dwyer and Norman Williamson and they too made it more and more likely that Irish jockeys would continue to be the class of the field in the weighroom.

Bigger prize funds and better horses at home in Ireland have made it increasingly easy for Irish riders to make their living at home something quite unimaginable two or three decades ago and consequently the likes of Ruby Walsh, Paul Carbery, David Casey and Barry Geraghty have made a reputation for themselves without having to ply their trade across the water.

Others like Jim Culloty, Mick Fitzgerald, Timmy Murphy and most notably AP McCoy, have thrived in the UK, winning any number of big prizes and Ruby Walsh has latterly used his connection with the powerful Paul Nichols' yard to cross the Irish Sea to plunder big race victories while maintaining his Irish base.

Times have certainly moved on, but the constant is that the Irish production line of top class national hunt riders has not dried up and shows no sign of doing so. There are a lot of fine young Irish riders coming along right now Gareth Cotter, Davy Russell and Niall Madden, spring to mind. So too does the name of one GT Hutchinson.

The 24-year-old from Tramore. Co. Waterford has been racking up the winners in recent years 10 in the 2001/2 season, 22 last year and 15 so far this term. He's making waves.

Another graduate from the exceptional RACE centre for apprentice riders, Gary is a young man going places and that fact is underlined by his winning association with Ireland's latest wonder-mare, Solerina, the latest gem from the yard of the Bowe family at Gattabawn in Co.Kilkenny.

His entry into the big, bad world of big-time horse racing was probably as unexpected as it was unlikely as, he admits, it was only really because some of his childhood friends were into ponies that he became interested in being a jockey at all.

Apart from having the right physical proportions to be a jockey, Gary first had to persuade his parents and then his teachers that this would be a good idea. "I wasn't particularly interested in school," he reveals. "Not that I was a bad student or anything, but I just wasn't really interested, so I wanted out and I thought that I'd like to do something with horses. We heard about the course at RACE and my teacher checked it out and I was lucky enough to get a spot there back in 1995."

Getting his first step on the ladder was brilliant, and being sent to Dermot Weld's yard for work experience was even more welcome. So too was his transfer to Ted Walsh's yard a year later. "It's been like a dream really, working for the likes of Mr Weld and the people at RACE and then coming here to Ted's yard when I started to grow up and got too big to be a flat jockey."

He scored his first victory for Ted in October 1997 and since then there has been no looking back and in the last two seasons it has been his association with Solerina which has made most people sit up and take notice. He has won five times (including a Group One) on the mare most recently last Saturday at Naas where star names like Carbery and Casey have failed to do so. But he is not taking anything for granted, particularly a long term relationship with the Bowe's charge, maturely understanding that he might not be central to the family's plans for the mare. Even so, he rode Solerina at Cheltenham when she ran fourth to Iris's Gift in the Stayer's Hurdle in a race which Hutchinson says "she definitely did not disappoint" despite not getting the three mile trip around Prestbury Park.

"I was proud of her actually. She made most of the running, but made a bad mistake three out and the three miles around there was probably just a bit too much for her, but she's won twice on the flat since over two miles and a mile-six, so she's obviously in good form and I'd say the owners are right to let her take her chance the Emo Oil Champion Hurdle.

"She'll be facing the likes of Hardy Eustace and Rooster Booster, first and second in the Champion Hurdle proper,and they wont be easy to beat, but you never know."

But Hutchinson knows he's lucky to have the ride and appreciates the fact deeply.

"Look," he says, "there's plenty of other lads in the weigh room every bit as good as me, but I've got a bit of exposure thanks to the five wins I've had with the mare and the Group One win as well. But I've got to be realistic because I know there's plenty of lads as good as me who've not been lucky enough to get the break.

"It's very hard where you're sitting there in the weigh room looking at someone else doing it and appearing on telly and all that and then seeing them get rides because all of a sudden they've got a bit of limelight. But, the other side of it is that you have to take whatever chances come your way and really make the most of them and that's what I'm doing.

"Having said that, though, I know that Michael Bowe and his family are under no obligation to keep me on Solerina and they will decide what's best for the horse, but needless to say I'll be willing and able to do a job for them if they want me to do it. I'm just grateful to them for having given me the opportunities they have."

The subject of Solelrina, however, is enough to get Hutchinson purring and his description of the mare as being "like Concorde by comparison with a 747" illustrates just how highly he thinks of a horse that could well be the next Dawn Run in terms of public affection here in Ireland.

"She's just a brilliant racehorse and she's so special. She loves to front run and while I've no doubt that I've another ten years left in me as a race rider, I'm not sure will I ever ride a better one.

"She has everything, speed, agility and reactions. All you have to do is put your hands on her neck and she does the rest. She could be galloping at a fierce pace and all you have to say to her is 'go on there mare' and she'll find more for you. She just flicks over hurdles and it doesn't matter if she's long or she's short, she doesn't lose momentum. She wins her races the hard way."

Hutchinson says he's learned a fantastic amount from Ted Walsh during his time at the yard and he says that with the oh-so-experienced Ted on hand, the learning curve is always upwards. "Ted always has advice and you are always learning from him and with Gareth Cotter around the place and Ruby here a lot of the time too, then there is never a shortage of advice to be listened to and that's been fantastic a great help to me."

Another great help to him is his agent Andrew 'Frosty' Kelly who has come on board and helped Gary make the most of the exposure his races wins have been generating. "Frosty has been a great help and he works very hard to keep me in rides and having him with me has also been a big boost. He's been great for morale and great too when I think of all the other lads out there trying to get a break."

So, Hutchinson is already making a name for himself and who's to know, maybe one day soon, like so many generations of other Irish riders, maybe one day he too will be the toast of the broader National Hunt scene.

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