Cathal Landers: To be doing what I love — it’s not work to me. I love this

Off the beaten track It took the impending birth of his son and a sense of responsibility to his new family to focus Cathal Landers’ mind at last.

Cathal Landers: To be doing what I love — it’s not work to me. I love this

It took the impending birth of his son and a sense of responsibility to his new family to focus Cathal Landers’ mind at last.

He had always been around horses. From Oola originally, he had an uncle who was a horse dealer and he was always around the half-breds and hunters.

Becoming a jockey was a notion he had but he never committed himself to it. He dipped in and out, not ready to give himself to it in the necessary fashion.

In the meantime, there were different jobs but nothing stuck. When Kayleigh became pregnant with Harlee though, Landers steeled himself to give it a go, once and for all.

He was 26. It was a gamble but horses were all he knew.

After a few days riding out with Enda Bolger, who he’d ridden for as an amateur as a youngster, he got a job with John Joe Walsh in Doneraile and stayed there two years.

Ruaidhri Tierney suggested striking out as a freelance and with the agent’s invaluable support, he has made it work.

Last season yielded 13 winners and he is on eight this term already.

“I’ve been in and out of horses my whole life,” says Landers. “This is the first time I’ve really given it a go.

"I’d ride one year and go missing again. I just never really settled into it. I gave it up completely for four years at one stage.

“I’m only back now three years. For the first two years I was full-time in John Joe Walsh’s. When I went self-employed then, I took off.

“I was with the Bowes for a good while. Brian Hayes is in there now but I’d still be in touch with them. They were very good to me and were the main ones to get me going, giving me plenty of rides and winners.

"My career took off from there, getting on them horses in those colours.

It was vital because I’d have no connections in horse racing. I went to RACE (Racing Academy and Centre of Education) as a young fella but other than that I’ve nothing and I’ve had to work twice as hard because nobody knew who I was. That’s where Ruaidhri is so important.

It being racing, there are plenty peaks and troughs.

A fall at Downpatrick in September 28 left him with a collapsed lung, cracked sternum and four fractured ribs.

It was a blow, as he was on a good run but the 29-year-old grasped the positives of the five-week absence spent in Tipperary town.

“I was mad to get back but it was great to spend time with the family. I never really get to see my three-year-old son and girlfriend that much as I’m always on the road.

"You never really get a break from this. It’s all year round so it was great to spend time at home, bring my son to pre-school, do things at home. It’s nice.”

He announced his return in perfect fashion, winning a handicap hurdle on Cooldine Bog for Andy Slattery in Cork.

Slattery is one of many he rides work for, along with Jimmy Barcoe and Michael McDonagh.

His best friend, Michael O’Mara just got a training licence last week and he is spending three mornings a week at O’Mara’s Nenagh base, prepping the horses that will operate over jumps and on the flat in time.

Pic: Healy Racing Photo
Pic: Healy Racing Photo

“I’d like to think I could have a challenge at the conditional title this year so it was a bit of a downer to get injured but sure that’s racing.

"I wasn’t out that long, I came back and I’ve two winners so far and hopefully I can still give the boys a rattle near the end of the season.”

The second of those arrived courtesy of a finely-judged finishe on the Barcoe-trained 20/1 shot Allez Kal last Sunday, also in Cork.

“Jimmy’s horses are always very fit. He’s a very good trainer and when he has the ammunition, he’ll strike.

“It was her second season. I rode her a few times her first season when I was still learning. I didn’t give her the ride I could have. Obviously I’m after improving immense since last season.

“I fancied her. I thought she’d a great chance with a light weight on her back and you’re taking on summer horses that have had a whole summer racing.”

There is notable honesty about those early weaknesses but when it comes to race-riding, you learn on the job.

The best don’t get it right all the time so the rookie is certain to make errors, regarding judgment of pace, fitness, strength, tidying the technique.

Jockey coach Warren O’Connor helped with the latter. “I’ll do everything I can to improve,” Landers says simply.

The rest was on-the-job practice. Barcoe’s willingness to stick with him is what developing riders need.

“I’m so lucky. I look back on some of the races I rode last year and you’d be tearing your hair out. ‘Why didn’t I do this?’ ‘Why didn’t I do that?’

"You have to make mistakes to learn. These kind of people standing by me help me be the rider I am today. The main thing I learned was to let a horse settle into a rhythm and get it jumping.

"If you don’t jump, you don’t win races.”

Picking up some sponsorship is always a positive sign and the support of Limerick Brakes is a godsend.

The eyes remain on the ultimate prize though. Riding horses, winning races. He is hungry.

I am. I’m only coming into my prime now. When I was younger, I was a very slow learner. It wouldn’t have mattered even if I’d stayed at it then, probably. 

"I had to do what I had to do to get where I am today. I do believe that.

“You would dream to be in this situation. You’re learning every day. To be doing what I love — it’s not work to me.

"I love this craic, going schooling horses. And to rock on to a race meeting for a ride, it’s a great feeling.

“It’s an addictive sport. I can’t explain the buzz of it. It’s highs and lows.

"The highs are very high, the lows are low but you have to take that. That’s the game.”

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