The winners’ enclosure: Ireland’s 15 greatest jockeys

Tommy Lyons ranks the country's greatest horsemen from the past 50 years.
The winners’ enclosure: Ireland’s 15 greatest jockeys

Tommy Lyons ranks the country's greatest horsemen from the past 50 years.

1 Ruby Walsh:

A star from the outset, Walsh served notice of what was to come by winning the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham aboard Alexander Banquet, and winning the Aintree Grand National at the first attempt. He showed his outstanding natural ability and adaptability by being able to ride equally successfully in Ireland and Britain. He made the Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals his own and very little eluded him in a stellar career which came to a close when Walsh waved to the crowd as guided Kemboy to victory in the 2019 Punchestown Gold Cup.

2 Mick Kinane:

Irish champion jockey on 13 occasions, Kinane won on his first ride in public. He was crowned champion apprentice, and Irish champion jockey for the first time in 1984. His association with Dermot Weld brought him worldwide success most notably aboard Vintage Crop when winning the Melbourne Cup in 1993. It was fitting that his final season in the saddle will be remembered for his association with one of the great racehorses of all time, Sea The Stars, on whom he won six Group 1s, including the Newmarket 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

3 AP McCoy:

A winning machine, if ever one were born, McCoy was champion jockey in every year in which he rode as a jumps jockey in Britain. His ambition to be the leading National Hunt rider carried him to the conditional jockeys’ title in the UK in 1995, and thereafter to the National Hunt jockeys’ title for the 20 years up until his retirement at the end of the 2014/15 season. He hit a high of 289 winners in the 2001/02 season, but it wasn’t all about numbers. McCoy won the Champion Hurdle twice, the Champion Chase once, the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice and finally notched the Aintree Grand National he coveted when Don’t Push It won the race in 2010.

4 Richard Dunwoody:

Dunwoody’s first autobiography was the aptly named Obsessed as the Belfast-born jockey had a dogged determination which carried him to almost 1700 victories in a riding career which ended in 1999. During his time in the saddle, he was associated with the likes of Desert Orchid, One Man, West Tip, Charter Party, and Remittance Man, and his three champion jockey crowns in Britain, between 1993 and 1995, bridged the gap between the Peter Scudamore and Tony McCoy eras. The drive which brought him so much success has been carried on into retirement and brought him to the South Pole, and on extreme distance walks, all in the name of charity.

5 Charlie Swan:

A supreme and stylish horseman, Swan was the darling of Irish punters in a time when a handful of winners at the Cheltenham Festival was considered a successful one for the raiding party. His winning ride on Time For A Run at the 1994 Festival prompted owner JP McManus to term it a ‘balls of steel’ effort, but it was his association with four-time Cheltenham Festival winner Istabraq and ‘the people’s champion’ Danoli which most will remember him for. Swan was the leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival in 1994 and 1995 and crowned Irish champion for nine consecutive years from 1990 to 1998.

6 Pat Eddery:

The Kildare man was crowned champion jockey in Britain in 1974 — the first of 11 such titles he would collect. Eddery won every one of the English Classics at least once, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on four occasions, including three times in a row from 1985 to 1987. The Irish 1000 Guineas eluded him, but he won the other four Irish Classics at least three times. In 1980, he took over from the great Lester Piggott as number one rider to Vincent O’Brien and enjoyed tremendous success before becoming retained rider to Khalid Abdullah.

During his time with O’Brien he was crowned Irish champion jockey, following the footsteps of his father, Jimmy, who was champion in 1944 and 1955.

7 Pat Smullen:

Following the footsteps of Mick Kinane was a formidable task for any jockey, but Pat Smullen took to the role of stable jockey to Dermot Weld with particular ease and they formed a brilliant team for over 20 years, which resulted in nine jockeys’ titles for Smullen.

Tactically brilliant and equally reliable, he made race riding look straight-forward. A professional in every way throughout his career, he continues to inspire with the manner in which he is tackling his battle with pancreatic cancer which prompted his early retirement from the saddle in 2018.

8 Kieren Fallon:

Champion jockey in Britain in six of the seven years between 1997 and 2003, Fallon had his troubles in and out of the saddle but was a superb rider. He had a successful spell as stable jockey to the late Henry Cecil and, after a well-documented split, later joined Michael Stoute. He enjoyed plenty more Classic success before becoming first jockey at Ballydoyle in 2005, a position which lasted almost three years until he picked up a worldwide ban from the French authorities. During his time linked to Ballydoyle, he enjoyed high-profile successes, including the 2005 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe aboard the Michael Tabor-owned and Andre Fabre-trained Hurricane Run, and the 2007 renewal aboard the Aidan O’Brien-trained Dylan Thomas. After his worldwide ban, he returned to action in 2009 and had plenty of success before retiring in July 2016.

9 Paul Carberry:

Whilst others are known for their industry in the saddle, Carberry was best known for his motionless style which he employed to extract the best from his mounts. He was seen to best effect winning on Bobbyjo, trained by his father, Tommy, in the 1999 Aintree Grand National, but it wasn’t always successful, of course. The famous ride aboard 2005 Champion Hurdle runner-up Harchibald remains a great source of debate, but it’s impossible to deny he was a supreme horseman.

10 Frank Berry:

Known nowadays for his role as racing manager to JP McManus, Berry was a tremendously successful jockey from an early age. From his Flat success in the Irish Leger of 1968, aboard Giolla Mear, his career took a different path and it wasn’t long before he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The first time he was crowned champion National Hunt jockey was in 1975, when he shared the title with the hat-trick-completing Tommy Carberry, and in two of his nine further success, he shared the spoils, with Tony Mullins in 1984 and Tom Morgan two years later.

11 Davy Russell:

Three times champion jockey in Ireland, Russell’s background is in the point-to-point fields and that’s evident in his riding as he never looks happier than when tackling the toughest of obstacles. It’s fitting his first Cheltenham Festival success was in the Cross Country Chase and, from that win in 2006, he enjoyed at least one winner in 13 consecutive Festivals. He drew a blank last year but was back with a bang this year, enjoying a treble. Amongst his greatest successes is the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Lord Windermere and the last two Aintree Grand Nationals on Tiger Roll.

The 40-year-old continues to ride at the top of his game.

12 Adrian Maguire:

A real powerhouse in the saddle, Maguire enjoyed great success in Ireland and Britain, and such was the regard in which he was held from an early stage, he was still a 7lb claimer when riding his first Cheltenham Festival winner, aboard the Martin Pipe-trained Omerta in the 1991 Kim Muir. Injuries frustrated a great career, which included Cheltenham Gold Cup success on Cool Ground in 1992, and Champion Chase success aboard Viking Flagship two years later. He amassed more than 1000 winners in Britain before his career was cut short due to injury.

At the time of Maguire’s retirement in 2002, Richard Dunwoody, to whom he lost out by just three winners in a final-day battle for the 1994 jockeys’ title in Britain, described his old rival as “the best rider in the last 20 years not to have been champion”.

13 Johnny Murtagh:

His first winner came in 1987 but the most important association of his career began in 1992 when he joined John Oxx’s stable. During an 11-year spell he enjoyed tremendous success, mostly in the colours of HH Aga Khan. A colourful character on and off the course, his talent carried him to further success as number one at Ballydoyle. By the time he announced his retirement in 2014, to concentrate on his training career, he had won all Irish Classics at least once, and enjoyed top-level success in Britain, France, America, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, and Dubai.

14 Richard Hughes:

In 2015, after 27 years as a jockey, Hughes hung up his riding boots and switched his attention to his training career.

Son of former leading rider and trainer, the late Dessie Hughes, he rode his first winner as a 15-year-old, at Roscommon in 1988, and went on to have a great career, winning more than 100 races in a season in the UK on 13 occasions, and more than 200 on one. He was champion Flat jockey in the UK in three consecutive years, from 2012 to 2014, but during his career there were also glimpses of the National Hunt rider he could have become, his most notable success being the Irish Champion Hurdle of 1997.

15 Barry Geraghty

Though at the latter stages of his career, Geraghty turned the clock back with some superb rides at the recent Cheltenham Festival.

His tally of five winners, including a fourth Champion Hurdle success, equalled the number he achieved at the 2003 and 2013 Festivals, but 2003 was a special year as he also won the Aintree Grand National, aboard Monty’s Pass, and the 2012 Festival will always be hard to beat as all five winners were at Grade One level.

He is second only to Ruby Walsh in the all-time leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, has enjoyed successful times with Jessica Harrington, Nicky Henderson and now through his association with owner JP McManus.

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