Q&A: ‘The key is not to overthink things. The big day is just the same as any other day in my head’

Cork jockey Maxine O’Sullivan reveals her favourite horse, her go-to Netflix show, and how she copes with pressure.
Q&A: ‘The key is not to overthink things. The big day is just the same as any other day in my head’

Jockey Maxine O’Sullivan. Picture: PA
Jockey Maxine O’Sullivan. Picture: PA

Cork jockey Maxine O’Sullivan reveals her favourite horse, her go-to Netflix show, and how she copes with pressure.

Q: What was your childhood ambition?

A: I didn’t have massive ambitions as a child but I loved point-to-points and wanted to be champion lady rider.

Q: Growing up, who was your sporting hero?

A: Sonia O’Sullivan, I’m not particularly interested in athletics, but she was brilliant, and I admired her.

Q: Do you have a mentor?

A: I don’t have a mentor, but I am always open to help and advice and often ask for it. My uncle William gives me good advice when needed.

Q: What or where is your happy place?

A: Driving in my car on my own. I can do a lot of thinking!

Q: What sparked your love of racing?

A: I was reared in a point-to-point yard and knew nothing different. I had such a love for horses but Arctic Times, who my dad Eugene trained, sparked my love for racing. He was an unbelievable horse and I loved being involved with him.

Q: What horse put you on the map?

A: I’m not sure I’m on any map yet! But The Jam Man gave me a good boost when winning three in a row in the UK.

Q: Who is your favourite horse?

A: I am very fond of a lot of horses especially those in our yard, but Super Citizen is my favourite. He has a great personality.

Q: What was it like to ride in your first race?

A: My first race was a week after my 16th birthday in Aghabollogue point-to-point. It was very exciting. My dad had people standing at every bend to shout at me! He was very competitive! I finished third and was hooked then.

Q: How long does it take to learn race-riding tactics?

A: It is different for everyone and it depends on the type of races and experiences you have. It’s hard to learn race tactics if you are riding horses with no chance. Riding good pieces of work with good riders can be beneficial.

Q: Describe the feeling of riding/training your first winner?

A: It was a great feeling but the minute you ride one you just want another one and then another one. It’s very addictive.

Q: What is your most memorable racing moment?

A: Winning in Cheltenham (in the Foxhunters’ Chase with It Came To Pass) was by far the best day of my career at this point in time.

Q: What is your favourite racecourse in Ireland?

A: Killarney, it is a lovely track at a great time of the year with an amazing atmosphere.

Q: If you weren’t a jockey/trainer what would you be?

A: A secondary school teacher.

Q: If you could ride one horse, what would it be?

A: Tiger Roll looks like a dream.

Q: How do you cope with pressure?

A: I try not to overthink things and have confidence in myself.

Q: What mental preparation do you do for the big days?

A: I try to make sure I am in the best shape I can be mentally and physically, do my homework and again try not to overthink it. The big day is just the same as any other day in my head.

Q: How do you stay motivated?

A: I make lists, a lot of lists! I make targets and tick them off as I go, day to day or long term. I look forward to nice horses I have to ride.

Q: How do you deal with dips in form?

A: Whether it’s a horse’s performance or my own, I try to evaluate it, figure out what went wrong, improve it and most importantly, move on.

Q: Outside of racing, what is your favourite sporting moment?

A: Our local football team Kilshannig winning a county final last year, my brother Eoin was on the team.

I’d say they are still celebrating!

Q: Can you give us a Netflix/film recommendation to watch?

A: Yes, I am a professional in this department! Designated Survivor.

What is your guilty pleasure?

A: Mint Aero, the big ones that say ‘for sharing’ But I don’t share!

Desert island discs — name your favourite three songs?

A: Rag and Bone Man — Giant (Which reminds me of It Came To Pass!); Kasabian — Fire; Kylie Minogue — Get Outta My Way.

Those are my racing songs!

Q: What person do you admire the most and why?

A: My mom, she is my best friend and she is my biggest supporter. Good days or bad days she’s always there.

Q: Favourite dinner?

A: I love all food, but my favourite is roast beef.

Q: Where is your favourite place to go on holidays?

A: I go to the same place every year in Torremolinos Spain, it’s very boring and quiet and ideal for me!

Q: What ambitions do you still have?

A: To learn to do the shuffle dance!

Q: What is the hidden gem of your home county?

A: My Granny’s dinners!

Q: When you think of your home what immediately springs to mind?

A: Work, work, and more work! Our pony Tony who is the same age as me and there as long as I can remember.

Q: How are you occupying your time during the Covid-19 restrictions?

A: We still have some summer horses left in at home, so we are riding them out and we are starting to do our spring clean in the yard.

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Q: If you had one piece of advice for everyone during these worrying times of Covid-19, what would it be?

A: For everyone to keep safe firstly and obey the Government recommendations. Also maybe take time to improve things in your own lifestyle while you have the time and come out of it with something positive, that’s what I’m trying to do anyway!

Q: If you were to go back to when you were 20 years old and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

A: I would tell myself not to wish my life away.

Q: Favourite saying/quote?

A: Failure to plan is planning to fail!

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