We are delighted to bring you a new Rising Star Interview with Conditional National Hunt Jockey Niall Houlihan.
Hailing from Ireland, the 20 year old has spent the last couple of years learning his trade with Gary Moore….
Niall tells us about his early days, his racing hero, reducing his claim & the horse he would love to had ridden…..
“There’s a great photo in his kitchen of him going over Beecher’s Brook second time around and he’s down the inside in full flight going down the brave mans route.
He was a real racing hero in my eyes“
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please?
My name is Niall Houlihan. I’m currently conditional jockey to Gary Moore. I’m 20 years old and was born and raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford. I am the youngest of three in my family, both my older brothers also work in horse racing.
Sean is conditional to Philip Hobbs and Conor, is an Amateur jockey based with Will Biddick.
What is your earliest memory of horse racing?
My earliest racing memory is of a horse that my father had a share in called Liscooney, winning a hurdle race around limerick. He was trained by my uncle David Kiely, who is married to my aunty Breda.
They trained right next door to us so we were always in there on the weekends when we were young.
At what age did you first ride a pony or horse?
I’m pretty sure I was still a toddler by the time I was riding ponies. Sean had a pony called ‘Missy’ & she was bombproof, we all started on her. Needless to say safety was never a major concern for us, as we were fascinated by cowboys and Indians when we were young. We were all riding bareback and bridle less was regular.
Did you always want to be a jockey or did you have another career in mind?
For me being a jockey was the only thing I ever wanted to do nothing else interested me. I stayed in school till I was 18. Completed my leaving certificate with a respectable score but really it was only a formality that I had to achieve in order to be allowed to go and give being a jockey a go.
Can you tell us about your route into racing?
I got my first job in racing when I was 11. I started milking cows and grooming horse’s in John Kiely’s yard, which was only a few hundred yards down the road from us. I worked there every weekend and holiday from the age of 11 till I left for England at 18.
I learned everything there from milking cows to breaking in young horses to riding work, schooling and going racing. I also learned a lot from John about how to conduct myself with owners and giving feedback on horses that would be of use.
I spent some time at my uncles yard, Maurice Phelan, who trained in Athy. At the time when I used to go there he had a few nice horses like Portrait King, who won an Eider chase.
Did you have a racing hero, if so who & why?
My racing hero growing up was probably Paddy Kiely. He is John’s brother & he rode in Ireland around the time of Arkle and that. He used to have a load of race replays from years ago and I used to go down and re-watch them with him and it always amazed me how he would still remember names results and stories, that would have often been forty or even fifty years old.
As a jockey he rode a Galway plate winner and even got placed in the Grand National. There’s a great photo in his kitchen of him going over Beecher’s Brook second time around and he’s down the inside in full flight going down the brave mans route.
He was a real racing hero in my eyes .
You’re a Conditional with Gary Moore, how long have you been there and how are you enjoying it?
I’ve been conditional with Gary Moore for 2 and a half years. I’ve honestly loved every minute of it. I have learned loads since coming over about the different aspects of the game. I love the mix of both jump horses and flat horses in the yard as it gives great variety in the horses your riding out.
How much advice have Jamie & Josh given you & what has been the best advice you have received from anyone?
I have been given some great advice from both Jamie and Josh, they are both very accomplished professional jockeys. There’s very little they don’t know about the tracks, reading into the pace of the races and their knowledge of the form. They’re both great judges of horses and they are very approachable I would always speak to them before I ride one of the bosses horses.
As for the best advice I’ve received I think it’s very hard to single one out.
When did you make your rules debut & how long before you rode your first winner?
I had my first ride as an amateur when I was 17. I rode a filly called Winsor Vixen for John Kiely in a Q.R. flat race around Clonmel. I always remember it was over 2 miles and there was 17 runners.
My first winner came in the U.K. It was on my first ride as a conditional jockey for the boss. It was on a horse called Eragon de Chanay around Sandown.
Do you have a career highlight to date?
A career highlight for me is when I rode Fifty Ball to win around Ascot. It was my first ride back from a broken collarbone. I’d been married to fifty ball for over a year at home. He’s a bit of a live wire so to make all, the hard work was worth it.
It was all made sweeter by the fact Sean came second in the race. For me, it was just like when we were younger racing our ponies on the local beach. So to live it out on a Saturday around Ascot was a bit special
Have you set any targets for the season?
My target this season was to ride out my seven pound claim so really anything for the rest of the season will be a bonus. I rarely set goals as it’s a fickle game & anything can happen but that was my one goal for this season.
You recently reduced your claim from 7 to 5Lb, do you think this will get you more rides?
I’d hope that I can get some more outside rides. I don’t get much time to go ride out elsewhere as were very busy in the yard but my agent Dave Roberts, has managed to get me into a few local stables this year. Richard Rowe and Sheena West, who have both given me winners this season.
Favourite sport outside racing? Probably GAA hurling in particular.
Favourite drink? Coffee.
Favourite food? My mothers bacon and cabbage with plenty white sauce
Favourite Music? I’ve probably the most varied taste in music there is my Spotify playlist has everything from techno to country western.
Favourite Film? Seabiscuit
How do you relax outside of racing?
I don’t tend to relax too much outside of racing. I hate being idle, if I’m not racing on a Sunday I will be either running, cycling or walking somewhere.
I am not a fan of being indoors for anything longer than an hour or two.
If you could ride any horse PAST or PRESENT, who would it be & why?
I’d have given anything to have ridden Denman. He was just the perfect chaser, a relentless galloper and a natural over the obstacles
A couple more before I let you go Niall…..
How have you been coping during the Lockdown and how have you been keeping busy?
Through all the lockdowns I’ve been working as normal in the yards but in the evenings I’m usually running around Horsham or even down the seafront which isn’t to far away. I do hold a crown or two locally on Strava.
And finally, do you have a horse for our readers to keep an eye out for in the near future please?
A horse in the near future for me is Mister Murchan. He really impressed me in Wincanton. He showed he had a bit of class and that his runs at Fontwell and Sandown were no flukes. I hope there’s a nice Saturday race in him in time.
We would like to thank Niall for taking the time to talk to us & we wish him all the success in the future. We will certainly be keeping an eye on his progress & look forward to seeing him in the winners enclosure very soon….
Interview – Rich Williams
Pictures – Niall (Riding) CO Niall & Twitter
Denman & John Kiely (Racing Post)