We are delighted to be able to bring you the BIG Interview with Gold Cup & double Champion Hurdle winner Conor O’Dwyer. The former jockey retired from the saddle just over a decade ago & turned his hand to training with still being active on the track.
Now training full time, we talk about his early days, racing career, the big wins, his life as a jockey & trainer…..
Can you tell me what is your first memory of racing?
Going to Wexford races with life long friend John Berry
Did you grow up around horses & how old were you when you first sat on a horse?
No family connection with horses and sat on a pony when I was 6 and just was bitten by the bug.
Was being a Jockey your first career choice or did you want to do something else when you were younger?
Yes I always wanted to be a jockey, nothing else was in my head
Would you say, riding came naturally to you?
When did you make your rules debut & how long before you rode your first winner?
Roscommon in 1984 on a mare called Davys Hall and two years and eight rides later I rode my first winner in Limerick at the Christmas festival on a mare called Gayfield for Frank Oaks.
Who did you look up to growing up?
Frank Berry was always someone I followed and he has always got my back as a great support and mentor.
When you were winning Gold Cups at Cheltenham, there were plenty of other top Jockeys racing at the time, what was the weighing room like on BIG race days & was it ultra competitive or just friendly banter?
Both I suppose but every man for himself when the race started. I loved the buzz of the big day, it’s a tough game and we all watch out for each other…
Cheltenham & Punchestown Gold Cups with War of Attrition, back to back Cheltenham Champion Hurdles on Hardy Eustace & add to that Imperial Call with Hennessy & Cheltenham Gold Cup, it would be amiss of me to ask which one is your favourite?
Very hard to call as they were all very special for different reasons but War of Attrition probably just shades it as myself and Mouse have being friends for a long time and to ride a Gold Cup winner for him was amazing.
Which race did you want to win but never managed it during your riding career?
The English Grand National is a race I was always fascinated with but unfortunately third was as close as I finished in it on my first attempt on Laura’s Beau for Frank Berry.
Does a good horse make a jockey OR a good jockey make a horse?
A Good horse can make a good jockey but less so the other way around.
2002 you joined Gigginstown, how did that job come about?
I had ridden a few of their horses for Mouse and I met Eddie O’Leary at a friend’s wedding and he said they were expanding their operation and asked me if I was interested in being their first jockey. Easy decision.
Is it true you trained your first winner while still riding, just prior to your retirement in 2008?
Yes Hangover owned by Gigginstown was our first winner when he won a bumper for us in Punchestown, we still have him here at Rossmore he’s part of the family.
Why did you decide to retire from race riding & was becoming a trainer always something you thought of doing?
I retired at 42 having had a relatively injury free career and the time was right to move on. Training wasn’t always something I wanted to do but as retirement came closer I became quite interested in it and was very excited to get started with it. I was ready for the switch and love training.
You hold the record for the most Red Mills wins, 4, since 1990, do you think this record will be broken?
I didn’t know that, but if any one is going to break it my money is on Rachael Blackmore.
Now you are training, how many horses do you have in the yard?
We have a lovely yard based on the Curragh with amazing facilities on our door steps 1800 acres of gallops outside our gate. We have 30/35 horses in training, a mix of flat and National Hunt.
What do you look for when buying a horse?
The Budget can determine what you are looking for. I usually don’t go for anything too big as owners like to get to the track and a compact horse will come to hand quicker.
Do you set win targets or target certain horses at certain races?
All depends on their rating as it is impossible to make plans for lowly rated horses with regard to balloting, Its easy to make a plan with the higher rated horses and yes we usually try to put a plan in place.
And finally, could you give our readers a horse to follow for the season ahead please…
Rajsalad is a very nice prospect for the winter season, he came off the point to point field and is a beautiful big horse so fingers crossed he goes the right way for our owner Hugo & Anne Kane.
If you would like to take part in the Charity Golf Pro Am, please contact the number above….
We would like to thank Audrey, Conor’s wife for her help in getting this interview over the line, to Conor for taking the time to do this for us & we would like to wish them & the team all the best for the season ahead & the future.
Interview by Rich Williams
Photos – Conor feeding horses, Capilano Bridge & The Yard (Audrey O’Dwyer)
Rajsalad & Conor – Courtesy of Emma O’Brien.
War of Attrition (BBC Sport)
Published July 2021