Donn's Articles » Colm O’Donoghue

Colm O’Donoghue

Sitting in a foyer in a County Kilkenny hotel six weeks ago, Colm O’Donoghue chatted about the season that stretched out in front of him.

It was Dante day at York. An hour earlier, Seville had been narrowly beaten by Carlton House in the Dante. O’Donoghue had ridden Seville when he had finished second to Casamento in the Racing Post Trophy on his last run as a juvenile. Furthermore, when Black Bear Island had won the Dante in 2009, it was Colm O’Donoghue who had ridden him. Yet on Dante day 2011, Christophe Soumillon had been drafted in to ride Seville as O’Donoghue prepared for an evening’s racing at Gowran Park.

Seven days earlier, Treasure Beach had won the Chester Vase. When Golden Sword won the Chester Vase in 2009, O’Donoghue had ridden him, yet this year, it was Ryan Moore who was on board. O’Donoghue seemed unperturbed by the sequence of events. He didn’t see it as a backward step. He was part of a team, and he was happy to go wherever that team needed him to go. Some days he will be riding the high-profile horses in the televised races, some days he won’t. That day, the team needed him at Gowran Park, not at York.

It was Colm O’Donoghue all over. The rider you see on the horse under the helmet is the person you see sitting on the armchair in front of you: under-stated, calm, cool, at ease. He is not a flashy cartwheel-turning drop-his-nose-on-the-line jockey, he is very much in the Ryan Moore mould, keep things simple, have your horse in the best position.

I suppose it would be different if you were playing for Accrington Stanley, but it is probably easy to be a team player when you are playing for the Barcelona of racing. You may fancy yourself as a striker, but if Pep Guardiola asks you to play left back one day, I’m sure you are happy to play left back.

O’Donoghue has been playing for Ballydoyle almost since he could kick a ball. Just before he sat his Junior Cert, he called Aidan O’Brien and asked him if there were any jobs going. He had done the same with Noel Meade and with Paddy Mullins before, and had secured two summers’ worth of employment with two of the top trainers in Ireland. It was the only way he knew.

Hailing for Buttevant in County Cork, home of the first steeplechase race ever run, you would have thought that O’Donoghue’s family would be immersed in horses and in racing. Not so. His uncles and cousins had a couple of horses, hunters mainly, and it was on the pony racing circuit that Colm cut his teeth, but he was essentially ploughing a lone furrow.

All the while his parents thought it was a fad, they were waiting for the day when he would give up this horses thing and go and get a job. That was unlikely to happen, though, when Aidan O’Brien told him to come in to Ballydoyle for the weekend. He went in on Friday, worked until Sunday, went home to do his Junior Cert, went back to Ballydoyle the day after he sat his last exam, and he hasn’t left yet.

Amazing the difference between success and narrow defeat in this game. Perhaps it is the same in all sports, in all walks of life, but when Blue Bunting got up to beat Together by three parts of a length in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket last month, the headlines screamed Dettori, as O’Donoghue hardly got a mention. If you had asked a sample of racegoers at Newmarket that day to name Together’s rider, you can be certain that a significant proportion would have failed.

When Pour Moi got up to land the Epsom Derby by a head, Mickael Barzalona made mainstream news. O’Donoghue got a paragraph in the Racing Post, the quality of the ride that he gave the runner-up going completely under the radar. If Treasure Beach had won the Epsom Derby by a head instead of getting beaten by a head, the ride would have been dissected, its quality appreciated, the manner in which he settled Treasure Beach in the perfect position, kept him under wraps until as late as possible, kicked at the right time, strong in the finish, drove to the line.

O’Donoghue probably thought that he had won the Epsom Derby when he kicked Treasure Beach in the belly and went a length up. He probably thought that he won the 1000 Guineas when he got the better of Richard Hills and Maqaasid, with whom he had duelled out in the centre of the track for a furlong. Indeed, it is possible that, head down and driving to the line, he didn’t realise that he had been beaten in either until after he had passed the winning post.

On Sunday, he probably thought that he had won the Irish Derby when he went a neck up on Seamie Heffernan and Seville with 50 yards to run. This time, when he looked up after crossing the line, there was no other horse in front of him. The accolades that have been heaped upon him since Sunday have been long overdue.

© The Racing Post, 28th June 2011