Donn's Articles » Denis O’Regan

Denis O’Regan

Denis O’Regan remembers Ansar all right.  You always remember your first big winner.

Actually, Ansar was not the original plan.  He was booked initially to ride Mutakarrim for trainer Dermot Weld in the 2005 Galway Plate.  He was excited about Mutakarrim, a classy horse who had finished second to his stable companion Vinnie Roe in the Saval Beg Stakes two months earlier and who had the class to win a Galway Plate.  He watched the videos of Mutakarrim’s races and he thought deeply about how he would ride the race, about how the race might pan out.  Different scenarios. 

It wasn’t until the day before the race that his agent Ciaran O’Toole called him and said, change of plan.  He would be riding Mutakarrim’s stable companion Ansar instead.

“I was disappointed,” the rider recalls.  “Ansar was the winner of the race the year before, but he had a massive weight and I had kind of ruled him out.  Robbie Power was going to ride Mutakarrim.  I took it on the chin though.”

He couldn’t see it initially, but it made sense.  Ansar was set to carry 12 stone.  He wasn’t an overly big racehorse, and Denis O’Regan was claiming 3lb at the time.  The claim of a highly talented young rider can be invaluable for highweights in a competitive valuable handicap like the Galway Plate.  He got to Galway early on Galway Plate morning and walked the track.  As he was out on the track, he met Dermot Weld.  

“It’s never a bad thing, for the trainer to see you out walking the track.  Straight away, he put me at ease about riding the horse.  He said that he was a class horse and that he had a chance.  He told me how I thought I should ride him.  He made me feel very relaxed.”

O’Regan rode Ansar handily in the 2005 Galway Plate, never far off the pace and never far from the inside, saving ground, saving energy.  He didn’t allow Ansar hit the front until after they had jumped the final fence and, when he asked his horse for his effort, Ansar was strong.  Almost 12 stone on his back, but he still powered up the Galway hill that he loved and came seven lengths clear of his rivals.  Denis O’Regan punched the air.  The biggest win of his career thus far.  A Galway Plate.  Magic.

Ten years and three days after Denis O’Regan won the Galway Plate on Ansar, he went back to Galway and won the Galway Hurdle on Quick Jack.  Lots happened in the intervening years.  O’Regan landed his first Grade 1 win for starters, on Offshore Account for Charlie Swan in the Ellier Developments Champion Novice Chase at the 2007 Punchestown Festival. 

He went to Britain and teamed up with Andrea and Graham Wylie and Howard Johnson for three years and made hay.  He rode Tidal Bay to win his first three chases in the autumn of 2007, and he rode Inglis Drever to win the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury that December.  Then he went to Cheltenham in March 2008 and rode Tidal Bay to win the Arkle and Inglis Drever to win the Stayers’ Hurdle. 

He rode Cape Tribulation for Malcolm Jefferson to win the Pertemps Final at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival and the Silver Cross Hurdle at Aintree a month later, and he won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Countrywide Flame for John Quinn.  And he had plenty of success with John Ferguson in 2013 and 2014, Ruacana and Sea Lord and Pine Creek and Broughton. 

He rode Living Next Door for trainer Tony Martin and owner John Breslin to win the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s 2014 Christmas Festival, and that was the catalyst for the Quick Jack call.

“I was in England when Tony Martin called me and asked me if I would ride Quick Jack in the Galway Hurdle,” recalls the rider.  “He asked me if I would come over and have a sit on him the day before the race.  We did a strong bit of work, and he schooled over 10 hurdles.  He gave me a great feel, and I was very confident going racing that he was going to go very well.”

He got Quick Jack settled nicely early on in the race, not that far off the pace, sixth or seventh and towards the inside. 

“I felt that with his light weight, I didn’t have to be that far back.  I got an enormous bit of luck on the run down the hill.  Plinth edged off the rail in front of me and I was able to go through the gap.  Quick Jack had the pace to get through the gap really fast, and I had the luxury to just be able to fill him up.”

John Breslin’s horse travelled well in front into the home straight, but he was being challenged by his stable companion Thomas Edison, who was coming with a strong run under Barry Geraghty, when that horse came down at the last.

“I only saw his head,” says O’Regan.  “But I just got a good jump at the last, and when I gave my horse a squeeze, he did accelerate away.  He quickened.  He had that bit of speed and class.”

With that win, Denis O’Regan joined a select group of riders who have won both the Galway Plate and the Galway Hurdle.  This week, he hopes to add to his Galway haul with a book of rides that is headed up by Snugsborough Benny for Liam Cusack in the Galway Plate on Wednesday.

“Snugsborough Benny is very well,” says the rider.  “He won the Galway Blazers last year and he ran a huge race in the Irish Grand National.  This is his time of year, he has operated on the track real well, touch wood he’s a good jumper, and he has a great weight.  Liam and his team have done a fantastic job with him.  And the fast pace that they should go will suit him well.”

It could be his latest big winner.

© The Sunday Times, 28th July 2019