Donn's Articles » Conor McNamara

Conor McNamara

Conor McNamara got up on Saturday morning, five rides to look forward to at Fairyhouse.  He knew that he had a great chance on Wolf Prince for his boss Gavin Cromwell in the opening four-year-old hurdle.  The horse had the form and he had the experience and he was a warm favourite.  After that, Charlie Stout had a chance in the feature race, the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase.  Brex Drago had a chance in the novices’ chase.

Things didn’t go exactly according to plan in the opening race.  They didn’t go a great pace, and that was never going to suit Wolf Prince.

“I didn’t want to be in front too early,” recalls the rider now.  “But I didn’t want it to turn into a sprint either.”

He improvised.  Wolf Prince jumped to the front over the third last flight as the leader Takarengo got in tight, but McNamara sat and allowed Takarengo come back up and keep him company on the run around into the home straight.  He knew that he had plenty of horse under him though and, when he jumped into a clear lead over the second last, he could wait no longer.  He sent his horse forward and immediately put three lengths between himself and his pursuers.  Hammersmith challenged on the run-in, but Wolf Prince pulled out more for his young rider and went on to win by just over a length.

“It was great to win on Wolf Prince, especially when the race wasn’t really run to suit him.”

That was the 26th win of the rider’s career.

Conor McNamara works for Gavin Cromwell, he rides out there four days a week so, while Jonathan Moore is the trainer’s number one rider, McNamara can legitimately hope to get chances on horses like Wolf Prince from time to time.  Charlie Stout was different though.  Charlie Stout is trained by Shane Nolan.  Strange the way opportunities arise.

McNamara rides out at Willie Mullins’ two days a week.  He was in there on 2nd January this year, the day after he had ridden Biddy The Boss to get home in a thrilling finish in a good handicap chase at Fairyhouse. 

“Barry Potts, one of the part-owners of Charlie Stout, rides out with Emmet Mullins, who uses Willie’s gallops.  He just came up to me that morning and asked me if I would be interested in riding Charlie Stout at Fairyhouse.  It was a brilliant opportunity for me.”

You need the luck.  You need the breaks.  In every walk of life, you need the ball to bounce your way.  But it is a big help when you have the capability to help to engineer the openings for yourself.  And it is an even bigger help when you have the talent to exploit the opportunities that present themselves when the ball does hop your way.

Conor McNamara has the talent all right.  He was very good on Charlie Stout.  He got his horse settled nicely into his racing rhythm, got him jumping.  He moved up among horses around the home turn to join the front rank, allowed him jump on at the second last fence, and he kept his horse going from there over the last and up the run-in to win well. 

That was the 27th win of his career.

It was a big day for the youngster.  A big win.  The biggest win of his career, the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase, the most valuable.  And a double on the day, just the second double of his life.  And yet, he went home kicking himself about the one that might have got away.

“I probably should have sat quiet on Brex Drago at the third last in the novices chase.  I was overly positive.  It was a rookie mistake.”

It has always been horses for Conor McNamara.  He remembers the good horses that his dad Eric had through the years, Strangely Brown winning the Prix Alain du Breil in France, Ponmeoath winning his first Kerry National, Ponmeoath winning his second Kerry National.  Faltering Fullback and Questions Answered finishing first and second in the Kerry National. 

But it was more the training side of it than the riding ride that interested him in the beginning.

“I was always watching what my dad was doing, how he was training them.  The detail.  And I was always looking at sales books and going through pedigrees.  To be honest, I didn’t think that I would be good enough to be a jockey.”

He spent three summers in Dermot Weld’s and he spent six months with Robbie McNamara.

“They were both great.  Everyone at Dermot Weld’s, Pat Smullen and Leigh Roche and Ray Carroll.  And Robbie Mac would sit me down and go through races with me, pointing out things that I should be looking out for.”

The week after he rode his first winner, Offshore Oscar for his dad at Killarney in August 2018, his dad met Gavin Cromwell at the August Sales in Fairyhouse, and asked him if Conor could go in to ride out. 

“Gavin has been brilliant to me from the beginning.  And all the lads in there, Brien Kane and Ger Fox.  Ger is a great man to give advice.  And Johnny Moore.  Johnny is number one, he rides everything, and Brien and I between us seem to ride anything he doesn’t ride!”

There have been other good wins this season so far.  Lakemilan for Terence O’Brien in a valuable handicap chase at Cork in October.  Peaches And Cream in a good novices’ handicap hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.  And the promise of more.

“I just want to keep my head down and keep going forward.  Keep learning, keep listening, keep on improving as a rider.”

Then he went to Punchestown on Wednesday and won the three-mile handicap hurdle on Tokyo Getaway.

That’s the 28th.

© The 42, 16th January 2020