Donn's Articles » Denis Hogan

Denis Hogan

Denis Hogan walked the track on Wednesday morning.  It’s not that far, Galway is only about 10 furlongs in circumference.  Even so, the weather got him.  He met Ruby Walsh as he came back in before he dried off.

“Would it not be easier to be watching on from the stands instead of being in the thick of it out on the track?”

Friends had said it to him: crazy to be continuing to ride given how successful his training operation had become.  Runners at Royal Ascot one day, top class flat horses, runners in Group 1 races, then riding in an 80-95 handicap hurdle at Ballinrobe the next. 

He had thought about hanging up his riding boots before.  Punchestown Festival 2019, he rode Moyhenna to win the Glencarrig Lady Mares’ Handicap Chase.  He thought about it then, on the way back into the winner’s enclosure.  He thought about getting off his horse and saying that that was it, that he was retiring from riding.  But he wasn’t ready.  In his gut, he wasn’t ready, and you have to go with your gut.

He loves riding.  It’s how he got into racing in the first place.  It’s why he got into racing.  Down in Charlie Swan’s riding school when he was a kid, him and his sister.  You couldn’t get him out of the place.  Then he moved into the racing yard with Charlie, riding racehorses.  An apprenticeship with Michael Halford, then back to Charlie.  If Charlie Swan hadn’t been a neighbour, it is probable that none of this would have happened.

He had it in his head that Galway might be a good place to do it.  Galway is special.  It’s where he got the racing bug, going to the Galway Festival as a kid with his mother and father.  If he could ride a winner at Galway this year, he thought, he might do it then.  That would be a great way to go out.

“I said a few years ago that I would like to keep on riding until I was 30,” he says.  “I’m 33 now.  I’ve been so lucky, the career I’ve had.  I’ve been lucky with falls, I’ve never had any major injuries.  And to be able to walk away on my own terms.”

Going down the back straight in the Arthur Guinness Handicap Hurdle on Thursday evening on Bua Boy, he thought, this could be it.  His horse was travelling so well.  He coasted down the hill, jumped to the front over the second last flight, and kicked.  He could hear a horse behind him, he didn’t know that it was Rachael Blackmore on his other horse, Alabaster, but he knew that Bua Boy was finding plenty.  He jumped the last well and the rider drove his horse up the hill to the winning line.  A 1-2 for Denis Hogan the trainer, a final winner for Denis Hogan the jockey.

“Rachael congratulated me as we pulled up, and I just said, ‘I think I’m going to go’.  It felt like the right time.  It all felt right.”

On Racing TV, Ruby Walsh said that there might be a significance to this win.

“It’s a pity that those closest to me couldn’t have been there,” says Hogan.  “Even so, it was great to do it at Galway.  I remember watching the jockeys ride at Galway, Charlie Swan and Conor O’Dwyer and Adrian Maguire and Richard Dunwoody.  And I remember when I had my first rides there, it was unbelievable.  So to have my last ride there, my last winner there.  That was a great way to go out.”

He’ll miss it all right.  He’ll miss the buzz of race riding.  He’ll miss seeing a nice horse and knowing that he might get to ride it in a maiden hurdle.  He won’t miss the dodgy jumpers though.  He won’t miss hacking back in on an also-ran.  And, crucially, he will get back the time that he spent riding, and he will be able to channel all of it into training.

“I owe so many people so much.  My fiancée Sarah, my mother, who used to drive me everywhere, my father, who pushed me on, helped me out with the yard, the buildings.  Charlie Swan, Mick Halford, James McAuley, Jim Gough, all my owners.”

He only kept riding for as long as he did because he enjoyed it so much.  He wasn’t race-riding every day though, so you can lose your sharpness that only race-riding fosters.  And when he was riding, he wasn’t training.

The last couple of years, his training operation has grown significantly, both qualitatively and quantitatively.  Twenty winners on the flat in 2020 sees him sit sixth in the trainers’ list in terms of number of winners, after Aidan O’Brien, Joseph O’Brien, Ger Lyons, Jessica Harrington and Johnny Murtagh.  He’s in good company.

An operation that started off with a permit and five horses has grown to Group 1 level and 80 horses.  Sceptical finished third in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot and he finished second in the July Cup at Newmarket.  Gutted to not win either, but delighted he went so close in both.  The Flying Five at The Curragh on Irish Champions’ Weekend is his ultimate aim this season, a race that is also the target for Make A Challenge, only just beaten in the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes at The Curragh two weeks ago.

More immediately, he has 10 runners on the final day of the 2020 Galway Festival this afternoon.  He’ll be watching from the stands. 

 © The Sunday Times, 2nd August 2020