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Dylan Browne McMonagle

The opening scene in the excellent short documentary by Jonny Madderson, Five Stone of Lead, is of a young lad punching a punch bag.


It’s unrelenting.



Two hands going as quickly as four hooves, and as rhythmically. Then the sound of the punching fades gradually, to be replaced by the sound of a galloping horse.

“My dream is to be champion jockey,” says a young, pure Donegal accent. There is a pause, as if the interviewer is waiting for more. But there isn’t any more.

“That’s it.”

Even as a pony racing rider, Dylan Browne McMonagle was small. He weighed in at less than five stone, which meant that the saddle that he used was sometimes heavier than he was. He won the Derby Trial on Let’s Go in 2015, which meant that, when he lined up in the Dingle Derby, the Epsom Derby of pony racing, he had to carry a 12lb penalty. That brought his total weight to 9st 12lb, which meant that the young rider’s saddle was heavier than he was. It didn’t matter. He drove Let’s Go to victory.

“Let’s Go was some pony,” he says with characteristic self-deprecation. “All I had to do was steer him.”

Let’s Go was trained by Adrian Browne, Dylan’s uncle, who was instrumental in launching the careers of many young aspiring riders, including Emmet Butterly and Rossa Ryan, as well as his nephew’s. Dylan Browne McMonagle was champion pony racing rider twice, he rode 218 winners in total and he won just about every race at Dingle, the Cheltenham Festival of pony racing.

As he was making his way in pony racing, he was getting noticed. Top judges like AP McCoy and Clare Balding and Ruby Walsh were charting his progress. Indeed, so impressed was AP McCoy with the youngster, he invited him over to spend a few days with him. And all the while he continued to box. Dylan Browne McMonagle was Ulster Champion five times, and National Champion once.

“Boxing teaches you so much,” he says now thoughtfully. “The goal is to maximise the number of times that you hit the other guy, and minimise the number of times that he hits you. And you quickly figure out, when you get hit, it hurts. When I started boxing, I used to start off slowly, try to ease my way into it. But then I realised, you have to start quickly, all guns blazing. You don’t have the time to ease your way into it. It teaches you discipline as well, and you’re fit. Mentally and physically. Boxing was a big help to me in school too. I was able to stand up for myself.”

He was well able to stand up for himself too when he left the confines of the pony racing circuit and joined the major league. A weekend spent with Joseph O’Brien led to another weekend and then another weekend. It’s a long way from Letterkenny in County Donegal to Owning in County Kilkenny, but it didn’t matter how far it was for the youngster.

“I can’t thank Mum and Dad enough,” he says now. “And my uncle Adrian. They used to drive me up and down on Friday and Sunday. Often Joseph would have runners at Fairyhouse or Navan or somewhere on a Sunday, so I could get a lift there and they’d pick me up. But sometimes he wouldn’t, and they’d come all the way down to Joseph’s to get me. That’s about a four-and-a-half-hour drive.”

His last year in secondary school was 2020, the year that Covid-19 hit. The silver lining was that school finished, his Leaving Cert was put down to predictive grades, and he was able to start his ‘summer’ at Joseph O’Brien’s early. At the end of that summer, Joseph asked him if he wanted to stay.

Champion apprentice in 2021, when he was widely recognised as superb value for his 5lb claim, and then for his 3lb claim, he stopped when he rode his 94th winner towards the end of the 2021 season. That meant that, with one winner left in 2022 before he reached 95 and therefore lost his claim, he could ride as an apprentice for the entire of the 2022 season. He won the apprentices’ championship that year too.

“It was a bit of a pain, not riding all the way to the end of the 2021 season, but it was worth it in 2022. It meant that I could ride in the apprentices’ races as well that year.”

Of course, he lost his claim after he rode his first winner of 2022 but, in reality, he didn’t need it. Long before then, he was well able to compete on level terms with the best riders in the business. Even in April 2021, when Baron Samedi, on whom the youngster had won three handicaps in 2020, was set to line up in the Group 3 Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan, Joseph O’Brien had no hesitation in allowing his young rider maintain his association with the Harbour Watch gelding. The rider repaid the trainer’s faith too, he kicked Baron Samedi to victory, a first Group race win for the youngster, getting him home by a half a length from his better-fancied stable companion Master Of Reality.

This season is kicking on nicely too. It was obviously disappointing that Al Riffa – on whom he recorded his first Group 1 win, in the National Stakes at The Curragh last September – had to miss the Irish Guineas, but his eagerly anticipated return to the racetrack is imminent. And his rider is not standing still. He won the Gladness Stakes on Goldana, he won the Athasi Stakes on Honey Girl, he won the Blue Wind Stakes on Caroline Street.

“Winning’s the best part,” the 12-year-old Dylan Browne McMonagle tells the camera, with a wisdom that belies his youth. “If you get beat, you get beat, and you just have to take your beating.”

He is talking about boxing, but he could be talking about racing. His attitude to it. An attitude that goes well beyond his years. Or life.

“Rocky IV, he was fighting the Russian. During the fight, he gets knocked down a few times, and then he comes back and knocks the boy out!  I know it’s a movie, but it gives you a good will to try and do what he does. Like, never give up and keep going.”

Hooves on sand. Galloping. Credits.

© Racing TV Magazine, June 2023