I caught up with English and Irish Derby winner Padraig Beggy to talk about how he got into becoming a jockey and the steps that he took on his way to winning arguably 2 of the biggest races in the world.
I began our interview by asking Beggy why he became a jockey and what ignited his love of the sport.
“I suppose I got into horse racing as a young lad because I was living in Dunboyne with Fairyhouse being just up the road and I would go up to the Irish Grand National around Easter time every year and my father was into the racing as well so they were the main reasons that I got into horse racing” he admitted.
“I knew I wanted to be a jockey when Kieran Fallon won the 2000 Guineas in Newmarket in 2001 on Golan who was just bred up the road from Dunboyne in Ballymacoll stud and I never sat on a horse till I was 15 but I think when Golan won I remember watching the race and my father was given a tip for the horse so I think that was when it sort of clicked that I wanted to become a jockey.”
Padraig said “In order to leave school and become a jockey my parents wanted me to go to RACE (Racing Academy & Centre of Education) riding school in Kildare so before I went to race I worked for Owen Weldon in Batterstown and I had about 3 to 4 months experience in his yard before I went to RACE.”
“When I went into RACE I was happy to be there but there were lads there who had more experience than me for example Rory Cleary who rode a lot of pony winners and other lads rode winners as well so I knew I had to catch up as I was only starting to learn how to ride as there was no one in my family that had horses, they just liked watching the racing”.
“The first trainer during RACE that I was assigned to through the course was Kevin Prendergast and I found it a little bit tough at the start as I was a young man away from home so I maybe felt a little bit homesick but the lads in Prendergast’s yard were good lads and after a while I started to know them and I ended up working there for 6 years so it was a good place but yeah a little bit hard at the start.”
England, Asia and Australia
“So around 2010 I was riding quite a few winners and I had ridden my claim, I had about 100 winners in Ireland when I was around 22 and I did a Winter in India with trainer Prasad Raju and I was based Hyderabad and I had 15 winners in 3 months out there so that was good experience.”
“When I came back from India the season in Ireland was starting back again and I had just become professional after riding my claim so the rides and winners were drying up and that’s when I decided to go abroad.”
“I had a short spell of 6 months in England in 2012 where I was offered to ride for John Quinn and after that I went over to Malaysia where I rode for Thomas Gillespie in 2013 and the racing was usually only once sometimes maybe twice a week but it was tough and quiet as I only had 6 winners in the 6 months out there and Thomas only had 15 horses so it was hard to ride winners over there.”
“So it was still 2013 and I got a job with Noel Mayfield Smith in Australia through an Australian trainer who was working in Malaysia at the time and Noel’s wife Emma is Irish and her father was former jockey Willie Robinson.” When I was riding over in Australia Noel would have been my main trainer but I also rode for Scott Singleton, Bjorn Baker and I rode a winner for legendary trainer Bart Cummins and Winx’s trainer Chris Waller. After I rode the winner for Cummins I was starting to get some phone calls off some of the Aussie lads I had met over there to say well done as it was a big deal to ride a winner for him and I knew I was doing well and how big it was to do that”. “When I was in Australia I was staying in Sydney and the way the racecourses work over there you’d have the main tracks like the Curragh or Leopardstown equivalent and they would be called the city tracks and then there would be tracks about an hour outside the city called the provincial tracks and then as you’d go further inland they would call them the country tracks and I was in the city where the racing was better.” “While I was in Australia I rode 35 winners in a year and a half so I was happy with that and I always knew I was going to come back to Ireland so my 2 year Visa was coming to an end over there and I had always planned on coming home so when my Visa ran out I suppose it was time to come home as I had did my travelling.”
The Ballydoyle Days
“I felt I got my experience over travelling around Asia and Australia so I knew it was the right time to come back.” “When I came back I knew I had to start fresh so I was wondering where am I going to go and two of my friends and fellow jockey Michael Hussey and work rider Chris Geoghegan were working in Ballydoyle for Aidan O’Brien and I had always been in touch with the two lads while I was abroad so they both got me in to Ballydoyle, fair play to them.” “I was interviewed by Joseph O’Brien who was riding there at the time and I was invited for a week’s trial and my first day working was the 11th of January 2015.” Aidan welcomed me and I think he knew me because I had ridden winners in Ireland, I hadn’t met him before Ballydoyle but I presume he knew me because not that I did too often, but I beat a few of his horses over the years,” Beggy Laughs.
“So I settled into Ballydoyle quite quickly as I was riding out with Joseph and the lads and I started riding out 6 days a week Monday to Saturday and I still do the same today. The first year with Aidan I didn’t get any rides for him and Paul Flynn gave me a few rides and I had my first winner back in Ireland in Dundalk on a horse called Chatterton.”
There were rumours in the press that Aidan had said to you, ‘if you work hard you will be repaid with big rides’, was that the case?
“They were just rumours, I just kept doing what I was doing and I think he saw that I took my licence back out and that I rode a winner for Paul Flynn who was very good to me while I was an apprentice and I think he just noticed that I was riding and then the following year I started getting the odd ride from Aidan.”
It is tough to be a jockey in Ballydoyle as there are other really good and experienced jockeys working for O’Brien. Padraig has had to battle for 4th choice jockey between Michael Hussey and Emmet Mcnamara over the past few years so it was going to be slow getting going for him.
“It took me 5 rides to get a winner for Aidan and my first winner for him was a Guineas trial in Leopardstown on a well turned out horse Hydrangea in the group 3 race.” “Would you believe I had ridden in group races before but it was my very first group winner and I was delighted as I was back in Ireland and to ride a winner for Aidan O’Brien in Leopardstown is great as I was home nearly a year and it’s great to be riding winners for a stable like Ballydoyle.”
The 2017 Epsom Derby
In 2017 you got your first ride in the Epsom Derby, what were you like before and after the race?
“Well I knew Aidan was going to have 5 or so horses in the Derby, whether I was going to ride one of them I didn’t know but I was hopeful. When I was told I would be riding Wings of Eagles in the Derby to be honest the first thing I done was ring my father and my brother and I was delighted, over the moon.” “I knew Wings of Eagles was a good horse as I rode him in Spring time earlier that year and Seamie who was riding him out in work was happy with him so I knew he was a good horse.” He came 2nd in a Derby trial at Chester so I knew I might have a chance of getting a place and not only that I was riding a horse for Aidan O’Brien in the Derby and he runs his horses there because they have talent.”
“I wouldn’t have been too nervous maybe only a little bit in the weigh room waiting around before the race but once I got onto the horse I started feeling excited, I just remembered what way the race was going to go from studying beforehand and I just did what I was told and listened to the instructions from Aidan. Like anything a horse race just happens when them stalls open things are going to happen and Aidan had told me how to ride the horse and I was just thinking about what I was told.”
In my opinion Padraig’s ride on Wings of Eagles in the Derby was the best ride I have seen because the position he came in to win the race was magnificent.
“Well we turned into the straight and Ryan switched out on Cliffs of Moher and I was actually following Ryan. I said I’ll try stay in a little bit because it’s a long straight at Epsom and I stayed in and at about the 3 furlong and 2 furlong point I started passing out a few horses and with 2 furlongs remaining it was like he nearly found another gear and I went out into the open and it was at that stage when I thought I have a chance here I didn’t think I would win but I knew I had a chance.” “Between the 2 and 1 furlong point I just said to myself Padraig just keep him because at Epsom the track is a bit one to lane so some horses get a bit unbalanced so I just kept him balanced and in a straight line and he got there and won the race.”
“When I was pulling the horse up and cantering Aidan came up and shook my hand as I came into the parade ring and I was actually surprised that I had won and I’d say Aidan was as well as he probably thought he’d run well and maybe run a place not win.”
Padraig got a well deserved win on Wings of Eagles to take his first Derby in his first time riding in the race, unbelievable stuff a very good ride from him.
Wings of Eagles didn’t really do too well after his Derby win under Beggy as he came 2nd in the Irish Derby later that month under Ryan Moore and he never really did well after that.
“Poor Wings of Eagles had a setback after that race and that finished his career early but I think he could have turned out to be a hell of a horse and if he had have just developed around the Epsom Derby he would have had a good career ahead of him.”
The 2018 Irish Derby
Padraig rode Rostropovich for Aidan O’Brien in the 2018 Irish Derby in the Curragh and he gave his horse a really good ride as he kept in front the whole race and was just pipped by Latrobe for the O’Brien brothers and he finished 2nd in a great finish to the Derby.
“Saxon Warrior was the horse to beat but outside him every horse had a chance so I thought if he has an off day everyone has as good a chance as eachother.” “I was leading the race throughout and Latrobe who actually won the race was behind me and Saxon Warrior who I thought would win that day was in around 4th but it was a great race from Rostropovich and I thought at best I would finish 2nd because I thought Saxon was going to win but I still finished 2nd so yes I was delighted with Rostropovich’s run.”
The 2019 Irish Derby
Padraig rode Sovereign in the 2019 Irish Derby the same horse he rode in the 2019 Epsom Derby finishing 10th in England so he was a 33/1 outside shot in the Irish Derby.
“I rode Sovereign in the Epsom Derby and I don’t think Epsom suited him because it’s a bit one to lane and up and down and Sovereign’s a real good mover so the Curragh is a big galloping track and its more even and in Epsom I thought he ran reasonably okay but he just didn’t handle the track.”
“Seamie was riding him in work before the Irish Derby and he was very happy with him and I knew Sovereign liked the track because as far as horses go Sovereign is as good a mover as you’d like.”
“Yes I was hopeful about my chances of winning that maybe one or two of the other horses might have an off day and Sovereign would have a good day and I was looking forward to riding him because I knew he was going to be a real good spin on the Curragh as it’s a great track, its fair and it’s a big galloping track and I knew Sovereign would enjoy it.”
“I turned into the straight, I was in the lead and like any jockey I gave Sovereign a bit of a squeeze to shorten up my reigns on him and he found a gear and that was probably about 3 furlongs out I was letting him extend out himself and when I got down to the 2 furlong pole that was when I sort of said to myself now there’s 2 furlongs to go and I don’t hear anybody because usually you would hear the lads coming.”
“When I got to the furlong pole I had a big look up to the big screen and when I looked up I knew that Sovereign had quickened up to the straight and when I looked up to the screen I was a bit surprised of how far clear I was and then it was just a case of, I just said to myself don’t fall off, don’t do anything silly, just keep the horse happy and straight and then I’ve won the Irish Derby.”
“I was delighted, it was a great day for me and my family, that day I was thinking, imagine my parents, brothers and sisters watching their brother win what is probably the biggest race in Ireland on the flat so I was delighted for them as well.”
“Aidan came up and shook my hand as always and a big well done and I think a little bit surprised but at the same time Sovereign is a horse that we knew was as good horse as any, he ran well at the Derby trial in Leopardstown so I think his price was even a little bit too big that day.”
“Well going forward Sovereign is back in training and at his work and I’d love to see Sovereign coming out because I think he is going to be a horse for people to look forward to.”
“Hopefully and I don’t think the same thing that happened to Wings of Eagles after he won the Epsom Derby will happen to Sovereign but please god he will be out this year. I don’t know what big races he will go for but he is a horse that I am looking forward to seeing and I think he will win big races this year.”
“I don’t know if I will be put on Sovereign in a race again but I’ll be hoping that I maybe will ride him again but I’m sure Ryan will be mad to get on him but you never know but as I have won on him I’d love to see Sovereign win some big races and I think he will.”
“Either way I’ll be happy for Sovereign if I don’t get to ride him again and I love him, he’s a gentleman to ride as I have do some work with him at home so he’s a nice horse.”
“Please god I will get some more big winners in Ballydoyle. There are so many good horses so you’d like to think that in some of the big races, there would be 4 or 5 runners who would all have a chance of winning the race like the day’s I rode Wings of Eagles and Sovereign in the English and Irish Derbies and please god as we have all seen the outsider can sometimes be the best on the day so you’d be just hoping Tiarnán yeah.”
“Please god I have a good season ahead and if I was to give a young lad or lady who are an aspiring young jockey advice, I would just say like anything, work hard and that’s how you get rewards. From my point of view and how my career has been so far you will have ups and downs, enjoy the up times and you know this game, especially horse racing has a lot of down times because you get beaten a lot because your winners to rides you will lose more often but enjoy the good days and hang in there you never know what’s around the corner.”
I just want to say a big thank you to Padraig for taking his time to do this interview with me. His story is amazing and just shows, like he said, to any young jockey or older that you never know what’s around the corner and I think that is very good advice coming from an Irish and English Derby winner.