The Next Generation of Irish Horse Racing: Ben Coen Interview

If you read my most recent article you will know that I have started a new series where I interview some of the top up and coming young jockeys from Ireland. I hope you all enjoyed my first interview of the next generation of Irish Horse Racing series and a big thank you to Gavin Ryan for doing the interview with me. This week’s guest is another man from just outside Killenaule in Co. Tipperary, 18-year-old apprentice sensation Ben Coen. Ben is enjoying a great season with trainers Johnny Murtagh and Andy Slattery so far. Ben is currently on 16 winners for the season so far and he has been out over the last couple of weeks with a very unfortunate broken collarbone that came after a further abandoned race meeting from Sligo after his Horse was one of many horses who unseated their riders coming around the bend past the post. Hopefully, Ben will be back racing soon, and I hope you enjoy my chat with Ben.

The Early Days

“My uncle Andy Slattery is a trainer so I kept ponies with him and I just started riding ponies when I was 9 and then I started pony racing when I was 11 and then it snowballed from there.”  

“When I started off pony racing a pony called Biscuit who was trained by Billy Lee’s mother gave me my first few spins and then I got a couple of other rides as well.” “It wasn’t until my 3rd year pony racing that I really got going and I got better then and I started riding more for trainers in the midlands and loads of other trainers too, so my last 2 years riding were my best years in pony racing.” “I first started riding horses when I was around 8 or 9 and then I was about 10 years old when I started riding out at Andy Slattery’s while riding pony racing too and at the start I rode some of the quiet racehorses at Andy’s, just trotting and cantering and then as I progressed I moved up doing more then.”

“My cousin Andy, the trainer Andy Slattery’s son would have started a bit later than me so when he was around 13 or 14 and I was the same age as he’s only 4 months older than me. “He started a bit later as he saw me riding out and pony racing so he started riding too, I played Soccer, Gaelic, Hurling and I was doing athletics also when I was younger and Andy stuck to them longer than me as racing got involved for me earlier and then when he got interested he stopped and did the same as me with horses and all.” “I was kept fit anyway doing loads of sports.”

“I was mainly riding for Buddy Carson and a lot of other trainers up the midlands in the pony racing and I had 1 ride in the Dingle Derby in my last year pony racing but it didn’t really finish anywhere but I won another day in Dingle with that same horse and I think Dylan Browne McMonagle won on it also.”

Pony racing is good for experience as it lets you get used to horses being close around you and having balance, it’s a lot different to Senior racing on the flat like I do now but it’s a good starting place to learn bits and pieces but you’d get bad habits alright like using the stick too much and stuff like that because when you switch to Senior racing then you have to abide by the rules.” “It would be a lot slower moving than Senior racing as they would obviously not be as good as the Senior horses.” “The pony races used to go very quick and it’s just really about whoever stays the best in pony racing and the tracks were so tight.”  

 Pony racing obviously helped Ben progress and learn before moving onto Senior racing on the big scene when he was 15, just about to turn 16 and that was when he got his licence with his cousin and best mate, Andy Slattery.

The 1st Year: 2017

“I was 15 just turning 16 when I got my licence out with Andy and we signed onto his Dad and my uncle Andy Slattery around the same time and we both had our first rides on the same day both for Andy down in Limerick.” “My uncle Andy has been a great help to the both of us and he’s a great trainer too and he has a lot of them handicappers that he’s not afraid to put claimers on and he got the both of our names out there.” “We both got a bit delayed getting our licenses as Andy broke his wrist just before we were meant to get them and then a week after he done his wrist I chipped my kneecap, so we were both kind of delayed getting them then so the 2 of us did the course together and Shane Crosse actually did it with us up in RACE so we are all good mates and we’d all know each other years from the pony racing.”

“My first season went well, I started in September and I was getting plenty of rides and I think it was my 17th ride that I had my first winner, for Keith Clarke on a mare called Timia in October at  Dundalk so my first few months riding were in the All-Weather at Dundalk and then I kind of got going then as I got a winner the week after as well and I ended up with 7 winners all in Dundalk that season.” “Once the first winner came I kind of got rolling and people were using the claim as well and I was getting plenty of rides for different people and I was building up contacts for the grass season ahead.” “You can’t really expect to start riding winners straight away and you have to take whatever comes your way, but I was getting plenty of rides so I was happy away and I was getting experience every ride and I was happy out riding most Friday’s in Dundalk so I didn’t have any complaints and I wasn’t complaining when I wasn’t riding winners and when they came I was delighted.” 

“Andy and plenty of other trainers were giving me lots of rides, Keith Clarke who I rode my first winner for, Mark Fahey who I rode my 2nd winner for, I rode a couple of winners that year for Pat Murphy and there were also a lot of other trainers giving me rides too.” “You can’t get an agent till you’re a 7-pound claimer but I had told Kevin O’ Ryan before I got my 7-pound claim that I would go to him if he wanted me and then went I went to him he put me forward to any trainer who wanted a 10 or 7-pound claimer so he got me involved with all of the trainers.” “When I was a 10-pound claimer Kevin would put me forward for rides to anyone who wanted a 10-pound claim and then when I lost my 10-pound claim and went down to 7 that’s when Kevin could properly start being my agent.”

“I lost my 10-pound claim that year on a horse called No Approval for Pat Murphy in Dundalk so I got going quick after my first winner.”

“I was riding loads of winners in Dundalk and I was delighted with how my first year went and it kind of snowballed from there as I was getting plenty of rides and winners.”  

Ben clearly had the right people behind him and he was riding very well picking up plenty of rides and winners and he enjoyed his first year which is great and he also got his name out to Racing fans so it was overall a great first year with rides, winners, experience and much more for Ben.

The 2nd Year: 2018

“I was riding out in Andy’s and also I was riding out in Dermot Weld’s a morning a week.” “I’d usually ride out 1 lot in the morning in Andy’s and then go to school as I was in 5th year at the time and I was in school with (young) Andy Slattery and Gavin Ryan so I would pal around with them.” “I had a very good year in my first full year in 2018 and I was getting loads of rides and plenty of winners so I was delighted and I wasn’t complaining.” “Loads of different people gave me plenty of rides, Mick Mulvany, Dermot Weld I had 1 or 2 for, I rode plenty of winners for Andy (Andy Slattery) so he probably gave me most of my winners.” 

“Andrew and I would have rode most of Andy’s horses and shared them out between ourselves usually.” “I was delighted to win The Northfield Premier Handicap in The Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend on Hamley.” “It was an unbelievable feeling and Peter Fahey who trains her had given me plenty of opportunities and I had rode a couple of winners for him that year and I think I’ve won on her twice, in Roscommon and then in The Curragh that time.” She’s turned out to be a good Mare and she won well that day in The Curragh and it was great to win a big race on Champions Weekend.”

“It was great and I think the race was shown on RTÉ so a lot of people would have seen it.”

“I went over to ride in an Apprentice series in Italy for 2 or 3 days that Summer with Killian Leonard and Shane Crosse and I think Shane and Killian both had a winner and I was 2nd to Shane in one of the races so it was good craic and it was a great experience to go over and see how things work over there.”

“I had a couple of rides in Britain that year and I had a good ride in a big Premier Handicap over in Ascot and then I was supposed to fly over by helicopter to ride Hamley in Newmarket but unfortunately the weather was too bad to fly over to Newmarket but I think I was 4th in Ascot, so it was good to get a good ride over in Ascot.”

“I think it was also that year, Adrian Keatley was bringing over 6 horses to Ayr and they all had good chances and he asked me did I want to ride them and I said yes I would love to go over.” “So I went over and I had a winner on the first day and a place out of 3 rides that day and I think he had 3 the 2nd day so it was a great experience to ride over there as they race differently over there and to ride a winner over there as well so some English trainers would know my name as well from that.”

Ben had a very good 1st full season in 2018 as he had over 300 rides and nearly 30 winners and he won a big Premier Handicap on Irish Champions Weekend along with getting the great experience of riding abroad including a winner in Ayr also and building up new connections, getting his name out there and enjoying himself too which is the main thing so he obviously made a very good first impression and 2018 was clearly a good year for him as he was one of the leading Apprentice’s.

The 3rd Year: 2019

“The Same as last year, I was getting plenty of rides for many different trainers and it was good, I had a couple of winners with Dermot Weld that year as well which was great and I started to get a couple of rides for Johnny Murtagh as well and I rode a double in Gowran Park for him which was great too, so that year was sort of the year where I started getting rides for him. “I had a good year that year, I don’t think I had any big winners but I was still riding plenty of winners and I was getting a lot of rides so I wasn’t complaining and I think I was also the top apprentice in Dundalk for the all-weather that season with 11 winners and I was delighted as I had a good Winter also as I dropped down to my 3-pound claim then, so I was happy with the way things went that year.”

2019 was another great year for Ben as he got around 400 rides and over 30 winners and although he wasn’t winning very big races that year, he was still winning lots of races and really enjoying himself by the sound of things which is the main thing.
Ben also started off what would become a great partnership with in form Trainer Johnny Murtagh. So overall it was another good year for Ben and he was edging ever closer to riding 95 winners as had approximately over 70 winners bagged going into the 2020 season.

The 4th Season: 2020 So Far

“I’m usually in Johnny’s (Johnny Murtagh) 2 days a week this year and he’s been giving me most of my winners this year and I think I’m after having 13 winners for him already this year so he’s been giving me loads which is great.” “He gave my first my first Group winner and I rode my first listed winner for him at Galway so he’s been really good to me so I can’t complain.” “It’s great to be riding for Johnny and getting all of those opportunities as you get tips off him about how to ride and improve your riding as he was a top-class jockey and he’s a very good trainer and he’s getting better horses every year so it’s brilliant to be riding for him and I’m very happy to be there.

“We felt that Know It All was unlucky in the 1000 Guineas trial in Leopardstown and she didn’t have much luck in running and she flew home to be 2nd.” “So we fancied her the next Day in the Group 3 in Leopardstown and we planned to ride her a bit handier that day and she travelled well and I kind of thought that we would be hard to beat as we were cantering into the straight and it was great and unbelievable to get my first Group winner.” “That’s it to be getting good rides in good races for top class owners like Qatar Racing is brilliant as I could get offered spare rides for them as well and I was offered and my name was down to ride The Lir Jet in The Group 1 Phoenix Stakes but unfortunately I broke my collarbone before I was meant to ride him but even to be getting offers like that is great.”

“I’d be good friends with Oisín Orr so it was good that he got the ride and I think Johnny suggested him, look it would have been hard to watch if he had won and I was meant to be on him but he ran well and I would love to have been on him, so hopefully there will be another day where I could get rides like that.”

Unfortunately, just a couple of days before Ben was meant to ride The Lir Jet in The Curragh he suffered a setback as he was unseated by his horse in Sligo coming around a bend after the post and he was 1 of 4 or 5 jockey’s that day to have been unseated at that turn but unfortunately, he ended up breaking his collarbone just at the start of August 2020.

“Kind of the first time coming around the bend I looked back at the stands and I think Donagh O’Connor was unseated and his horse slipped up the first time coming around, and then coming around the 2nd time my horse ran well he actually finished 4th but he kind of got caught in behind the loose horse and after the line and he could see some horses in the stableyard and the loose horse went off over that way and our’s went to follow him and they just slipped and we tried to get them up coming around the bend but unfortunately some of us fell off.”

“It was a simple fall it wasn’t a hard fall, all the other lads were alright that fell off but it was just the way I landed on my shoulder.” “It was just really tight and slippy that day and it was good ground and Sligo isn’t really the ideal track for Flat racing, it’s grand when it’s on soft ground but when it’s hard ground it’s slippy and tight.” “It was definitely the right decision to call off the racing that day as the track wasn’t obviously in good order to continue the racing after 4 horses fell after the same race so I felt it was the right decision to be called off.” “It wasn’t too bad I wasn’t really in a lot of pain as I was given a load of pain killers on the way to the hospital so I was fine, it was my first time breaking my collarbone and I could walk fine, I just thought I was winded and my back protector and irons so I knew something was up then but I still didn’t think it was that bad.”

“I was told I would be out for about 6 weeks by the doctor and there was nothing I could really do so there is no point on crying over it.”

“I’m in no pain anymore as I had my operation there a couple of weeks ago so I am hoping to be back riding this Thursday in Navan if all goes to plan and then hopefully in full swing for Irish Champions Weekend in Leopardstown and The Curragh on the Weekend.”
unfortunately, this did not work out and was not the case for Ben, you will find out when he will be back riding later on in the article.

“It will obviously be hard to get back up to challenge for the Apprentice Championship as Gavin and Shane are obviously after riding plenty of winners since, but I will be trying to ride as many winners as I can when I get back and I’ll be hopeful that I can get a fair few in fairly quick.”

  “I got my first couple of Group 1 rides this year which was great, I rode Rebel Tale for Andy Slattery in The 2000 Guineas and he ran a bit disappointing and he’s on a bit of a break now but it’s great to be getting rides in Group 1’s and even in one of the Classic’s as well is amazing.” “So then the next day I had a ride for Andy Oliver on Apricot Moon in the 1000’s Guineas, the ride came about when I was riding out in Johnny Murtagh’s and I got a phone call from Kevin O’Ryan and he said your riding Andy Oliver’s in the Guineas and I was delighted with the ride and I was probably lucky that the English jockeys couldn’t travel over so far this year with the way things have went so I was lucky that way as I’ve been getting some good rides out of that.” “She ran well to finish 7th just behind the eventual Irish Oaks winner Even So and a length behind the favourite Albigna so I was happy with the ride.”

“I was delighted to get my first ride in The Irish Derby this year and we were kind of waiting to see what the ground was going to be like so we could decide if we were going to run Sunchart or not but it was great then when Andy Slattery said he was going to run and that I was going to be on him to get my first Derby ride so it was great.” “He ran well but I think he wanted a bit further than a mile and a half and he ran well there and he ran well since as well so we were happy with his runs.” “We are looking at a decent Group 3 for Sunchart in France in October and it’s undecided yet about whether we will run him in The Leger, it’s all based on how the ground and everything is going but we might even send him out to a race on Saturday in Leopardstown on Champions Weekend so we’ll have to talk to the owners and stuff and see what they want to do.”

Horses To Look Out For

“There are a couple of nice unraced and unnamed 2 year olds there in Andy Slattery’s that I think will run well along with Sunchart and Rebel Tale but I’d say Sunchart is probably the best there at the minute and he won well for me last year in Tipperary beating Aidan O’Brien’s Memorabilis, Dawn Patrol and Delphi quite well that day so he’s a good horse.”

In Johnny’s Yard, ‘Know It All’ and ‘Fourhometwo’ would be two nice horses to look out for.

Away from the saddle, friendships, role models, and a bit of craic!

“I wouldn’t’ really watch much football but I’d be more into playing it with the lads when I have time but I would support Liverpool.” I tell Ben that I support Manchester United, “Jesus your gone bad” he says. Away from my worries supporting United, Ben also says he remembers Gavin Ryan playing, “yes he does have 2 left feet and he wasn’t great.” Ben says laughing and responding to the remark Gavin said about himself saying he has 2 left feet. Aside from the craic Ben says “I played Soccer for Moyglass and I also played GAA for Fethard so I was playing them the whole time and I used to have rivalries in those sports as well as horse racing with Gavin and Andy as they played for the club’s rivalry Killenaule and I wanted to beat them the whole time, but I obviously haven’t played for a club in years as Racing took over.” 

“I’d get on with a lot of the lads in the weigh room and besides the lads I have already mentioned I’d say Oisín Orr would be my best mate in the weigh room as I live with him in Enfield just around Meath there.”

“I’m in Andy’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then I’m in Johnny’s the rest of the week.” 

“My role model would be Mick Kinane and I’ve met him once or twice and got a bit of advice off him so he was my role model when I was growing up.”

What are your aims for the rest of season?

“My aims for the rest of the season when I get back racing is to ride as many winners as I can and get back going as quick as possible and stay healthy until the end of the season anyway.” “I also have 4 winners left until I ride my claim and get up to 95 winners so I’m on 91 at the minute and I’m very grateful for the support that I’ve got from a lot of people to get me to that point so I couldn’t’ be happier.”

What advice would you give to any young, aspiring jockeys?

“Just keep your head down and work hard and listen to any advice you get, that’s the advice I’d give to any aspiring Jockey’s.”

A Final Word

I would just like to thank Ben for giving me his time and letting me chat with him about his wonderful career to date and it’s amazing how well he’s doing at such a young age and so early on his career and hopefully, he gets back into full swing when he hopefully returns to the saddle in 3 weeks time, he was set and his name was down to ride in Navan on Thursday and then hopefully ride on Champions Weekend but then after a checkup in the doctor, Ben was given a doctor’s order that he can’t be back riding for another 3 weeks which is very disappointing for him with all the chances over Champions Weekend but hopefully, he can get back to winning soon when he’s back on the racetrack and good luck to him when he returns and also Johnny Murtagh on Irish Champions Weekend as they prepare to unleash a big team of horses over the course of the weekend and hopefully Ben can pick up a couple of rides and hopefully get some good results too when he returns to the racecourse.
Best of luck to Ben,  Johnny Murtagh, Andy Slattery and any other trainers he rides for, for the rest of the season.

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