The Next Generation of Irish Horse Racing: Interview with Gavin Ryan

If you follow Horse Racing you will obviously know about the Wonderful crop of young Irish Apprentices coming up recently which I have found very exciting so I thought it would be nice to start a New Series called The Next Generation of Irish Horse Racing, where I Interview some of the top young Jockeys that are making names for themselves at such a young age and will definitely be Jockeys to look out for, for years to come. So here we are today with the first Interview as part of My New Series. If you are a fan of Horse Racing you have most likely heard of young 20-year-old Apprentice Jockey Gavin Ryan. Gavin has been in the spotlight recently for the number of Winners he has been getting and he is having his best year yet as he has already amassed just under 30 Winners this Season and we are only just past halfway through the season and he is sure to have more Winners than the whole of last year at only halfway through The Season. I was lucky enough to catch up with the very talented young Apprentice from Killenaule whose name has been in the spotlight over the past 2 months and talk about his Wonderful Career to date.

The Early Years

As we know Gavin is only 20 so he is still only in the early years to his Racing Career, but this section is called the early years as I talk to him about how he got into racing as a young child.

“Well, I suppose I came up through show jumping and stuff like that and Ponies at Home which is usually the way Children get into Horses and then I started riding out with local point to point trainer, Aidan Kennedy who would be a Friend of The Family before riding out then with another local Trainer, Edward O’Grady who would be another Friend of the Family’s, so I was around just gone 15 and I knew then that I wanted to become a Jockey.”

“When I was just after turning 16 In August 2016 I joined Jim Bolger and I took my Jockey’s license out.” “A friend and a Neighbour of the Family, Paul Kavanagh would’ve known Ronan Whelan who worked for Jim Bolger at the time, so Paul got in touch with him and Ronan got me in and Ronan has helped me along since.”

The 1st Season – 2017 

Gavin got his first ride for Jim in March 2017, just 7 months after joining his Team. “It’s like everything you can’t really run before you can walk so you have to kind of learn things before he can give you that chance on the track, so that’s what I had to do and I didn’t really mind it I suppose as every day your down there your learning so I didn’t mind waiting at all.” “I got my first ride in March 2017 and that was a Winner in a Horse called Locus Standi who was coming back from a big layoff and thankfully he was fit and well and he won and look I presume he was well primed and I was obviously wet behind the ears at that point, and he took me around and to be honest he would’ve won on his own that day and it was great to get it as it took the monkey off my back.” “Your shell shocked on your first ride and obviously I was wet behind the ears as rules racing is concerned and I knew he had a chance so we were going with the flow of the race and I took it up before 2 furlongs and he quickened up down the straight to win well in Dundalk.”

“Jim was great to me he let me know the right from the wrong and aside from moulding you as a rider he moulds you as a person and you don’t get away with much down there and that’s probably the best way and it’s great grounds down there also so he was great to me.” 

In Gavin’s first season he amassed 4 Winners and gained plenty of riding experience. “The Boss (Jim Bolger) and Sheila Lavery would’ve been very good to me they gave me plenty of chances and rides and then local Trainers close to Jim would’ve been good to me as well like, Tony Mullins, James Barrett, and Brian Nolan and plenty of other local lads.” “ Ronnie (Ronan Whelan was very good to me and since I was a 10-pound claimer he would’ve always put me forward for rides and helped me along, he’s a lovely fella and he has always helped me with my riding and he was a great help and influence to me.”

The 2nd Season – 2018

“I was gone back to school at that stage and I was trying to balance Racing and Schoolwork but obviously Racing was my main priority.” “I got a Galway Festival Winner that season for Sheila and John Lavery which was great to kind of repay them for giving me so much, The Apprentice Derby was a great Win as that was my biggest Winner at that date and that was obviously for the boss and it was all great and I was  learning all the time and I felt that I was improving more then and I was moving and getting more tactically aware and stuff and it was a great season for me and I was learning plenty.” 2018 was clearly a great year for Gavin as he had won a Premier Handicap in The Apprentice Derby and he has amassed a further 8 Winners that year brining his overall total Winners to 12 after just 2 years of Riding and the advantage is he had learned so much also.

The 3rd Year – 2019

“I was still in school and I completed my Leaving Cert in June and I really kind of got going after that as I was finished School then and could give my full attention to Racing.” Again the boss (Jim) was great to me last year as he gave me plenty of chances and I notched up a good few Winners for him and I was also building up plenty of new connections and I had lost my 7-pound claim at the start of that year so I suppose that was a big enticement to some of those Trainers who were giving me chances and then when I dropped down to 5 they stuck with me which is great.” “Other than Jim and Sheila, Ado McGuinness he’s been a great support to me, Pat Murphy has supported me for a long time and he has been very good to me, Pat Martin, I rode plenty for him last year, Pat Fahy, James Lambe, I had my first ride for Noel Meade last year and that won and he’s been great to me since, giving me loads of chances and he puts me up a lot and he’s another Trainer that I started riding for last year so he’s also been great to me.” I’m missing out on a couple more but they were just the new connections I made and I was still obviously getting support from The Trainers that had been with me from Day 1 which is great.”

“I left Jim’s in December 2019 and it’s obviously always hard making decisions like that but I thought it was for the best and I was more than happy to go down to Donnacha and after speaking to a few people I thought it was a great opportunity so I grabbed it with my two hands, I spoke to the boss (Jim) and he was sorry that I was going but at the same time he felt that it was the right decision and we left on good terms and he wasn’t going to hold me back as he knew it was the right decision.” “Look Donnacha’s a great horseman and with the right people behind him you would be confident that he was going to make a good go of it and I had no worries about whether it was going to be a success or not and when I went down there I was very confident that he was going to make a good go of things so I had no worries about whether it would work out or not.” “I felt it was a good time to move from Jim’s as there were a lot of  lads looking for rides down there and there were only so many chances going so I felt it was right at that time and it was a good time to move and I felt it was the right decision.” 

At the end of 2019 which was a great Season for Gavin as he had won over 20 Races, his best yet and he had also had another success in The Apprentice Derby this time for Godolphin on Trossachs and after staying an extra 6 Months to his 3-year term with Jim Bolger Gavin felt it was the right time to move onto to a new Chapter in his Career as he decided to accept the offer as The Number 1 Apprentice to new Trainer and former Champion Jockey Donnacha O’Brien, Aidan O’Brien’s Son, and Joseph O’Brien’s Brother. Donnacha already had a couple of Horses in Training under his Father Aidan’s name which were later moved to Donnacha’s New Yard once he had got his Trainers license and he was already getting backed by the likes of John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and his Mother Anne-Marie O’Brien so he was obviously going to be confident and have a good start so it was a good move by Gavin.

The 4th Year – 2020 So Far

“Things were starting to fly in the all-weather season with Donnacha and everyone and I was very excited about the upcoming turf season and I got a fall just a few days before we were due to start the new season on the grass and I fractured my L2 vertebrae at Dundalk in March and obviously at the time I was gutted but after a few days I knew it wasn’t actually a big deal because everything was shut down because of lockdown and I’d say I was one of the only people who weren’t at all disappointed about everything being shut down.”  “I was actually quite relieved and by the time racing came back in June I was back riding out and to full fitness and I think I only missed 1 or 2 meetings on the grass so really it was nothing.” “During the injury, I was a bit fed up after a week at home and I went to Donnacha’s and watched the lots in the jeep every morning so it was great to get out of the house and see all of the horses and it was the only place I could go really other than home and it was great.”

At the start of this season, Gavin said that his main goals would have been to win a couple of Premier Handicaps but he started off the season on a high as his first winner of the season was the Ragusa Premier Handicap in The Curragh on Edification for Mark Fahey.

“Mark’s been a new link to me this year and he’s been great I’ve had a couple of Winners for him this year and a tonne of places but obviously Edification’s been the biggest of them in The Ragusa Handicap in The Curragh to give me my first winner of the season and to get the ball rolling for 2020 and that was my biggest winner then at that stage.” “Mark fancied him big time, he’s a shrewd operator he knows what he’s talking about and he doesn’t often get it too wrong now and I did my bottom weight of 8:9 for him that day and he won well, he won real well so that was a great start to the season.”

Gavin is having a wonderful season so far as he was top Jockey at The Galway Festival for 2020 with 5 winners, he also won his first-ever Group race when he won The Group 3 Frank Conroy Silver Flash Stakes in Leopardstown on the lovely 2-year-old filly Shale in his first ride in a Group race for Donnacha O’Brien, after his great Galway festival full of Premier Handicap winners for Ado McGuinness after establishing their partnership together Gavin went on to win The Platinum Stakes on Current Option at Listed company for Ado McGuinness and if that isn’t enough for you he is also top of the Apprentice Jockeys Championship with 29 Winners for 2020 so far at the time I am writing this, what an incredible season Gavin is having so far.

“Things are going great but it’s like everything you take everything day by day and take it as it comes and thankfully my agent Dave Keena is doing a great job, he’s getting me on great horses with decent connections and obviously Donnacha’s great and he’s giving me a savage amount of opportunities and I never expected that I’d get that many so hats off to him and he’s a great mentor as well as everything else, he builds confidence into you and I think then it shows when your riding too and other operations that you do have that confidence and you’re confident in everything that you ride and it makes everything that little bit easier so things are going great and I think it would have been hard to say that it would have went this well.” “You just have to take everything day by day and try and get as many winners as possible.” “It’s like everything, you can’t get the winners unless you’re getting the opportunities so I’m very grateful to all the owners and trainers who are putting me up nonstop so hats off to them and to Dave Keena who is doing a great job too.” “You need those outside rides and winners like as I said Donnacha is giving me great opportunities but he can only give me so much so I obviously need those outside opportunities as well.” “I’m getting loads of great opportunities at the moment and I’m riding a lovely calibre of Horses and I have plenty of confidence at the moment and it’s all down to the owners and trainers who are putting me up on the horses.”

“I was over the moon to get those opportunities riding in some races for Aidan O’Brien and winning for Dermot Weld and such big owners like the Coolmore team, Khalid Abdullah, Aga Khan, and the Moyglare team.” “I don’t know really how those opportunities for Mr. Weld came about really, I suppose I had a 5-pound claim going into Galway and that might have enticed him a little bit as when he wanted a claim I was probably a fair enough choice and that would have probably given a good reason to use me and I was obviously getting to ride for great owners and then for Aidan to put me up too it was surreal.” 

Gavin proceeded to give me little more insight into his life:

“I ride out with Donnacha every day of the week and every 2nd Sunday and it’s great to be getting those other opportunities too as when you’re going for The Apprentice title you need to get those outside opportunities and obviously the more the merrier and it’s great to have those people behind me.” “I ride out with Donnacha every Day and my home house is only 20 minutes away from his yard so it’s great.” “It’s excellent really to be riding out in Donnacha’s every day and I’m riding lovely horses with nice pedigrees and then to get the chances on the track then too is just surreal really.” “Myself and Gary Mahon are the only Jockey’s riding out in Donnacha’s.”

“I ride out Fancy Blue every day, she’s a real tough filly and look she’s done real well and came out very well out of The Winter and she’s been doing stronger work since then and we really like her and she’s wintered well so we were confident when she was going to The Guineas and she was going to run a nice race and she didn’t disappoint and then when she went on to France and won and that was her 1st Group 1 success and she went onto win another Group 1 race when she won The Nassau in Goodwood on her last start and she’s improving with age and she’s a real tough filly and it’s class to get to ride her everyday and she’s a class act.” “I know Donnacha has a couple of days tented up soon for her and he will have to have a chat with the lads and see where they want her to go, but I know there’s a race for Champions Weekend and for Arc Weekend so there are plenty of places that she could go and she has plenty of entries so it’s just all up to Donnacha and the lads where they want her to go and I suppose there are plenty of places where she can go.” “I don’t think it really matters who she goes up against, our filly is a proven filly she’s a top-class filly so I don’t think it would really be a threat with the others about where she goes, she’s top class and I suppose it’s all down to where Donnacha decides to send her.” “She has a staying pedigree and I think The Arc probably is the race she would be up to running and as I said she has a staying pedigree so she might be better going at a trip like that and we’d be very confident with her.” “She’s a filly who’s running worldwide and Ryan’s first Jockey to Coolmore and she’s won a couple of Group 1’s so I’d say the ride for her wouldn’t be coming to easy but it would be great to get the chance to ride her in a race but as I said Ryan would get first call and it would be up to the lads and I’d be a bit further down the pecking order but it would be great.”

“If I wasn’t a Jockey I’ve always loved cars, fast cars so I’d probably fancy a job being a Rally Driver to be quite honest and I think that would have been something I would have taken quite an interest in.” “I like the Formula 1 and I like The Mercedes Team they are top class and they are leading the Championship at the minute so their whole team is a class outfit.” “I’ve never had any much interest really in Soccer and I’ve never really supported anyone as the main Sports down here would be GAA which I played when I was younger and then the other main Sport down here, Horse Racing obviously took over and I’ve obviously got into that.”

Fun Fact: Gavin Ryan went to the same school as Shane Long went to when he was younger, 2 fantastic sports stars, must be some school!

“It’s great about all the unreal volume of young Jockeys coming up from Tip, as we all would have hung around with each other and played growing up and we would all have each-other going down the same line and we could all help each other down the line with Horse Racing and everything.” “Myself, Ben Coen, and Andy Slattery would be great friends through school so us 3 would know each other very well anyway which is great.”

Horses To Look Out For

“Other than Fancy Blue obviously we have a nice filly and a nice colt, I think Shale, the filly that I won the Silver Flash on could be a real nice filly, she’s well up to the top level and she is a real good filly.” “Then Fernando Vichi, I won a Maiden on him in Leopardstown, he’s an Australia 2-year-old and I think he shows plenty of class and he quickens up real well, the last day in Leopardstown and I think he’s going to make into a real nice horse and I think whatever he does this year I think he can better next year.” “Donnacha said the aim with 2 year old filly Shale is to go to the Debutante which she is declared for and she will hopefully run if all goes to plan and then on to the Moyglare, he’ll have a chat with the lads but I think she’ll be well suited the both of those races and I think she’ll make into a lovely miler filly.” “Fernando is a lovely Chestnut Colt and he has plenty of scope and stuff about him and he’s another real nice prospect and we’re looking forward to him.” “We felt that Southern Cape was a bit Green and immature out the last day and raw and he’ll improve as he has plenty of class as well and I’m sure he’ll be a lot better from that run and Hazel she just had a few quick runs and I’m sure she’ll bounce back and land and she’s a real nice filly too.”

A Final Word

Gavin is clearly a great Jockey and he is having a fantastic season so far and hopefully, he holds onto his lead in The Apprentice Title this season but it’s going to be an interesting fight in that Championship until the end of the season and hopefully, Gavin can continue his great form for the rest of the season and every day on the racetrack. I would also like to thank Gav for his time and giving me as much time I wanted and answering any question I asked him and he is a total gent too so he’s an overall great Jockey and Person and I wish him, Donnacha, any trainer he rides for, the team and his family the best for the rest of the year and always. I hope you enjoy the read.

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