“Do not give up the beginning is always the hardest” is the motto of strong-minded jockey Conor Smith who was in involved in a horrendous car crash in the UK but thankfully he only suffered a fracture to his lower back however it could have been far worse though now that has he had three months out to recuperate Smith states to us “I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been and I am very appreciative of everyone who has supported me through this tough time but I am ready to start repaying their faith and get back in the winners enclosures.
Modest ‘Smith’ who grew up on his father’s farm in the rural village of Ballykinlar just on the outside of Downpatrick, his father always had a few horses about the yard and his siblings John and Darren had an keen interest in point to point racing, so the headway into the direction of the sport was always going to be high on the agenda Smith adds “my brother John owned a decent mare called ‘Mrs Matt’ that gave my family some really good days out and give me the further interest to start riding horses” Smith was Sixteen when he first sat on a horse and from them onwards he has never looked backed he then adds in to the discussion “Once I got on a horse there was never going to be any other job that I would be the slightest bit interested in”.
The first proper working experience in the horse industry was in ‘Scarvagh stud’ where he had a job there breaking and riding young horses which he really strived at the task and enjoyed every minute of it which definitely gave him a great start in the early part of his career. After about a year and a half in the Scarvagh stud he gained enough experience and took the incentive to get a job in a racing yard with handler George Stewart where he started his point to point career Smith adds “I had about 20 rides point to Points to Points in Ireland then I got a job in Richard Barbers and worked there for a year and had five winners on a decent horse Barneys Mate and won the novice riders championship’.
After a profitable spell in England Smith came to the conclusion there was a lot more opportunities to be gained over there rather than in Ireland due to more frequency of jumps racing as generally the Irish racing calendar is on Thursday till Sunday and the jumps racing ends in April but in England it’s on a more daily basis and doesn’t stop in the summer, so he decided to move there permanently was best option for his career and was very fortunate to get full time job as conditional jockey to high class handler Philip Hobbs in the picturesque village of Somerset in 2012 and still to this day remains a key team player in the winning team at the Sandhill stables where UK Champion jockey Richard Johnston is the stable number one jockey.
We asked this determined jockey the all-important question is there opportunities out there for young jockeys up and coming and he responded, “it’s difficult enough with most stables having two or three jockeys of their own, o there’s getting fewer outside rides but just if you keep the head down and keep working hard and trying you will be rewarded”.
When asked about his general day to day work Smith replied, “Its hectic, I would generally be riding out 4 or 5 lots at Philip Hobbs yard in the morning then evening stables, if I’m not there I am off racing somewhere chasing my next winner”. “I really enjoy being kept busy and the fact my back is strengthening up all the time is a massive plus and I don’t receive any hassle with it now things are definitely on the up. “I am hungrier now for winners than I have ever been before”.
Down royal and Downpatrick racecourses are in close proximity to Smith’s homeland and we asked he when he will be aiming to break his maiden tag at these venues and he answered with a grin and stated, “I am rearing to go now and will be hoping to get a win at these courses very shortly, as I am home in Downpatrick for the next few months and I would be over the moon to ride a winner at either tracks”.
Jockeys are all highly competitive and self-driven athletes and we asked Smith what his aims where for the upcoming jump season and he stated to us “I will be aiming to stay fit and injury free and keep among the winners this term also to push on and ride out my claim which is a personal target.
We could not let this rising talent away without putting the question to him what horse is he most looking forward to riding this year and he responded promptly “I’m really looking forward to riding ‘let’s go Duchess’ again as it will be among the winners again judging by the way he won last time out when I was on board for shrewd trainer Kevin Bishop ,he gave me a great feel and he looks an exciting prospect.
Only a concluding note we put this question to Smith ,did he have any hobbies outside the demanding world of Horse racing and he responded “I really enjoy most sports including football, pool, and the occasional game of golf and also a bit of farming when I am back home in Ireland.