The 5th of February 2017 is a date that will live long in the memory of Donal McInerney. Just two days after gaining his pro licence, he had his first ever ride in public aboard the Enda Bolger trained Auvergnat, and it was an opportunity that Donal would grasp with both hands.
He partnered the JP McManus owned 7yo to victory in the P.p. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase at Punchestown, and while that would be his only winner of that campaign, his rise to prominence this season has made many in the game stand up and take notice.
Donal (known as Donie to everybody throughout the industry) has very fond memories of when he first starting out on his rise to stardom, a journey that began in a small town in his native home of Co. Limerick. “I started doing riding lessons in Hillcrest in Galbally, Co. Limerick when I was 10. I started doing a bit of hunting and going into Pat O’Donnell’s when I was off school. I then went to Enda Bolger’s when I was 15 and that’s when it all started”.
For one reason or another, his P2P career never really took off. He wasn’t getting the amount of rides that he would have liked, and as a result, the trips to the winner’s enclosure were few and far between. However it’s not a venture he looks back on with any regrets.
“I got my P2P licence when I was 17. It was a great experience but I never felt like there was a future in it for me.
A lot of that experience helped me to get to where I am today and I’m happy I did it”. That experience may well be what the 23 year old uses to help him keep motivated today, and while he is a jockey in demand, the National Hunt calendar in Ireland doesn’t present young jockeys with huge amounts of opportunities.
“I always keep myself motivated and try not to let anything get to me, I think everything happens for a reason and what will be will be. You’re always going to have quiet weeks but you just have to stay focused”.
“A very cool head on such young shoulders”
Enda Bolger has been the man credited with giving McInerney his pathway into Horse Racing and his help behind the scenes does not go un-noticed.
From giving a then 15 year old his first job in the sport, to providing him with his first winner 7 years later, his guidance has been a key factor in nurturing the development of the talented jockey.
“Enda Bolger has been the biggest help to me giving me my first ride as a professional, a winner was a great kick start”.
He’d always point out if you did something wrong or something I needed to improve on”. Speaking about that dream start, he says, “Auvergnat was the start I was praying for, I was actually surprised that I got the ride on him. I knew from his work at home he’d be very close and thankfully it all went to play thank god”.
When the Limerick man is not riding out in Enda Bolger’s yard (which he does 3 mornings of the week) he spends 2 mornings in Jessie Harrington’s Co.Moone stable.
Behind every good jockey is a hard working agent, and McInerney puts a lot of his success down to his agent Gary Cribbon. “I couldn’t ask for a better agent than Gary Cribbon, he’s easy to work with and doesn’t put any pressure on me. He’s done a brilliant job for me this season and I can’t thank him enough”.
He recorded the first double of his young career at Kilbeggan on the 8th of September last year when he steered home Rock On Fruity in the colours of JP McManus and Rosie Alice, both of whom trained by Charles Byrnes, a trainer who enjoys incredible success when using the skilled pilot.
JP McManus is one of the biggest owners in National Hunt racing, and the 5 pound claimer has formed a very successful partnership with the man whose famous green and gold colours are synonymous with the sport. The biggest win of his career came in these silks aboard Ballyoisin in a Grade B handicap chase at Cork last October. Travelling smoothly throughout, and jumping to the front 2 out, Ballyoisin went on to record a comfortable success and McInerney thinks very highly of this son of Presenting, “Ballyoisin has been my biggest winner to date.
It’s very nice to ride the likes of him. I ride a lot of nice horses between Enda’s and Jessie’s but I’d have to say Ballyoisin (Is the best horse I have ridden). I think he’s a horse with a good future when he gets a bit of nice ground”.
He could well be one to keep on the right side of come spring time.
His association with JP McManus this season has been a major part of his development and its one that he is immensely proud of. A strike rate of almost 25% (13 wins from 56 rides) when the pair team up together, the Limerick duo seem to have formed the perfect bond. “JP McManus and Frank Berry have been very good to me this season.
It’s great to be riding in them colours and especially getting a few winners in them too.
I wouldn’t be having the season I’m having without them”.
Already amassing an impressive total of 27 winners this campaign, (two clear of JJ Slevin in the race for the conditional jockey’s title) this is a sport where it can all change so quickly. The life of a National Hunt jockey is a dangerous one and cannot be taken for granted, “If I could stay sound for the rest of the season and keep improving myself, I’d be very happy”. The race for the conditional jockey’s title looks to be hotting up and McInerney has a little eye on capturing that in what would cap off a tremendous first full season in the professional ranks, “I’d like to bring the conditional title with me” he says with a cheeky grin.
One thing is for sure though, if you are still unaware of the sublime talents this young man possesses, I guarantee you that before too long, everybody will know the name Donal McInerney.
Feature By Rory Fitzgerald