ARTICLE BY DARREN O’CONGHAILE
Jockey Noel McParlan was born in the rural townland of Cabra which is only two miles from Hiltown in County Down.
He started riding ponies at home from the tender age of four – his father Sean is a well-respected racehorse trainer so the natural progression of him becoming a jockey was not a big shock to anyone with all things considered.
One piece of guidance given to McParlan early on in his career by ex-jockey, James Smith was; “As soon as the steward waves his flag, it’s every man for himself” which he feels was solid guidance as there are no hiding places when the race gets started.
We interrogated McParlan how he copes with the enormous pressure involved in horse racing industry when the results don’t go the way they are planned, he replied “It is easy to be forgotten about in this game and you are only as good as your last winner and no matter how well you’re riding or not you must keep focussed and the opportunities will hopefully come knocking”.
The false perception that jockeys lead a glamourous and extravagant lifestyle is far from the truth, they must put in the hard graft to achieve the results. McParlan’s day customarily starts at 6pm having to feed his family horses then exercising between six and eight lots before he heads off to school horses for neighbouring trainers further down the country and when that’s done it is either off to the races for a few rides or goes home to do the evening feeds, it’s not as easy as people assume nonetheless McParlan adds to the conversation; “It’s all I know and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way”.
Downpatrick and Down Royal are near-by racecourses to this Co. Down jockeys homeland and we asked him what it is like to get a winner at these tracks, he responded with a grin “Getting a winner anywhere is the ultimate aim but getting a winner at the local tracks gives you some buzz as the locals are out in full force it makes it extra special”.
One significant memory of McParlan’s career so far happened on 26th July 2016 when he rode a 100/1 shot “Drummullagh Rocky” to success for his father at Perth Racecourse in Scotland, the horse was owned by Newry businessman Martin Ward – speaking of the success, McParlan said; “It was a brilliant day and to get a 100/1 over the line in first place is something you can only dream of, though the acclaim has to go to my father in getting the horse into such great shape and able to outrun his massive betting odds”.
Jockeys seldom get a minute to themselves in this challenging sport, they are either driving hundreds of miles to the races or mucking out, McParlan explains to us “very seldom I get much time for anything apart from horses but when I do I like having a few quiet pints with the lads or taking my ‘understanding’ wife Catherine out for the evening, you have to unwind and recharge the batteries sometimes”.