CORK jockey Mike O’Connor has transitioned to jumping, relocating to the yard of Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer, Henry De Bromhead.
The Curraglass native had previously been serving his apprenticeship on the flat, with trainer Fozzy Stack, in Tipperary.
He rode his first racecourse winner for Stack, on what was just his fifth racecourse mount, when guiding Gottardo to success at Dundalk, two years ago.
O’Connor subsequently completed his Leaving Certificate and, since the end of 2019, the 18-year-old rider has been mixing it up between both codes.
Although he plans to continue to take opportunities on the level — including for his new boss, who has been well-represented on the flat of late — O’Connor’s long–term future lies over jumps.
O’Connor was third, aboard De Bromhead’s Ellie Mac, in a handicap hurdle at Bellewstown, in midweek. He’s now aiming to go a few places better, and land a first winner over jumps, for the Waterford handler.
Having recently returned from injury, the seven-pound claimer, who is a former champion on the pony racing circuit, is eager to make a big impact this summer.
“It’s nice to be back. I’m back riding out with two weeks and I’d two rides on the flat last week. I’m back over jumps now, again,” O’Connor said.
“I started riding over jumps just a bit before Christmas. I just had bother with my weight. As I’m getting older, I’ve been getting heavier.
“I always had jumps in the back of my head; it was always a plan. I had a good third at Bellewstown on Wednesday. There is a bit of a difference (between flat and national hunt),” O’Connor said.
“But I’ve done plenty of schooling down in Henry’s (De Bromhead’s) yard, so it isn’t really a bother. I’m based there full-time now. It’s a good yard to be involved in and he’s very good to me.
“He’s giving me plenty of opportunities. I’m very grateful. It’s just a matter of trying to ride a winner for him now and get going for the summer racing,” O’Connor said.
Elsewhere, the US-based Cork jockey Willie McCarthy is set for a lengthy spell out, after breaking his neck in a nasty fall. The Glantane native was aboard State Of Affair, when his mount slipped and fell after getting sandwiched when rounding a turn on the track at Middleburg, Virginia, last month. McCarthy was knocked unconscious and fractured vertebrae.
He will be out of the saddle for at least three months, though a return to race-riding could take six months.
The multiple-graded stakes winning-jockey suffered the fall on the first day of US jump racing since lockdown.
He would have had a strong book of rides this term, including Footpad and Snap Decision, whom he guided to victory in the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle, at Far Hills racecourse, in New Jersey, last year.
McCarthy has had to overcome serious injury in the past, after suffering multiple fractures, lacerations, and bleeding in his brain, following a fall in Philadelphia Park, three years ago.
After six months out, he returned to action; something he ranks among his greatest achievements. Having been plying his trade in the US since 2011, the Corkonian lives in Butler, Maryland, and is based at the stables of Jack Fisher.
A graduate of the Cork-Waterford point-to-point circuit, McCarthy was crowned champion jump jockey in the US in 2014.
Meanwhile, there’s a classy meeting on the level in Cork on Sunday. The action, behind closed doors, gets under way at 2.40pm. Features on the card include the listed Coolmore Caravaggio Tipperary Stakes and the group three Brownstown Stakes. Fiesolana is a former winner of the group three on the programme, which is traditionally held at Fairyhouse.
Willie McCreery’s top-level-winning filly also features on the roll of honour for the ‘Habitat’ mile handicap on this weekend’s card, a race also relocated to Cork this season, from its traditional home of the Curragh.
The listed two-year-old race, meanwhile, has been switched from Tipperary.