MANY athletes have been forced to change tack of late, owing to the shutdown of sport.
With the point-to-point season over, and jump racing unlikely to resume anytime soon, Conna jockey, Johnny Barry, currently finds himself in the unusual position of working with speedier Flat horses, rather than National Hunt types.
Barry partnered 16 winners to success between the flags last season, surpassing the 150 mark for career point-to-point wins in the process. Normally, at this stage of the year, the local rider would be exercising four- and five-year-old jumpers, putting them through their paces, ahead of their spring-summer maiden targets.
Now, with point-to-points concluded until the autumn, and jump racing’s return still some way off yet, he has linked up with Tipperary-based trainer, Paddy Twomey, as he readies his charges for the summer Flat season.
Barry is determined to seize the opportunity at the trainer’s yard in Golden, exercising Flat runners in the build-up to their intended targets.
With the exact date of racing’s return still somewhat uncertain, riding out at the yard of a trainer who had runners placed in the Irish Classics last term is the ideal way for Barry to keep sharp.
“I’m riding out at Paddy Twomey’s yard every morning now,” he said.
“The majority of National Hunt trainers are after leaving off their horses [for the summer]. Paddy has a nice string of about 60 Flat horses.
“He had a couple of very good horses last year; he had horses [called Decrypt and Foxtrot Liv] placed in the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas.
“I rode a point-to-point winner for him two years ago [called Perpignan].
“He had a few National Hunt horses, so that was the link, that’s how I got to know him.
“I’m lucky enough, in that I am keeping busy and I can keep the fitness levels up. It’s good to see that [faster] side of racing. You learn plenty there.
“The National Hunt races will likely start up in July, I reckon. Karl Thornton has a few jumps horses for the track.
“He’s very good to me, he gives me plenty of rides and, hopefully, he’ll have a few nice horses for the summer.
“There wasn’t a point-to-point for six weeks and those six weeks would form the bulk of the year, with most of the four-year-olds coming out to run.
“To lose all those meetings, it’s disappointing. But, the main thing is everyone keeps safe.”
Ten years ago, almost to the day, Barry recorded his first winner on the racecourse, when partnering Grace ‘N’ Favour to victory, for Brian Hamilton, in a Sligo mares’ bumper, in May of 2010.
It was a breakthrough for the jockey. And he could be set for another milestone when racing resumes.
“I think I have 44 or 45 winners on the track. I’ve 153 winners in points. It’s hard to do it on the track.
“Nowadays, you need to be connected to a bumper yard [to ride lots of winners on the racecourse].
“I’d like to get to 50 winners on the track and get down to a 3lb claim. That would be a nice milestone. I’m nearly there for 200 career winners — just a couple short,” he said.
Barry has ridden several high-class horses in their point-to-points, in recent times, including subsequent graded winners such as Angel’s Breath, Commander Of Fleet, Minella Indo, Minella Melody, and Notebook.
He nominates three horses to follow, from last season’s point-to-point campaign, and he believes they too can make an impact on the racetrack.
“I won a five-year-old maiden on Minella Escape, a Beat Hollow horse, in Belharbour.
“I think he has gone to Henry de Bromhead, who has done well with Minella Indo and Minella Melody.
“Hopefully, he can be as good as them. He’s a nice horse to look forward to.
“Minella Majestic, a Shantou horse, won in Ballindenisk, and is another [to follow]. I won on Sovereign Gold [twice] for Damian Murphy.
“She’s a nice mare. I think she has also gone to Henry De Bromhead and she’ll be a nice mare as well,” Barry said.