THIS year brings with it a number of significant anniversaries in the career of local jockey, Denis O’Regan.
For instance, 20 years ago this summer, O’Regan had his first-ever racecourse mount, aboard a locally-trained runner, Marians Own.
Fifteen years ago, he delivered Dermot Weld’s Ansar to triumph in the prestigious Galway Plate.
Five years ago, he landed another summer highlight, in the shape of the Galway Hurdle, aboard Tony Martin’s Quick Jack.
Ten years have passed since he finished a memorable second in the Aintree Grand National, when getting a great tune out of Dessie Hughes’s Black Apalachi, in the 2010 edition of the world’s most- famous steeplechase.
O’Regan had been building momentum, towards the latter stages of the latest National Hunt season, after returning from the broken ankle he suffered at a crucial point of the campaign.
The winners began to flow, and he was on-course to surpass the 20 mark for the third year in succession.
But then sport was shut down. Racing was actually forced to a close on the day of his birthday, when he had 15 winners on the board.
But the Youghal native, who has over 700 career winners to his name, is a rider who much prefers to look forward, rather than celebrate landmarks, reminisce over former glories or dwell on disappointments.
He’s relishing racing’s return, although this time-out period, while difficult, is allowing him to take a breather from the hectic routine of being a jump jockey.
It’s also allowing him to spend more time with his family.
“As jump jockeys, we have never had a break.
“Over the last few years, we’d have a 10-day break. But it would take you three days to wind down from racing.
“Then, by the time you are wound down, you’re coming back from your week away on holidays.
“You’re thinking, then; ‘In a few days’ time, I’m back racing again.’
“You never really relax. It is year-in year-out, no let up, for jump jockeys.
“I’m certainly taking advantage of the break. Obviously, I’m eager to get back racing. But I took the time to stay positive. My wife works from home at the moment and we enjoy the time off we have with our three- year-old son.
“It’s grand to have a break at the minute, but obviously these are worrying times.”
The Cheltenham Festival-winning pilot is currently riding out one morning a week at Gordon Elliott’s yard and one morning a week at the stables of Liam Cusack.
To keep him ticking over, and in anticipation of racing’s return, the 38-year-old veteran also pursues his other passion, cycling.
Pedalling the roads is an escape from the frantic schedule of being a jockey.
“I’m doing a lot of cycling and keeping myself generally fit.
“Cycling is something I’ve been doing for the last eight years. I cycled a lot of England. I did stop for a while — I’d a broken ankle and a few injuries during the year.
“But I’m back on the bike again now. The cycling is very good. I wouldn’t use it for [managing] weight, because then you begin to hate it.
“I’ve always used it as a sense of enjoyment and to keep generally fit.
“I like seeing the countryside when I go off on the bike. It’s great; fresh air and it’s good to get out and about.
“As a jockey; you’re in the car so much, you’re on the phone so much, and you’re on horses so much.
“It’s just nice to get on a bike. There’s no phone, no car and away you go,” he said.
When racing does return, O’Regan won’t set out any immediate targets.
Although adding another big race or two to an already-glittering career would, of course, be welcomed.
“I don’t set out my stall to ride a grade one winner every season, as you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment by doing that.
“If I could win any one of the big races that I haven’t won, say an Irish National, that would be fantastic.
“At this stage, I’m just looking forward to getting back racing.”