WITH flat racing likely to be given a green light to resume in early June, rising star Killian Leonard is keen to get back among the winners.
The Kanturk rider has really caught the eye in recent seasons.
Like everyone he is adjusting to life in lockdown while desperately looking forward to a return to the track. The indications from Horse Racing Ireland are that racing will go ahead behind closed doors as soon as the Government gives permission. Whether the Guineas weekend at the end of May will have to be rescheduled remains to be seen.
“It’s all a little bit frustrating if I’m honest about it. The flat season was just starting, so like any jockey or sportsman you want to hit the ground running.
“Unfortunately, we were forced to abandon less than 10 days into the new season which was understandable with the health crisis.
“I’ve made great contacts over the last few years with plenty of trainers so I was really looking forward to riding winners and getting my name out there. At the moment I’m riding out some two-year-olds for Susan Finn in Ballyclough so that is keeping me fit at least. I can ride at 8st 4Ibs in handicaps so that is the bottom weight.”
Being able to ride light provides opportunities with plenty of big money handicaps throughout the season.
“Getting rides in the Classics is very difficult so the handicap route provides a pathway for emerging jockeys like myself.”
Leonard will resume in his sixth full season and has averaged 20 winners a season which is extremely impressive. He now rides off level weights with the top jockeys in the game but shows a real appetite to learn particularly from his racing heroes, Wayne Lordan and Oisin Murphy.
“The Ballydoyle boys are great and are so helpful. Seamie Heffernan and Wayne Lordan have won classics around the world but they are so keen to help the younger riders out.
“Wayne is unreal and one of the strongest men in the weight room even though he can also get down to do 8st 4Ib. I travel to the races with them regularly and their advice about race riding and tactics is invaluable.
"Oisin Murphy has been crowned champion jockey in England and we were great friends growing up. He spent a lot of time riding out at his uncle Jim Culloty’s place near Buttevant.
“We did the pony racing together and he has been great to give me advice along the way. He has got the breaks and has grabbed his opportunities with both hands. Roaring Lion came along and put him on the map.
“Every jockey needs a superstar and Oisin rode Group 1 after Group 1 which garnered massive media attention. It was like Tom Queally riding all those races with Frankel. But patience is required in this game and being willing to learn is half the battle.”
For Leonard his time spent in Kanturk with trainer Michael Winters proved a perfect grounding which is something he appreciates now.
“I learned everything at Mick Winters place and he was an old-school trainer. The yard had to be swept spotless before we left every day. He trained us how to work really and I would be very grateful to him for that.
“He’s such a brilliant trainer and everyone saw what he done with Rebel Fitz and Missunited. He’s just a genius with horses and has a way of finding races for every horse in the yard.
"I spent about three years on the pony racing circuit also which was a massive help. You learn plenty riding on the circuit and so many top riders have come to the track from that pathway.“
But the serious business of getting on good horses here is tough. So many of our riders end up over in England simply because of a lack of opportunities. Leonard is one of the lucky ones and explains how a few trainers have helped him.
“I’m a freelance rider but I’m getting plenty of opportunities and my agent Ruairi Tierney does a hell of a good job. Trainer John Murphy in Upton is another great ally of mine and they have a very progressive stable. It’s vital to have the support of these trainers.”
Leonard is now riding in the big league so staying injury free and riding plenty of winners will be key. His pathway to the top will still have plenty of bumps along the way. He is very aware of the pitfalls but remains focused to go right to the top.