DENIS O’Regan has ridden winners at almost every jumps track in Britain and Ireland, across a career which features over 700 victories and multiple high-profile successes.
But the Youghal native is more excited about the future, rather than reminiscent of the past. The grade one-winning pilot, who rates as one of the most-gifted horsemen of his generation, is enjoying a solid start to the new National Hunt season.
He’s aiming to build on that early-season momentum and hopes that the ‘Snugsborough’ horses can hit big heights across 2019-20.
Interestingly, O’Regan is one of a select number of riders to have won both the Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle, courtesy of victories aboard Ansar, in the Plate of 2005, and Quick Jack, in the Hurdle of 2015.
He almost added another Plate victory to his impressive list of achievements, when delivering Liam Cusack’s Snugsborough Benny to finish a creditable third in the feature on day three of the summer festival. Although narrowly missing out on bagging another big prize at Ballybrit, he’s proud of his mount’s latest effort, which saw him get in among the prize money in a banner race, once again.
The pair placed fourth in the Irish Grand National, earlier this year, producing another massive effort in defeat. Having won the Blazers’ at the Galway Races last year, they almost pulled off a famous victory, 12 months on.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. But third place in a red-hot race meant it was another big showing from both horse and rider. Connections now have a serious ‘national’ type to look forward to, in the shape of the nine-year-old Beneficial gelding, for the rest of the season and beyond.
‘‘It was fantastic (to finish third in the Galway Plate). I think I actually hit the front for about a stride. He’s one of those horses, he can’t go the pace early on, you just have to give him his chance and then he comes through for you at the end of the races.
“He’s a magnificent horse, he jumped outstanding. I knew they were going too fast, so once we got passing a few of the ones who were coming back, he got his confidence and he flew up the hill.
“I probably was impeded slightly by the loose horse in the straight – I think I would have been second only for that. That would have been a fantastic run, he would have spilt the winner, Borice, and a horse who won a grade one (Black Corton, runner-up).
“I was just delighted that he ran such a good race and that he’s up to maybe competing at that level. I’m looking forward to him now. He’ll probably go for the Kerry National and maybe the Munster National, hopefully,’’ O’Regan said.
The 37-year-old rider is almost synonymous with the name Snugsborough nowadays. Snugsborough Hall is a full-brother to Snugsborough Benny, and O’Regan is also enjoying a fruitful association with that runner.
There was a valuable handicap chase success for the combination at the Punchestown Festival, back in May, – which was part of a hat-trick of wins across the eight-year-old gelding’s novice campaign – an authoritative win which made amends for their hard luck story at Fairyhouse, on their previous outing.
O’Regan is hopeful that, like ‘Benny’, ‘Hall’ can kick-on, when he returns for a winter campaign.
‘‘He is something to really look forward to in the winter. Hopefully he is as good as what the handicapper thinks he is (rated 143). It was fantastic for him to win at Punchestown. The way Liam trains his horses, they just like to relax early on in their races and they come forward for you once you give them the chance.
“They are just nice horses and I’m enjoying the two of them. I’ve been riding them from the very start as well, so it’s brilliant.’’
O’Regan was among the winners again, last week, when guiding Westland Row to another victory at Kilbeggan, this time in the feature, Joe Cooney Memorial Hurdle. That took the season’s tally to seven, and counting. At this stage of the new jumps campaign, it’s fair to say that O’Regan has had a strong start.
‘‘Things are going well. (Winning those big races) is super. Westland Row is owned by Caren Walsh and Bobby O’Ryan, and Kevin O’Ryan owns a share as well. Having known Bobby and Kevin for a long time, it’s nice that their horse has won a couple now. He won a beginners’ chase there the last day, and then he won the hurdle the other night.
“It was just a great bit of placing by Gordon Elliott. It was super and I’m delighted to have kept the ride.’’
The summer has become a busier time of the year than it once was, for jump jockeys in Ireland. Evening meetings scattered across the country mean that riders are faced with longer days as a result of the increased amount of travel.
With schooling and riding out duties also having to be fulfilled at racing yards during the day, this time of the season heaps pressure on jockeys. Phillip Enright spoke about it in these pages, last week.
‘‘We are even busier in the summer. The programme for summer racing is massive, with all the festivals. Some tracks come alive during the summer. Galway, Killarney, Ballinrobe, Sligo, Kilbeggan; those tracks are rammed with people during the summer.
“Obviously, it’s a great money earner for the racecourses. But it can take its toll on the jockeys, especially with such a limited amount of time to have a break.’’
Gordon Elliott and Liam Cusack are the East Cork native’s main supporters at the moment.
‘‘I ride out for Gordon three or four days a week, four days a week during the winter. I ride out in Liam Cusack’s twice a week. Those are the places I ride out at really. I know Gordon a long time and I’ve had a lot of luck with Liam, since I came back from England. I’m lucky that Liam has got a couple of nice ones and Gordon is being very supportive as well. I stick with the fellas who I know I get on with. I get on well with them. They are nice, sound fellas.’’
With the Snugsborough horses at Cusack’s Laois yard, the abundance of talent at Elliott’s Meath operation, and the likelihood of other opportunities from trainers and owners looking to use the best available, O’ Regan should continue to have plenty of ammunition for the coming months.
One of those winners-in-waiting could be Global Freedom.
O’Regan has partnered the Elliott-trained runner to place second and third in recent weeks. He feels that the three-year-old gelding, formerly trained by Ed Dunlop on the level, could hit the target soon.
‘‘He looks like he could win next time out. He’s a bit raw. He was third in Roscommon and he ran a nice race there. He went for a race in Ballinrobe on Monday night (finishing second) and it looked very winnable.
“But then he got beaten by a horse that was just that bit sharper than him. We were still happy with the run. I’d say he’s definitely one that will win.’’