RICHIE Condon from Conna enjoyed his best day in the saddle at the Cheltenham Festival last week when he guided the Paul Hennessy-trained Heaven Help Us to victory in the hugely competitive Grade Three Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle.
Hennessy is a greyhound trainer by trade with 40 dogs but has just three horses in training, while Condon is a 7lb claimer who was having his first ever ride at Cheltenham.
The young rider still can’t believe what he has achieved on the biggest stage of all.
“I’m still pinching myself, to tell you the truth. I can’t believe that I have ridden a winner at the festival. To get a ride there is a big deal but to win is a dream, like.
“Every rider from a young age dreams about winning at Cheltenham, it still hasn’t sunk in fully.”
Condon, who is from a farming background, headed to Prestbury Park full of confidence that his one mount would perform well.
“Paul Hennessy told me that my mare would run well, and I believed him, she loves it around Cheltenham and she always runs well there. Paul had a lot of confidence in me which in turn gave me a lot of faith in my own ability. Paul is a genius with both greyhounds and horses, what he has achieved with the mare is remarkable.”
The 24-year jockey was given very simple instructions by Hennessy before the race: arrive at the start late and ensure to make the running, the mare will stay all day.
“I did what I was told, I arrived last down to the start. Because there was such commotion at the start on account of the two false starts and we had plans to make the running I thought it might be a bit more difficult than what it was.
"After we jumped the first and from there on, I was in a gorgeous rhythm the whole way around. I was always in my comfort zone, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’ve never ridden here before and to be out in front for the whole way.
I had good conversations with Paul Townend and David Mullins, and they told me how to ride it.
“It is unbelievable. For the Irish jockeys to give me a guard of honour on the way in was special. We are like a family back in Ireland and all great sportsmen.”
Condon comes from a real sporting family. His dad John trains greyhounds and is a regular handler at Youghal greyhound track, his uncle Mike was a top-class amateur rider back in the day, and his cousin Davy Condon was a top professional jockey and a Cheltenham Festival-winning rider.
“On account of my background, I was always going to be involved with horses and greyhounds. After I finished my Leaving Cert I headed to England and was based with Brendan Powell on the flat and I then moved on to join Kim Bailey and rode a lot of good horses for him. I decided to return home mainly because of the travelling in the UK, and I missed home, to be honest.
“I’m based now with Carlow trainer Pat Fahy and I am very happy.”
Condon has a massive passion for greyhound racing, he attends Youghal track at least twice a week, and loves nothing better than going for walks with a few dogs to relax when he’s away from racing.
I love greyhound racing, it’s in my blood, my dad trains around 12 dogs and races mainly at Youghal, where he has had good success.
"I just love greyhounds, they are brilliant animals, they are friendly and very loving dogs. I find it great for your mental health; to switch off and go for a walk with a few dogs is tremendous.”
Richie is looking forward to the end of lockdown and getting people back to the track where they can once again enjoy greyhound racing.
“I purchased a greyhound off my dad, I set up a syndicate which Paul Townend and David Mullins are a part of. He’s trained in Kilkenny because that’s where I’m now living and he’s trained by a good friend of mine, Denis Lennon.
“The dog is called Why Geldof and we are looking forward to a few nights out at the track to see him run.”
From now on, Condon will be known as a Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey, his future is bright, and it’s money on that he will reach the upper echelons of his chosen career.