DEREK O’Connor knew he had a decent book of rides heading to last week’s big Punchestown festival, but little did he think that he would nearly end up as top jockey at Ireland’s biggest National Hunt meeting.
Granted, the serious leg injury sustained by Mark Walsh gave the Beagh native a couple of unexpected extra opportunities, but for an amateur pilot like O’Connor to finish the five-day festival with four winners represented a massive achievement.
Obviously, his successful link up with trainer Joseph O’Brien and owner JP McManus has provided fresh opportunities for the 36-year-old jockey, but O’Connor’s talent in the saddle hasn’t gone unnoticed by other leading yards.
It all means that at a stage in his career when the Galway jockey might have thoughts of slowing down, his services have never been in more demand as well as getting increasing opportunities to ride in the big races.
Though O’Connor getting the call up to deputise for Walsh on the O’Brien trained Fakir D’Oudairies in the Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle on the closing day of the festival wasn’t a major surprise, he was also the go-to jockey for the Martin Brassil stable when it came to finding a jockey for impressive Cheltenham Ballymore Hurdle winner, City Island, the previous evening.
These were both Grade One contests and though City Island ran “flat” after his Cheltenham heroics in finishing a well beaten sixth behind Reserve Tank in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle last Friday, Fakir D’Oudairies was a gallant runner-up to the Nicky Henderson trained Fusil Raffles in the juvenile contest.
O’Connor was a little disappointed with the outcome of the four-year-old Champion Hurdle, but admits that slower ground would have played more to the strengths of Fakir D’Oudairies which he described as more of a “staying type”.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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