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Hot on the heels of her Chel­tenham suc­cess — where she rode Tiger Roll to vic­tory in the JT McNa­mara Na­tional Hunt Chase — Lisa O’Neill (28) is just one of the jock­eys hop­ing to make his­tory at the in­au­gu­ral Ladies’ Ir­ish Na­tional. From Gar­ris­town in Co Dublin, the daugh­ter of for­mer jockey Tommy O’Neill in­sists any­thing guys can do, girls can do bet­ter. I’ve al­ways sat down and watched Chel­tenham at home, and I’ve been there once or twice be­fore, so to ride a win­ner there was very sur­real. It does kind of fire you into the spot­light a bit. To be hon­est, I still don’t think it’s sunk in.

There’s such a good weigh room full of girls now at the mo­ment. We’d all be be­hind each other, spurring each other on. Once we’re all on the track, though, it’s ev­ery woman for her­self.

I’ve been rid­ing since I was knee-high to a grasshop­per. My mother does al­ways try to tell me to get a proper job, but I think after Chel­tenham it might keep her quiet for a while! She was mor­ti­fied over the video of her and my dad re­act­ing to my win that went vi­ral. She gets wor­ried about me rid­ing over jumps and hates to see me take a fall. Over the years, I’ve bro­ken my col­lar­bone, dis­lo­cated my other col­lar­bone and bro­ken my fin­ger, but it’s mi­nor com­pared to what some peo­ple go through. There are a lot of risks in­volved. I think it’s the only sport that you’ll find you’re fol­lowed around by an am­bu­lance. If you’re go­ing to be think­ing about that kind of thing, there’s no point in even putting the clothes on.

It’s what I live for. It’s what I love. Be­fore a big race, I’d al­ways walk the track, even if I’d rid­den around it 10 or 20 times be­fore. It’s some­thing my dad al­ways drilled into me. The longer I’ve been at it, the less ner­vous I get.

Most of the time, I’d be in my rid­ing-out breeches or wa­ter­proofs. Be­ing at Chel­tenham for the week, it was nice to be able to dress up and show that you can ac­tu­ally have a bit of style some­times as well. There is a good so­cial side to rac­ing. Although I love hav­ing a bit of ban­ter with the lads, I’d prob­a­bly rule out dat­ing a jockey. You have to draw the line some­where!

Fairy­house is ac­tu­ally my lo­cal track so I can’t wait. It would be nice to have a ride in the ladies’ race and maybe be in the shakeup. Some train­ers think they need a big strong man on a horse, or don’t want to see a girl all broke up. But we’re just as good as the guys — and we can do it. IR­ISH IN­DE­PEN­DENT


15 April 2017

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