LISA O’NEILL, JOCKEY
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