A profile of a new name in Wessex (Alne O'Connor)
There will be a new name to be awarded the title of Leading Lady Rider in the Wessex Point-to-Point area for the 2017-2018 season following the decision by last season’s winner Bryony Frost to become a Conditional jockey. Her success has been well documented in the media and her first Grade 1 triumph aboard Black Corton at Kempton was richly deserved for a most talented rider. Her successor will have a hard act to follow but those most likely to be in the running to take over the title will include Page Fuller, Katy Lyons and last year’s leading Novice Champion rider Lucy Mager. Another potential candidate for the title if she gets enough opportunities during the season is the experienced Irish rider Aine (pronounced Onya) O’Connor, who is Harry Fry’s sister-in-law, who had her first English point-to-point ride at Larkhill aboard Aikideau on 7th January.
The opportunity has been taken to ask Aine a number of questions to find out more about her background, her riding experiences and her hopes for the season ahead.
- Where did you grow up in Ireland and what were your early experiences of riding?
I grew up in Askeaton in County Limerick in the south west of Ireland. I can’t really remember the first time I sat on a pony but the photos at home would suggest I was only two or three, I can't ever remember not being able to ride. I'm the youngest of four girls and all my sisters rode when they were younger as well. I first started riding Racehorses when I was about 13. My sister Ciara (Harry Fry’s wife) rode out for some local trainers at home and I used to get up early to go and watch her before school and after some time doing that I was finally allowed to have a go. I did lots of hunting and show jumping but when I started riding the race horses that’s all I wanted to do so I did a bit of pony racing or flapping as it’s known in Ireland. I took out my license when I was 17 and I had my first point to point ride three weeks later at Dromahane on a horse called Hordago on 30th December 2009.
- What was your first winner and what do you remember about the ride?
Three weeks after my first point to point ride I rode in a bumper at Gowran Park on a horse called De Dodger for Seamus Braddish and he won. It was a very special day, he was a horse that I adored and I later went on to win a novice chase at Cork on him. It was my first ride under rules and I came away that day thinking this is easy, how wrong I was.
- What was your first point to point winner?
I had to wait a bit longer for my first point to point winner but it eventually came on a lovely horse called Supercede at Templemore for Paurick O’Connor
- How many winners in total have you ridden both under Rules and point-to-points in Ireland?
I’ve ridden 17 winners in total. 11 under rules including 2 in England and 6 point to pointing.
- You have worked for some well- known trainers – who has been the greatest influence on you?
I’ve been very lucky to work for some great trainers. I love to see different training methods and I’ve tried to spend time in different yards to see what each trainer does differently. Dessie Hughes undoubtedly had the biggest influence on me, he was a gentleman to work for and extremely approachable. He filled me with confidence when I worked for him but he also let me know if I was doing something wrong. He had a brilliant team of staff and some excellent riders in his yard so I learned a lot there.
- Are there any riders that you seek to model yourself on and why?
It would have to be Nina Carberry. I would always watch her and try to copy her style, I still do. She does everything without a fuss and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the changing room with her since I began riding and she’s always been very helpful and willing to give advice.
- What is the best horse you have ridden and why?
I’ve been lucky enough to ride some lovely horses in their races and some exceptional horses at home in Ireland but I’d be disowned if I didn’t say Rock On Ruby. He was as tough as teak and has the heart of a lion. I’m lucky enough I still get to ride him every now and then in his retirement but I spend 15 minutes after every time I ride him telling my sister Ciara how I think he wants to come out of retirement to go pointing. Wishful thinking!
- You are currently attached to your brother-in-law’s stable Harry Fry as an amateur rider. Do you have any rides to look forward for him?
I luckily rode my first winner for Harry last week at Ludlow. She is called Litterale Ci and she is owned by J P McManus. I haven’t anything else lined up at the moment but hopefully it won’t be too long before I ride another winner for him.
- How many lots do you ride out for him on a daily basis and how much schooling do you do?
I ride out four lots every day and get to school two to three times every week.
- You have taken out a license to ride in point-to-points in England this .season. Do you have any horses that you hope to ride?
I rode Aikideau for Jade Barber at Larkhill on the 7th of January. Untypically he ran out at the 15th fence but it is hoped that his next trip to Larkhill will produce a different results.
- Are you available for schooling if any point-to-point trainers are seeking an experienced lady rider who could ride in races during the 2018 point-to-point season?
I’m definitely available. Harry has allowed for me to be flexible to go schooling for other trainers when required.
- What interests do you have outside horses and racing?
I love to go swimming. I swam competitively until I was 13 but I got to a level that consumed all my time and my mother’s time, driving me to training sessions before and after school so I gave up and focused on the horses and ponies. Now that I just do it leisurely and as part of a fitness regime I really enjoy it.
- What is the funniest moment you can tell us from your experiences racing or point-to-pointing?
The funniest thing on the racecourse was probably Danny Mullins driving himself back to the weighing room after a fall in Bellewstown
- Have you been to any of the English point-to-point courses and how do they compare to the Irish ones?
I’ve managed to go to a few but not as many as I’d have liked. I thought that the number of people in attendance was a good deal bigger than a lot of the point to points in Ireland but on the downside the prize money here is a lot less.
- What would be your ultimate riding ambition?
My ultimate ambition is to stay in one piece and to improve with every ride I get. I’m also a bit of a dreamer so I’ll keep aiming towards getting rid of that 7lb claim.