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Ballyare jockey in running for top award

Tommy McGettigan
BY HARRY WALSH

A DONEGAL man is in the running to become Ireland’s best new talent for horse racing.

Ballyare man Tommy McGettigan embarked on a long journey back in August when he attended an Open Day at Fairyhouse Racecourse where he was one of only 20 people chosen to take part in the reality television series “Jockey Eile”.

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Following weeks of Bootcamp and placement with leading racehorse trainer Gordon Elliott, Tommy has finally reached his goal and on Sunday night you can see him attempt to lift the prize as winner of the overall series (TG4, 8.15pm).

“It’s been one amazing journey with a few bumps along the way but sure it didn’t end too badly,” he said.

An unemployed lorry driver, Tommy (41) was crowned Champion Jockey back in 1986, at a time in his young life when he threatened to take the sport of kings by storm.

However, being a jockey is not a job for the faint-hearted and after breaking his back on three separate occasions, Tommy decided to hang up the whip for the last time eight years ago.

“I had been racing the flapping circuit and I suppose my claim to fame was pipping Adrian Maguire as Champion Jockey, back in ‘86, before the body finally gave up about eight years ago.

“I thought that was that until this opportunity came along and I have to thank by partner Dawn, family and Pierce Boyce ( Rathmullan native who runs Abú Media) for their help and support,” he said.

It hasn’t been a journey without hitches. On the first day at Bootcamp Tommy arrived with broken ribs having hurt himself in a soccer match the previous Saturday. He thought it was all over when Bootcamp mentor Susanne Macken stopped him riding and insisted he go to Blanchardstown hospital for X-Rays to confirm if he was fit to keep riding.

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“I lied a little to the mentors just saying I hurt my ribs when in fact I had two broken ribs at the time. I pushed myself to the limit through the pain barrier because nothing was going to come between me and the prize of being the winner,” Tommy said.

“But thank God I got the all clear from the doctors and with a little caution I was fine to carry on,” he added.

After another gruelling six weeks of training Tommy had to go to the Turf Club and pass his Jockey Licensing test before being allowed to go forward for the race and even once he succeeded in his riding test there was a still a doubt that he would pass the Turf Club doctors as his ribs were still pretty sore and tender.

Luckily he got through that final test only to be presented with a horse he thought had no chance of winning.

“Hilden was a young horse that the trainer gave me for the race and to be honest I felt at the that she was way out of her depth. She had little or no racing experience and was running over a trip of two miles when she had being doing all her previous racing at about one mile. So I had to think how could I get her to stay the distance and not let the inexperience of the horse count against me too much,” he explained.

So how did he get on?

“I can’t tell you but let’s just say that I didn’t do too bad on a horse which started out as a 50/1 rank outsider,” he smiled.

“The whole experience was a great adrenaline rush and, who knows, what door this will open for me now. I’m not working at present and hope to take my Trainers Licence in the not too distant future. Next February I plan to take part in a charity race in Fairyhouse with all proceeds going to Multiple Sclerosis Ireland,” he said.

The series is the brainchild of Pierce Boyce whose company Abú Media is based in Galway and last February the format scooped the prize for Best Reality Series at the prestigious IFTA awards held in the Dublin Convention Centre and shown live on RTE1.

The final race airs on Sunday at 8.15pm with the repeat on Thursday at 9.30pm. And don’t worry if you don’t have fluent Irish as the series is subtitled.

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