THERE were great celebrations in Rathmullan last week after 17-year-old jockey Luke McAteer took victory in his first race under rules on the track.
McAteer made a name for himself locally over the last five years as he excelled at horse and pony racing, riding 30 winners.
Last year when he turned 16, McAteer undertook an apprenticeship with renowned trainer Jim Bolger in Coolcullen, Co.Kilkenny.
McAteer follows in illustrious footsteps as Aidan O’Brien, AP McCoy, and Paul Carberry all learned their trade from Bolger before going on to star in the professional ranks.
The young Rathmullan man got his first big break last Thursday in the second division of the 1m 2f apprentice handicap at Fairyhouse, and won the race on board the Bolger-trained Pirolo.
It was the third race that the five-year-old Teofilo horse had won, and McAteer felt he was in with a good chance of winning after riding him out twice in the lead-up to the race.
He said: “I looked through the form of the other horses beforehand and I knew Mr Bolger had him very fit before so I thought I had a good chance.
“I knew three furlongs out that I was going to win and he won by one and a half lengths.”
It was a dream start for McAteer, and he was thrilled with the victory.
It was made that extra bit special by the fact that his mother Caroline, and her partner Martin were there to witness him win on a professional race course for the first time.
“I couldn’t believe it at first.
“It was great and my mother and Martin were there as well so it was a great evening in Fairyhouse.”
Luke credits his late grandfather Tom McLaughlin with instilling a passion for racing in him.
“My granda always had horses and the interest stuck to me from an early age. He got me into pony racing and hunting.
“After he died in 2015, Johnny Holian and Enda Sheridan helped me along the way until I left home at 16.”
McAteer soon realised that he wanted to pursue a career in horse racing, and after completing his Junior Certificate, he moved down the country and signed a contract with Bolger.
It’s a busy yard with over 100 horses riding out every day, and McAteer is one of four apprentices that arrives at 6.15 am and gets to work.
They take the horses out, feed them, muck out their boxes, and ensure that the yard is kept clean.
He concedes that he does occasionally get homesick at weekends, but he has a steely determination, and knows what he wants from life.
Luke was back in the saddle at Gowran Park on Monday, but missed out on glory on that occasion.
He won’t know until later this week if he’ll be racing this weekend, but is hoping to get a run around the Curragh, and to continue racing over the coming months.
“I’d like to ride out my 10 pound claim out by the end of the flat season.”
McAteer will continue to learn and work with Bolger over the next two years, and is aiming to accumulate 95 winners, which will enable him to become a professional jockey.
“Hopefully I’ll be one in the future with some luck,” he concluded.
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