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Happy Retirement Paddy Aspell!

After being forced to hang up his boots due to a knee injury, sustained in a fall at Jersey, we caught up with Yorkshire based Irishman, Paddy Aspell to talk about his riding career and plans for the future.

Paddy Aspell had grown up around horses and having completed his compulsory schooling, was determined that he was not going back to the classroom, so his father agreed that he could leave school, provided that he got in job in England.

“I was a bit of a boy in my teenage years and Dad knew I needed structure that I wouldn’t get if I stayed in Ireland.  A friend of my Dad’s suggested that I should go to Sue and Harvey Smith’s, so at the age of 16 in October 1998, I headed to their Bingley yard and settled in the county – I’m now an honorary Yorkshireman!”

Originally, Paddy didn’t have aspirations to become a jockey, he was just so pleased to not be at school and working with horses was all he ever wanted to do, although he did hold an Irish amateur license having had a couple of rides in point-to-points and bumpers.  This was transferred to an English license but it wasn’t until the following year that he had his first ride under rules for the Smiths, Sul Fosso in an amateur chase at Hexham and it was also Hexham where he rode his first winner on 1st April 2000, aboard Kittochside Lad for Ann Duffield.

Prior to this, Paddy had been picking up rides on the point-to-point circuit.  There were a few local point-to-point trainers that used the Smith’s gallops and Paddy would sub his weekly wage by riding theses horses after morning stables.

“I rode a lovely older horse called Scotch ‘n Irish.  He was keen so didn’t always get home over three miles but he was a serious jumper and I got to ride him in hunterchases at Wetherby and Aintree.  I got a real thrill from riding him and he took me to some top courses at a very early stage and that encouraged me to pursue race riding,” remembers Paddy.

Changing the license to a Category B, allowing Paddy to ride as an amateur against professionals, meant the rides and hence the experience increased and he turned conditional in December 2000.

Paddy recalled,

“The Smiths was rammed with good riders; Seamus Durack was the main rider but Jim Crowley was there and Dominic Elsworth who was still claiming 7lbs, so I was down the pecking order.”

Having had a good three years with the Smiths, Paddy was looking for other opportunities and approached Mary Reveley, who offered him a job but no promise of rides, but the Reveleys were well known for using and supporting their conditional jockeys.

In the racing game, a jockey’s bad luck provides opportunities for others.  Paddy was working his two weeks’ notice at the Smiths when Mrs Reveley rang to see if he could start early as all of her jockeys, Anthony Ross, Alan Dempsey and Fergus King had injuries of some form or another, meaning they were without a rider.

Sue allowed Paddy to leave early and he started at Reveley’s yard the next day.  He rode his first winner for them on his third ride, Mill Emerald, in a Handicap Hurdle at Newcastle.  After that he was riding nearly every day and building momentum.  The Reveleys liked to keep things in house and that played a big part in progressing the young talent.

Paddy rode out his claim following a double at Carlisle in 2005.  He had been stuck on the 3lb mark for a longer than he was happy about as a result of several injuries, mainly broken collar bones.

Although mainly riding over jumps, Paddy always held a flat license and his agent, Richard Hale, was able to get him rides on the flat over summer, often in apprentice races as with his jumping record, he had a lot of experience which the trainers coveted.

Once the claim was gone, Paddy started a fruitful relationship with Sedgefield based John Wade.

“I really enjoyed my time with John and we had some good success.  He is a very astute business man and not only was he a good man to ride for, he helped me with life skills in general and even got me my first sponsor, for which I will always be very grateful,” recalls Paddy.

Now a freelance, Paddy had the opportunity to ride overseas and hooked up with Czech Republic trainer Cestmir Olehla and rode in Italy, Bratislava and France, including a Group 1 success over fences at San Siro, Italy.

The racecourse he rode at most frequently was Merano in Northern Italy.  Olehla would drive the horses down from Czech Republic and Paddy would fly into Verona before catching the train which stopped outside the racecourse.

These trips abroad honed the Irishman’s skills,

“Merano is a figure of eight racecourse which means you can’t always have the inside.  My trainer was very keen that you didn’t give ground away which meant you had to be very sharp as a jockey.  The local riders were not keen on seeing English or Irish jockeys in the weighing room which meant the racing could be rough and you really had to keep your wits about you!”

With 11 wins from 28 starts, Paddy had a fabulous strike rate of over 32% during that period.

On the jumping front, the highlight of Paddy’s domestic career was winning the Grade 3 William Hill Handicap Chase on Chief Dan George at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2010.  Paddy first met the trainer Jimmy Moffatt on his arrival in England, as he was also working for the Smiths and they have been friends ever since.  Paddy was among Jimmy’s list of regular jockeys from the start of his training career and after guiding Chief Dan George home in his first chase win, he kept the ride.

“I didn’t particularly fancy him going into the race and he was a 33/1 shot.  He had won a Veterans Chase on his previous form so we knew he was well.  We were going nicely in the race but he flew the ditch at the top of the track and came back on the bridle running down the hill to three out.  That’s where he won it.”  Enthused Paddy.

Chief Dan George at Cheltenham

Paddy continued to mix riding under both codes and following a successful summer on the flat in 2011 he decided to make the permanent transition.  He was getting too light for jumping and knew he was losing rides from some trainers due to the amount of dead weight the horses had to carry.

He started to ride out for Mick Easterby and had a wonderful time with the Sheriff Hutton based team.  It was a job that he got great satisfaction from and made great head way on the all weather throughout the winter, which translated to the turf, including a Brockelsby winner on My Boy Bill for the Easterby team.

My Boy Bill winning the Brocklesby at Doncaster

“I liked being at the Easterby’s, it was a really happy team to work in and we did everything.  One day you would be teaching horses to jump out of stalls and the next you would be schooling the jumpers around the point-to-point course!”

Like jumping, Paddy also took to the opportunity to ride abroad with his flat license and in October 2017 travelled to Kuwait.  Paddy described it as racing in its simplest format where the best horse that can go the fastest for the longest was the winner.  All the tracks are left-handed on a deep dirt surface.

“Riding tactics didn’t really come into play but the racing was very tight and you had to learn to ride with your wits, which I enjoyed.”

Unfortunately, the six-month contract finished early after a stalls incident left him with a knee injury, meaning a return home after four months.  Racing took place five days a week and he had lots of rides at each meeting but on the down side, he was the only UK based jockey riding there and lived in the middle of the desert with very little to do on days off.

A bit closer to home, Paddy became a regular rider in Jersey and was in fact the leading rider of 2017 and had another good season in 2018, but it was Jersey where he had his last ride after sustaining an injury on the first day of the 2019 season, culminating in retirement.

Reflecting on his time in the saddle, Paddy speaks very fondly of his riding career.

“I’m so lucky that I was able to do something I love for 20 years and make a living from it.  I’ve made loads of friends and been to places I wouldn’t have thought all through my connection with horses.  It really hasn’t felt like work.”

He describes the wasting as hard, but found that taking it on as a lifestyle was the best way to maintain weight and fitness.

His family have always been hugely supportive, in particular his father, who was always the one on the end of the phone ringing to check in on him, especially on the bad days, however he cites his friend and colleague Jim Crowley as being most influential.

“It was Jim that really kept me over here.  He looked after me when I started at Smiths and always did just enough to encourage me to stay when I could have thrown in the towel and gone back to Ireland.”

Looking ahead Paddy is keen to see some more of the world, without taking his saddle with him!  Setting a budget, rather than a time, will be the main constraint, although the current Coronavirus pandemic is also likely to play a hand in where he can go.  For the sport, he hopes it will continue to grow, but at the same time ensuring that trainers with smaller numbers of horses are not pushed financially out of the game.

Currently Paddy is riding out at Mark Johnston’s and working for William Hill Radio, while, at the suggestion of friend and former weighing room colleague, Keith Mercer, he can read up on some travel blogs to make a plan for his forthcoming adventure.

Away from racing, Paddy is a huge sports fan and an avid Aston Villa supporter.  He would like to keep his hand in racing by riding out, but looking to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.

Following a successful 20 years as a jockey, he knows that he will now have to work for a living and is relishing the challenge ahead.