PRINCIPAL TRAINERS: Arthur Moore, Mouse Morris, Christy Roche
1996 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, 1996 Cheltenham Gold Cup
2000 Powers Gold Cup, 2000 & 2002 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase,
2002 & 2003 Martell Melling Chase
2000 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle
WAR OF ATTRITION
2005 Swordlestown Cup Novice Chase, 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup, 2006 Guinness Gold Cup
2004 & 2005 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle, 2004 Emo Oil Champion Hurdle,
2007 AIG Europe Champion Hurdle
At the age of 40, Conor O’Dwyer is unquestionably at the veteran stage of his chosen career. Few jump jockeys are physically and mentally durable enough to last as long as O’Dwyer has in what is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous roles in modern sport.
O’Dwyer has been successfully associated with Arthur Moore for the better part of a decade, while in more recent times he has formed a successful partnership with Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud. He has a well-earned reputation as a rider for the big occasion and his coolness under pressure has been rewarded with numerous wins that other jockeys could not have pulled off.
One of O’Dwyer’s highest profile early successes came on the Paddy Mullins trained Redundant Pal in the 1990 Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown, but he first shot to national prominence when taking the mount on the Fergus Sutherland trained Imperial Call in the 1996 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown. He set out to make all on the 4/1 shot and despite blundering at the final fence, he regained his momentum before galloping onto a 6 length success. That win was followed by an even more high profile success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following month. That victory saw a literal stampede of Irishmen converge on the Prestbury Park parade ring in celebration and the win went a long way to endearing O’Dwyer to the Irish racing public.
The Christy Roche trained and JP McManus owned, Youlneverwalkalone, is another high class performer that O’Dwyer excelled on. Having ridden the much hyped son of Montelimar to a maiden hurdle win in November 1999, the pair went on to impressively prevail in the Grade 2 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle and the Grade 2 Deloitte Touche Novice Hurdle the following February. He then arrived at the Cheltenham Festival as the red hot 5/4 favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle, but was unfortunate to come up against two exceptional performers in Sausalito Bay and Best Mate. That proved to be his last outing of that season but the following term the pair picked up where they had left off, impressively beating Moscow Flyer in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. Two disappointing efforts at Cheltenham followed, but they returned to winning ways in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle the following February. They again combined to win a minor race over fences the following year, but that would prove to be the last time they would combine for victory as just four starts later in the Aintree Grand National; Youlneverwalkalone suffered a career ending injury.
The Arthur Moore trained Native Upmanship undoubtedly has a special place in Conor O’Dwyer’s heart as he won no less than 12 races on him between 1999 and 2005, half of those wins coming at Grade 1 level. Arguably the most memorable of his winning rides on the John Magnier owned gelding came in the Grade 1 Melling Chase at the 2003 Aintree Grand National Festival. Having been sent off the strongly backed 5/4 favourite, one would expect any jockey to feel some added pressure, but not Conor O’Dwyer. Having led on the bit between the final two fences, O’Dwyer held onto his mount for as long as possible, cheekily looking across at Seebald and Tony McCoy, who was riding for his life. Having jumped the last, O’Dwyer let out an inch of rein and his mount strode on to win by a length hard held gaining him much deserved plaudits.
The Mouse Morris trained, JP McManus owned Keepatem was the subject of a huge gamble in the 2004 renewal of the always competitive Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting and it was Conor O’Dwyer was trusted to do the steering. Holding his mount up at the rear of the 30 runner field, O’Dwyer showed admirable patience and skill to thread his way steadily past his rivals to lead after the final fence and gallop on strongly to prevail by four lengths in a memorable performance.
O’Dwyer’s partnership with Gigginstown House Stud over the last number of years has proved to be very successful. They have combined to win numerous valuable races with horses such as Mossbank, Akhtari and One Cool Cookie, but unquestionably the pride of place has to go to War Of Attrition. The pair lost out by just ¼ length to Brave Inca in the 2004 Supreme Novice Hurdle but compensation would be gained with interest at Prestbury Park two years later. In the interim period, the Mouse Morris trained gelding put a poor effort in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham behind him when O’Dwyer swooped late and fast to win the Grade 1 Swordlestown Cup at the 2005 Punchestown Festival. When upped in trip the following season, wins in the Listed Daily Star Chase and the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase soon followed. Two losses on unsuitable ground followed but it was a different story when he once again graced the Cheltenham turf for the Gold Cup in March 2006.
An inspired ride from O’Dwyer saw War Of Attrition lead at the third last fence and produce two spectacular leaps at the final two obstacles before holding off the challenge of Hedgehunter by 2½ lengths. The win prompted rapturous scenes of celebration in the winners’ enclosure, the likes of which had arguably not been seen since Imperial Call’s win in the race a decade previous. He confirmed his position as the best staying chaser in training when easily winning the Guinness Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival.
This season opened with a second win in the Listed Daily Star Chase at Punchestown but as of yet he has failed to add to that win in three subsequent starts. However, the better ground at the Cheltenham Festival is sure to bring about improvement in the son of Presenting and O’Dwyer is sure to make every effort to gain his third victory in National Hunt racings Blue Riband.
O’Dwyer came in for the ride on the Dessie Hughes trained Hardy Eustace under tragic circumstances following the death of his regular rider, Kieran Kelly in 2003. The partnership did not get off to an ideal start with a defeat at 1/4 in the Lismullen Hurdle being followed by three further reversals. Dessie Hughes’ charge looked to have a mountain to climb in the 2004 Champion Hurdle but O’Dwyer produced a virtuoso performance from the front to save enough in the tank to hold off the challenge of Rooster Booster by 5 lengths. The combo proved the win to be no fluke when confirming that form the following month in the Emo Oil Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.
The early part of the 2004/2005 season was again a struggle for Hardy Eustace and O’Dwyer with their colours being lowered on three occasions before the pair gained an easy success in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle. The 2005 Champion Hurdle looked to be a significantly stronger renewal of the race than the one that preceded it, but once again O’Dwyer produced a front-running ride of the highest quality to prevail by a neck from Harchibald and Brave Inca in what was a thrilling contest.
The following season, Hardy Eustace was dogged by injuries but still managed to finish in the frame in three Grade 1 contests. Many people felt that this comparatively poor form was signifying his fall from grace in his ninth year, but this season both Hardy Eustace and Conor O’Dwyer proved that there is plenty left in their respective tanks.
Thus far this season, he has looked to be back to his very best, winning the Ascot Hurdle in facile fashion before losing out to Detroit City in a slowly run race at Cheltenham. However, despite the fact that O’Dwyer was riding injured following a crashing fall earlier in the day, Hardy Eustace produced one of the best performances of his life to win a vintage renewal of the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last Sunday. The win epitomised the grit and determination of both horse and rider and it would take a brave man to rule the veteran pair out of the Champion Hurdle next March.