From mucking out to the Galway races – an interview with Wexford jockey Conor Stone Walsh

The Galway Races are always a special time for punters and horse racing enthusiasts all over Ireland and indeed internationally…

The attention of the horse racing community focuses on the globally renowned high standards of Irish horse racing on show in Galway. Irish horse racing is prestigious not only for the quality of Irish horses but also for the skill and courage of Irish jockeys.

The Galway Races also serve as a stage for promising up-and-coming jockeys to prove themselves to punters and trainers alike. One such jockey is Wexford native Conor Stone-Walsh who has caught attention due to a number of impressive wins early on in his career.

Indeed Conor has amassed an impressive total of 14 wins and 25 placed horses in the last 12 months. Although only 17 years of age, Conor has made quite the name for himself, with The Irish News describing him as “a young jockey to follow” who has “impressed plenty of people”. Recently, we sat down with Conor to discuss life as a young jockey. 

Early influences: 

For Conor, horses have always been a big part of his life in no small part due to growing up in a family that was constantly involved with horses. Along with “always having horses” at home and he was influenced by his uncle and brother who rode point to point. Conor stated that there was a certain inevitability that he “was always going to do something with horses” and his enjoyment of the “speed element” of horse racing meant he always had an ambition to become a jockey.

He cited his uncle Benny Walsh as an early inspiration to him and fondly remembers going to watch his uncle competing in point-to-point races. He stated that going to watch his uncle in these races gave him an interest in horse racing and a love for the sport. 

Joseph O’Brien: 

Conor has been training under Joseph O’Brien, the son of renowned Wexford horse trainer Aidan O’Brien. Indeed, Joseph had a very impressive career as a jockey being crowned Irish Champion Jockey in 2012 amassing 87 wins and went on to surpass his own achievements by retaining the title of Irish Champion Jockey in 2013 with a record-breaking 126 wins.

O’Brien’s success has continued into his career as a trainer with Joseph O’Brien-trained horses taking home considerable honours such as the Melbourne Cup and the Irish Derby. Conor undoubtedly will be hoping to emulate the exploits of his trainer in his future career.

 Conor had nothing but praise for Joseph O’Brien stating that he is “a lovely fella” who is “very fair” with all the jockeys he works with.  He praised O’Brien for giving all the jockeys working with him “an equal opportunity” and praised O’Brien’s aptitude for training horses. Conor went on to praise the “state of the art” facilities provided for the jockeys by O’Brien.

Speaking highly about O’Brien’s yard, he said:

“There a lot of things here that you wouldn’t see anywhere else”. 

He described himself as being “incredibly lucky” to work with O’Brien and to have O’Brien’s excellent facilities at his disposal.  

A Jockey’s Life:  

It is general knowledge that the life of a jockey can often be quite demanding but Conor did not seem at all phased when describing his daily routine on a non-race day. He described a routine of getting up at 6:30 am to be at work at 7:00 am. He also described waiting in the collecting lot to ride out their horses until between 11:30 and 12:00.

At which point they’d break for lunch and grab something to eat unless “you have lightweight the next day”. He informed us that they would return for further training from 15:00 to 16:30 after which he would “try to fit in a bit of gym work and dinner, then just relax for the evening”. 

Pressures and Risk: 

Conor denied any notion that horse racing is an exceptionally difficult career to get into:

“You just need to get into a racing yard, even mucking out the stables… and you just work your way up then,” Conor said.

Conor, however, did state that he was not immune to “nerves in the weighing room hoping everything goes well” but in this regard, he had great praise for his trainer:

“When you’re riding for Joseph there is no pressure, just keep everything simple and if you get beat you get beat”.

“Obviously if you’ve done something wrong he’ll tell you, but if there’s nothing you can do about it, then it’s forgotten about”.

Many would note the considerable danger and risk involved with being a jockey, but in a fearless manner Conor shrugged off any notion of risk:

“You don’t think about it… it just comes and goes, you could get hurt doing anything. When you’re doing something that you love you don’t think about it”. 

Camaraderie Among Jockeys: 

Despite the fact one might assume there would be a great deal of competition between apprentices and young jockeys, Conor dispelled any such notion stating that they are all “good friends”. He described a real camaraderie among the group stating that as a jockey you “would be happy to see the other person do well”. He credited this relaxed and cordial atmosphere to the fairness of Joseph O’Brien who ensures that everyone gets an “equal opportunity”.

He even stated that he lives with fellow jockey Dylan Browne McMonagle which is a good illustration of the closeness and camaraderie that exists between young jockeys. Conor described a very welcoming “close-knit” community of “good friends”. 


Conor is 17 years of age and being at such a high level of his sport naturally means that he has to make sacrifices other people his age do not even have to contemplate, however, this did not seem to bother Conor in the slightest. He did however note when he was a younger jockey and “did not have a licence” he “missed being at home and being out socialising with the guys from school”. However now that he is riding it doesn’t bother him, he asserted there will be “time to catch up on that stuff when you’re finished”. 

Conor was a keen hurler and Gaelic footballer for St. Annes Rathangan GAA club and naturally had to give up on these other sports to focus on horse racing. He did not find it “particularly” hard to give up on these sports stating “it kind of just came naturally” to drop these other sports as his horse racing career reached new heights. 

Early Successes and Highlights: 

Conor has enjoyed many notable triumphs even at this early stage of his career which have caught quite a lot of attention among those who follow the sport. Conor very fondly remembers his “first winner on ‘Malaysian’ in Dundalk in December” which he claims is “right up there” as one of the best moments of his career so far.

“Your first winner is always a special acheivement and you’ll never forget that”. 

He highly praised the horse ‘Hot Rocket’ with whom he won two races in a row. He stated that winning two in a row on the one horse is “the kind of achievement you aim for to build up a relationship with a horse”. 

When asked if there was any horse that he would like to ride again, he recalled how he had got beaten “on a favourite in Gowran on Saturday, a filly called ‘Didn’t Have Much to Do’ with JP McManus” and he believed if he had another chance with that horse he “definitely would’ve won”. 

Conor noted a particular fondness for the racecourse in Dundalk where he rode his “first few winners” which he described as “a nice place” which has evidently been a happy hunting ground for him in the past. He described Leopardstown and the Curragh as “special places with all the good racing that goes on there”.  He noted an ambition to ride winners at those two hallowed grounds of Irish horseracing. 

A Bright Future Ahead: 

Conor has no intention of resting on his laurels and hopes to “continue to ride on the flat” for as long as possible. He expressed concerns about remaining on the flat due to his height and claimed that if his weight “gets any heavier” he would most likely “be riding over jumps”.

He claimed this wouldn’t be a major disappointment as he was “always interested in jump racing”. He expressed a desire to remain in Ireland as a jockey but “if opportunities dried up” he claimed he “wouldn’t be against a move”. 

Conor Stone Walsh has made waves in the racing world as a young jockey. His dedication and love for his sport mean that there is undoubtedly a bright future ahead for this up-and-coming Wexford jockey.

Darragh Sinnott

From Wexford, Darragh is a columnist with an interest in sports, politics, history, and all-things Wexford related.

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