22-year-old Dungarvan native Niall Houlihan has been named as the January Jockey Of The Month in Britain, having won his first ever Grade One aboard Editeur Du Gite in the Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham on January 28th.
Brighton-based Houlihan gave Editeur Du Gite, trained by his boss Gary Moore, a superb front-running ride and galvanised the nine-year-old for a final effort after being headed by last year’s Arkle Trophy winner Edwardstone on the run-in.
Editeur Du Gite has developed into a genuine contender for the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, having been backed in to 5-1 with some bookmakers following his recent success, but Niall insists he’s just taking it one day at a time.
He’s been with Gary Moore for four-and-a-half years having made the move from the Déise shortly after completing his Leaving Cert at St. Augustine’s College in Dungarvan.
His brothers Sean, based with Philip Hobbs and Conor, who works with Paul Nicholls, are also jockeys and several of his uncles are trainers.
He started working for renowned local trainer John Kiely at weekends and holidays when he was 11-years-old.
“The whole family is horse mad”, said Niall.
“My brothers and I, all of us wanted to be jockeys as soon as we could walk. For Christmas, we were given things like goggles and gloves. Every Saturday we would be sitting on the couch watching the racing on the television. I just love the game.”
Niall was chosen as the Jockey Of The Month by Richard Johnson, who rode 3,822 winners in Great Britain and Ireland, and is only second to AP McCoy in the all-time winners list.
His Clarence House ride on Editeur Du Gite impressed Johnson, who praised Houlihan for his composure amongst top opposition.
“I thought it was fantastic for Niall to ride a Grade 1 winner. There’s plenty of jockeys who will never do that in their career so it was a huge achievement, especially as he’s still a conditional. He’s worked very hard at Gary Moore’s and he’s been given the opportunities he deserves. I thought Niall rode the race itself really well. He took up the running early on and he got the horse into a really nice rhythm. Against top jockeys like Paul Townend and Tom Cannon, it can be quite intimidating for a young rider and he managed to deal with all the pressure that goes along with it really, really well. He’s got a very cool head and he judged everything just right. It was a great ride and Niall deserves to win the jockey of the month award.”
Niall was asked to rate his season out of 10 so far, to which he gave an 8, and unsurprisingly named Editeur Du Gite as the horse he is most looking forward to riding in future.
He has also kindly donated his Jockey Of The Month prize of £500 to Cancer Research.
“I’ve chosen Cancer Research for family reasons. Like most of us, cancer has affected a relative of mine and I ran the Brighton Marathon for Cancer Research two summers ago. It’s great to be able to keep the relationship going with such a good cause.”
Houlihan celebrated his 60th British professional career winner on Tuesday, when winning at Taunton aboard the Moore-trained Parikarma (13/2).