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Spotlight On: Bernard O'Neill

Spotlight On: Bernard O’Neill

Area: Mallow, Cork

Age: 36

Bernard O'Neill first rode in a point-to-point at Ballingarry in September 2002 with his maiden success coming later in that debut season aboard Around Before in an adjacent maiden at Lemonfield March 2003. Following a seven-year absence, O'Neill made a return to race riding between the flags at Ballynoe in April 2016 aboard Clare More.

The Mallow native has recorded two successes since making his comeback in 2016 with his most recent victory coming on Sunday at Kildorrery aboard Springfield Lodge in the five-year-old and upwards adjacent maiden for Eoghan O Grady.

O’Neill works as a commercial financial analyst for Gas Networks in Cork City and tells us here how he balances working full-time with riding out and going point-to-pointing every weekend.

You were delighted with your win on Sunday?

Any day you have a winner is a good day, so I was delighted! The main aim was to get Springfield Lodge to win and we succeeded. It was a well-deserved success she had been second last April at Fairyhouse, she got a good break and her first run back was three weeks ago at Ballyvodock where she was fourth. She was only beaten by four lengths, so we knew she would come on from that run and we were fairly hopeful she was going to go closer the next day out and thankfully she come home in front.

What’s the plan with Springfield Lodge now?

Eoghan mentioned to me something about the GAIN mares final, but I think that’s a bit up in the air at the moment, there is a mares’ winner-of-one race in Turtulla in two weeks, so that might be an option.

What’s your connection with Eoghan O’Grady?

Eoghan is local to me at home and he is only a couple of years older than me. When I first started riding as an amateur, he also would have been riding at the same time as me. He transitioned into training and I used to ride out for him.

Are your family involved in horses?

From a young age, I used to go point-to-pointing with my parents. They were never directly involved with horses but had a huge interest in racing and they used to just go as spectators

How did you get involved in point-to-pointing?

The interest in point-to-points came from attending them with my parents but I also was involved with ponies from and would have done lots of showjumping. As I got older and grew out of ponies, that’s when I started showing interest in racehorses.

My uncle John Joe O’Neill trains in England and as a teenager, I stayed with him for a couple of summers and used to ride out a some of the quieter horses and I suppose I got the bug from there.

Once I turned 16, I spent a summer with Jim Bolger and I started riding out for Enda Bolger then on the weekends when I was still in school and stayed with him for four seasons.

Enda gave me my first point-to-point ride and my first winner back in 2003 on a horse called Around Before at Lemonfield in an adjacent maiden.

How long have you held your amateur license?

I had my license from 2002 to 2009, so for seven years. I took a break of about seven years from race riding and took it back then in 2016.

What do you do outside of racing?

When I finished school, I started riding out full time at Enda’s. I had applied for college, but I deferred for a year. I had thought about staying riding and going professional, but my weight had become a bit of an issue, so I decided to go to college. I stayed riding as an amateur during college and really enjoyed it.

When I finished my college degree, I actually went back riding out full-time for Eoghan O’Grady. I also had a few breakers of my own at home but the reality of trying to make a living out of that hit home and that’s when I decided to move to Dublin and get a job with my degree, which was a Financial Maths and Actuarial Science Degree.

I spent ten years in Dublin working in actuary and two years ago I moved back to Cork and I now work as a Commercial Finance Analyst with Gas Network.

Can you tell me why you took an absence of seven years from riding?

The summer of 2008 was when I started working in Dublin and I was doing exams, working and my weight wasn’t great, so it was a combination of all those things that led me to stop race riding. I still rode out occasionally, but it wasn’t my main focus at that time.

What made you renew your license again back in 2016?

I always really enjoyed riding and when I was younger, I always had really big ambitions, but things didn’t really work out the way I wanted them to in terms of riding. I still remained friends with many people in point to pointing and I would often meet with them and they would reminisce about their riding years and how good they were. But for me, I felt I didn’t get to explore riding as much as I would have liked to so it would often be in the back of my head about giving it another go, but to be honest I never in a million years thought it would become a reality to go back riding.

Its all very much down to Eoghan it became a reality, I owe him a lot in that regards. I met him ironically at Kildorrery point-to-point in 2016 and he had a horse called Clara More running in the open lightweight and he didn’t run too great and he said to me if you want to go back riding this horse is there until the end of the season for you, you can ride him away.

A few weeks later I came home again from Dublin and I took a week off for Cheltenham and by the end of that week, I had the forms filled out to renew my license.  Another month later I was back in the saddle and I rode him at Ballynoe point-to-point.

What does your typical week involve trying to manage both working and riding out?

My weight can still be a bit of an issue, so I try and get in as much exercise as I can during the week.
I walk half an hour to and from the train station every morning and evening going to work. I try to go running at lunchtime when I can. In the evenings then I go between playing soccer and squash. On Saturdays and Sundays then I go into Eoghan’s to ride out and school.

Have you ever thought about going back riding out full-time?

Definitely not, I’m 36 most people riding at my age are aiming to retire not the other way around. For me, it’s only a hobby and it’s all about doing it for fun and getting the most enjoyment out of it as I can.

What has been the highlight of your riding career so far?

I have ridden about 10 winners and it would have to be riding all those winners, there’s nothing like it. When I won on Doyen Bay last year at Liscarroll that was particularly sweet as it was my first success since I had returned to race riding. Obviously, I hadn’t ridden in so long and when I came back riding, I never expected to get as far as having another winner, the initial comeback was only to scratch the itch that was there.

A few other highlights that stood out for me was when I was working for Enda Bolger, I got to ride in Punchestown over the banks’ course.
 
What is the biggest change you have noticed point-to-pointing?

When I began riding in point-to-points during the Celtic Tiger I remember Boulta used to hold a two-day point-to-point fixture in the autumn and there would be 12 races each day, so I suppose one of the changes I have noticed from that time is the reduction in runners obviously as a result of the recession. 

Another big change I have noticed is how commercial racing has become in point-to-points. The local farmer having his one horse, who is his pride and joy and running him in the confined, that all seems to be gone. The guys with the six and seven-year-olds, who just want to have a bit of fun aren’t bothering doing it anymore, as a result, I think there is a big reduction in the numbers of people who go racing. Before the confined would be last race and it would attract a big crowd but that just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

It’s sad to see that aspect of point-to-pointing gone because to me that was the bread and butter of the point-point scene, locals having a bit of fun and it not mattering how good or bad your horse was.

 

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