NATIONAL Hunt racing is certainly not for the faint hearted.
The rough and tumble of the race coupled with the intense training make it one of the toughest sports around.
But for one Castlerock jockey it’s a dream job.
Twenty-one-year-old Jody McGarvey left his home on the north coast five years ago to pursue that dream.
He has worked hard during that time battling injuries and training intensely to propel himself up the racing ladder.
It is paying dividends now as Jody is working with some of the biggest names in the sport and picking up winners along the way.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jody told Times Sport last week.
“I have to be honest it’s not really like working for me, I’m in my element being out there with the horses doing a job I love.
“I’m not saying I don’t get bad days, like any job there are some days when it’s a real chore. But the good days by far outweigh the bad.”
Jody has worked hard to land his dream job. He’s always had a keen interest in horses and five years ago he made the decision to leave home to join the Trainee Jockey Course at the Racing Academy and Centre of Education in Kildare.
“I’ve always loved horses,” said Jody. “I owe so much to Carol Henry from Castlerock who taught me everything in those early years. Without her help I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“When I turned 16 I decided to join the academy in Kildare, it was a big move for me leaving both my home and school, but it was one that I was very keen to make.
“The course teaches you everything you need to know about becoming a jockey and they also provide your educational study and you sit exams at the end of it.
“It was through the course that I got a work placement at Christy Roche’s stables. It went well for me there and he kept me on once I had graduated.
“It’s very tough to break into the racing scene in Ireland though as it’s so competitive so I decided to move over to England to try and get my break.
“Unfortunately though it didn’t work out for me over there. I picked up a couple of injuries and then I was involved in a pretty bad car accident so I came back home again.”
This actually proved to be a pivotal point in Jody’s career as he was able to link up again with Roche at the Curragh which in turn provided him with the opportunity to ride some of the country’s top horses.
“Christy invited me back to Kildare after the accident, it was only really to get me back on my feet again,” explained Jody.
“But I haven’t looked back. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me as Christy’s main patron is JP McManus, who is one of the biggest names in horse racing.
“For anyone who doesn’t know he is racing’s equivalent of Roman Abramovich. To be given the chance to work with his horses, which are of the highest calibre is fantastic for me.”
And Jody is certainly reaping the rewards of working with quality horses after he bagged his first two winners in February. He led Code of the West home at Down Royal at the start of the month before he completed the feat with Ballynacree at Gowran Park.
“It was the best feeling in the world to cross the line first,” he said.
“The only way I can describe it is comparing it to a footballer scoring in the Champions League.
“For me to be competing against racing legends like Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh is unbelievable.
“I know I’m at the bottom rung of the ladder, but having quality horses to race really makes the difference. And the better you perform with these horses opens up more opportunities for you.”
The 21-year-old deserves his chance though as he has worked hard to get there, and he continues to work hard to keep himself up there.
“I have a 7am start every morning,” he revealed. “We take the horses out and exercise them, I usually ride five every morning.
“Then it’s off to the races in the afternoon depending if I have a horse or not. As well as riding horses for Christy I have an agent who will book me rides for other trainers.
“You could be riding a horse for a trainer who you’ve never met, but that’s all part of the job.
“It’s a tough sport. I’ve broken a fair few bones already. One of the toughest things though is keeping my weight down.
“I’m quite a tall lad so it’s a constant struggle for me and I have to watch what I eat.
“The best I can manage and still be healthy is about 9st 10lb, but it’s hard work.
“I’ve had to go into the gym on a Friday with a sweat suit on as well as other clothes to make sure I make the weight for the races on a Saturday.
“You do get some down time though and you make the most of it when you can.”
So what are Jody’s hopes for the future?
“At the moment I’m number two at Christy’s, but eventually I’d like to be a number one jockey,” he said.
“Hopefully I can start getting a few more winners on the board too.
“You also want to be competing at the likes of Cheltenham and Aintree.
“A jump jockey’s career is a relatively short one because it’s such a tough sport, but I also hope that I don’t pick up too many injuries in the years to come.
“I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far, but hopefully there’s plenty more to come from me!”
STORY: Steven Crawford