Temptation was to begin this piece by declaring Denis O’Regan an honourary Meath man. Such was the duration of his career spent in the Royal County and the amount of winners the Youghal native partnered for leading figures in the racing fraternity based in the locality. There’s no doubt, either, that what was a stellar career anyway – which he brought the curtain down on last Saturday – might have had even more chapters to it if the ball had broken slightly differently for the 40-year-old.
Having first caught this writer’s attention when riding as a Conditional out of Noel Meade’s Tu Va base in Castletown, one could say that he was a shade unlucky to a degree because, at the same time, the great Mr Carberry was in the height of his pomp whilst also in situ at the time were Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden and a certain G. Elliott before he went off to Martin Pipe to learn his trade before he, in time, would end up employing Denis as the Summerhill man set about proving himself to be one of the best practitioners of his craft the sport has seen.
In between his time in Tu Va and pulling up from his stint in the saddle, DF O’Regan has quite the story to tell. From going across the water to work as retained rider for the later disgraced trainer J. Howard Johnson, to coming home to, albeit briefly, fulfil a similar role with Barry Connell before, in what turned out to be the final few furlongs of a highly commendable career – like so many more – finding a ‘home’ with Gordon in Cullentra House whilst also working with other local operators once more.
Now, at the time Denis went across the water, outside of, maybe, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson, Johnson was the one trainer any jockey would’ve been delighted to get the opportunity to hook up with. Mostly because, at the time, he had the roster of horses owned by Graham and Andrea Wylie.
Numbered among them at the time Tidal Bay and Inglis Drever. However, when Johnson his licence revoked and the Wylie horses were duly split between Nicholls and Willie Mullins, O’Regan fell in under that awful, belittling title of journeyman jockey. Thus came his decision to return home.
For whatever reason however, time has proven that, with the venerable exceptions of the three men who, at different times, had first call on the JP McManus horses, the spectacle of owners having retained riders has been frought with disaster.
Witness Davy Russell getting shown the door by Mick O’Leary, Youghal’s other greatest sporting export being told he was surplus to requirements in the most Irish way possible – over a cuppa!
Bryan Cooper succeeded Davy in the maroon and white silks, but, when he too was relieved of his duties, the general feeling was that the Gigginstown House Stud job was a poisoned chalice. That, however, wouldn’t explain why the other retained rider arrangements never really worked out.
Whether it was the Ann and Alan Potts operation – who, in their time, employed Andrew Lynch and Bryan Cooper and Robbie Power – or Sean and Bernadine Mulryan taking on Darragh O’Keeffe for a very brief period – or, most relevantly to this offering, Barry Connell’s propensity to change jockeys more often than a bookie changing odds during a Tony Martin gamble, Danny Mullins, O’Regan and Adrian Heskin came and went from the Foxrock man’s payroll.
It’s surely indicative of a person’s standing within their area of expertise that, throughout a career of the longevity of that of Denis O’Regan, they never once were short of people offering them work.
All of which, fittingly, enabled him to make his own piece of history before retiring from the weigh room – having ridden a winner on every racecourse in Ireland and the UK.
Unassuming. Dedicated. Dependable. An unsung hero within the sport.