My Racing Story: Niall Slippers Madden

Last Autumn I took the difficult decision to leave home and move across the water to Harry Fry but it’s a choice that I’m glad I made and look forward to spending another winter over there, but beforehand I’ll be doing a bit of commuting over and back to Ireland.

On Tuesday evening I was back in Roscommon to ride for my Dad, Boots, and I’ll be back to England at the weekend but it’s always good to get home for a few days and see everyone. 

I’ve been back over a number of times since I made the move, and it was deadly to come home and get a winner at the Punchestown Festival for JP McManus. I’ve enjoyed some nice winners at Punchestown over the years and Mr McManus has always been very good to me, but in general terms I just felt that Ireland is gone so competitive now and I just needed to try something different so when Harry told me there would be an opportunity with him, I said I’d give it a shot. Harry and his wife Ciara have been very good to me ever since I made the move over and I’m quickly learning my way around the motorways of England!

The one thing most Irish lads will comment on when they move across is about how much driving is involved… They are not lying! But you drive for opportunities and that’s what it is all about.

Pulling up stumps and making a move like that is never easy, and initially I just went over for six weeks to see how things would go, but Harry is a smashing fella and a trainer who is going from strength to strength and a good man to be associated with. At the end of the season he provided me with my first Cheltenham winner on a horse called Henryville and I got a great kick out of that.

On The Way To Winning At Cheltenham With Henryville

Harry capped off his own season with a Grade 1 winner at the Punchestown Festival with Unowhatimeanharry and with all those National Hunt horses out on their break now, it’s time for everyone to regroup and restock for the winter ahead.

Most Friday’s I try to get myself into Neil Mulholland’s and I also get in to ride out for Anthony Honeyball whenever I can and over the last few months it has just been about working with my agent, Dave Roberts, and creating as many new contacts as I can and trying to ride for as many different trainers as I can.

Over the next couple of months I’ll have no problem travelling over and back whenever the opportunity arises. Harry has a small team in for the summer but might have one or two to go to Galway this year so it would be nice to get home for that as I love Galway. The Galway Hurdle and the Galway Blazers have been lucky races for me and it’s such a fantastic week, so hopefully I’ll be able to get over for a day or two.

The style of racing in Britain is a bit different to at home but you just have to adapt. They probably do go a bit quicker in the early part of races than in Ireland and from my point of view, I am riding  at a lot of the tracks for the first  time, but you get used to it all very quickly and there’s a great bunch of lads in the weighroom over there as well, and plenty of Irish lads that I would have ridden with before they moved across.

I rode for Harry at Aintree this year over the National fences in the Topham and going back there will always reignite special memories for me. It’s hard to believe winning the Grand National on Numbersixvalverde was 11 years ago, but he was the horse of a lifetime for me and that’s the type of horse that everyone is looking for. I wouldn’t say no to another one!

Niall Madden Grand National 2006
The Horse Of a Lfetime – Winning the 2006 Grand National on Numbersixvalverde

Some of the lads are in the fortunate position of having a good job with an owner or a trainer and they’ll come across a few good horses each season, but most of us are looking out for where the next big name horse will come from and that’s what makes us get up in the morning. I’d love another Numbersixvalverde, Jazz Messenger or Nickname to come along and in a big yard like Harry’s, there is every chance you will throw your leg over something a bit special in a decent race.

Jockeys don’t tend to go racing as a spectator often but I’m looking forward to going to Royal Ascot this week for the first time and enjoy the great spectacle that it is and after that then I’ll be looking to seize any opportunity that comes my way… Be it Listowel or Ludlow, it is a case of ‘have saddle, will travel’.

There is no place like home, but I’m looking forward to being part of an exciting team next season and Neon Wolf is a horse I watched very closely this year as I was actually at the point-to-point the day he won for Mags Mullins and I rang Harry and recommended that he should try to buy him. Harry has a great team of owners around him and I think he’ll be in for a memorable season next year, fingers crossed, and hopefully I can play my part to help him reach his goals.

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