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Amateur jockey Darragh Allen was considered ‘too heavy’ as a young rider, so it was beyond his wildest dreams when he secured a ride at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Cork-based jockey Allen, 29, went toe-to-toe with the likes of Rachael Blackmore, Jack Kennedy and Mark Walsh at last month’s Festival on board Da Capo Glory in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle.

A point-to-point jockey who had never previously ridden in England, it’s no surprise Allen’s maiden voyage over the Irish Sea ranks among his greatest days in the saddle.

“I never thought I would get a ride at Cheltenham,” he said. “It was massive, a major buzz for a couple of weeks leading up to it because we were so excited to be there. To ride in front of that crowd was massive.

“Padraig Butler has the horse and has been very good to me.

“He didn’t have to leave me on because I didn’t ride him the race before, I went point-to-pointing instead, but in fairness he gave me the ride back to claim in the handicap, which was very good of him.

“The BHA (British Horseracing Association) were great, they just brought me in and ran me through the whip rules. There was no hassle, it was very similar to riding in Ireland.

“At the bottom of the hill I thought I had a bit of a chance, but once they turned for home I knew I was beat. He jumped great, travelled great and it was a major buzz to be there.”

Allen comes from a racing-mad family and has even had the pleasure of riding winners for his older brother Sean, who he used to go point-to-pointing with every Sunday.

His mum enjoyed a hands-on role at the local pony club and his dad worked on the yard of late renowned Clare horse trader Tom Costello, but Allen says he never really considered a career as an amateur jockey.

“I wasn’t overly thinking about it,” he said.

“A good friend of the family, David Slattery, had a thoroughbred mare, so he gave it to me and I knew that would be my chance to ride in a few point-to-points. I never really looked back after that.

“I said I would train her well at home and I rode her a couple of times when I was at school. When I finished school I didn’t have much joy at first but I went to Terence O’Brien’s and I’m still there now. He’s given me a lot of success.

“I was also heavy as a child so I never thought I would have been able to make the weight, so I suppose I stayed away from the table a bit more.

“I was anxious to ride my own filly a couple of times and once I’d ridden her I got the bug and that was that.”

Point-to-point racing has always been where Allen gets his biggest kick and he believes it’s a great starting point for all aspiring young jockeys.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere without point-to-points,” he said. “To be honest, I would go point-to-pointing any day of the week over the track.

“You’re riding against some of the best riders out there, the likes of Derek O’Connor and Barry O’Neill. You learn to keep a straight line if they’re alongside you because you’ll disappear before too long if you don’t.”

Allen is certainly not too far off that pedigree, with 85 point-to-point winners to his name, including a treble at his home track in Kilworth last year.

And as he closes in on a century of wins, he is urging the next generation to make sure they apply for their qualified rider licence.

“The main benefit is that you get in with the right people and do plenty of schooling while making lots of contacts,” said Allen, who obtained his licence in 2012.

“In Cork there’s no massive point-to-point yards, so you have to spread your wings and meet as many people as possible.

“If you school a horse for someone, there’s a good chance you might get to ride it, so keep your head down and try to get in with the right people and the right yards.”

The George Mernagh Memorial Fund Qualified Rider Subsidy & Bursary offers financial support for jockeys in obtaining their licence. To find out more and to apply, click here.

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