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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

An Interview with ex-jockey Conor Shoemark

It didn’t start with horses and racing for former jump jockey Conor Shoemark. In fact, it was pretty much every sport but riding. ‘I was extremely sporty when I was at school,’ explains Conor. ‘I actually didn’t have any interest in horses at the time, so spent most of my time playing rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer.’ He was a hooker for Stow Rugby Club but Conor, now 27, did not bulk up to progress further.

Conor on Creevytennant

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Yet, Conor’s family is steeped in horseracing so horses have always in his blood, his father Ian was a jump jockey as well as his Grandfather Bill. His brother Kieran, younger by two years, is the Royal Ascot-winning jockey. He also has a sister Éva, and a younger brother Finn. ‘Most of my family have been involved in racing. There is obviously Kieran who’s currently riding. My father and grandfather were both National Hunt jockeys. It also goes back more generations than that; racing has been a massive part of my family.’

Despite an inevitability that Conor would follow in the family footsteps, Conor carved his own career in racing and was successful throughout much of his twenties, riding out his claim and riding winners at the biggest tracks. He rode his first winner on Dark Energy at Market Rasen in November 2012 and retired in October 2020 with a total of 103 victories. These included a Grade 3 on Benbane Head, five wins on legendary Creevytennant and four wins each on As I Am, Lord Landen, Exitas and Upton Mead.

Going in full circle, Conor has switched his focus back onto sports, studying to be a personal trainer since retirement. Forever the sportsman, he’s a marathon runner and is also into cycling.

Originally from deep in the Cotswolds in Stow-on-the-Wold, Conor currently lives in Childswhickham, just outside Broadway in Worcestershire, so ‘hasn’t ventured very far at all.’ He’s engaged to partner Abi Stock, the sister to former jockey Harry Stock, and they are expecting their first child this month. Conor and Abi also have a whippet called Bramble.

Did you have a horsey childhood?

Quite surprisingly I didn’t have a horsey childhood at all even though racing has always been a part of my family. I was always much more interested in playing other sports like rugby and cricket. I don’t think I really sat on a horse properly until I was about fifteen.

How did you get into racing?

Fifteen was very late to start. I was always much more interested in other sports, but because of my family and the area in which I lived I was constantly surrounded by racing.

From about sixteen years of age, I was still pretty small especially for rugby so I decided to give riding a go. I did my A-levels and started riding out for Fergal O’Brien when he was still training point-to-pointers.

Victorious on Perfect Candidate at Cheltenham

Photo Credit: Sharon Slade

Which trainers did you work for?

I was amateur and conditional for Fergal O’Brien. I was there for about 7-8 years. I then did a brief spell with Graeme McPherson and then finished my career with Dan Skelton.

Which were the best horses you’ve ridden?

I’ve been lucky to sit on a few good horses in the early part of my career. I used to ride a really good mare called As I Am on whom I won a lot of decent races. She only retired at five due to injury. I was also lucky to sit on a very good horse of Martin Keighley’s called Champion Court.

Do you have a favourite horse?

Creevytennant was always my favourite – I won a lot of races on him and he really got me going as a jockey. He was a bold front runner who jumped incredibly; he taught me a lot.

What were your best achievements in racing?

I had a double at Cheltenham which was brilliant, especially as I only grew up down the road.

How important was fitness to you as a Jockey?

To be honest I always kept my self reasonably fit, but in my opinion nowhere fit enough. If I knew then what I know now about fitness it would have definitely helped me in my career.

Do you have any advice to anyone coming into racing?

I would recommend they really treat themselves as a professional athlete and surround themselves with the right people.

What generally does racing do well?

I think racing is very good at looking after their own people. Whether that is jockeys in the weighing room, who look out for each other, to the different organisations that are there to help everyone in racing.

Which aspects could it improve?

I think the one thing with racing is that it’s very hard for smaller trainers and jockeys to compete and get opportunities. I’m not sure how this could change though.

Winning again at Cheltenham, on As I Am

Photo Credit: Gloucestershire Live

What did you enjoy most about the racing?

Obviously, I loved winning, but I really enjoyed the buzz of racing. No two days were ever the same and you got to meet some really great characters along the way.

What were your reasons for stopping race riding?

Unfortunately, the opportunities were drying and I also felt like I was ready to pursue a new career.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m currently training to be a personal trainer. However, I’d really like to have my own gym in the future. JETS have been a massive help to me, not just financially but for advice. They are trained to guide you in the right direction. It’s normal not to know what you want to do after riding, as when you are a jockey it’s all you want to do, but they are there to help.

What’s your favourite meal?

Fillet steak.

Favourite drink?

Red wine.

Favourite pub?

The Childswickham Inn, it helps that I live next door.

Favourite holiday destination?

Anywhere I can ski.

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