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An Interview with Top National Hunt Jockey Aidan Coleman

Updated: May 16

As a little brother, Aidan Coleman naturally looked up to sibling Kevin, embarking on the same career in being a jockey. Ironically, a few months after Kevin rode the winner of the 2007 Galway Hurdle on Sir Frederick, Aidan rode his first winner Tashkandi in the October at Uttoxeter for Sarah Humphrey. Aidan still rides for her in a trainer-jockey relationship that has lasted nearly twenty years. A year later, in the 2008-9 season, Aidan won the Champion Conditional Championship with fifty-five wins, and never looked back.

During Aidan's riding career, a standout are the ten wins he’s had on the top-class hurdler Paisley Park, including the 2019 Stayers’ and the Long Walk in ’20 and ’22. Aidan scored at back-to-back Cheltenham Festivals with Put The Kettle On, culminating the '21 Champion Chase, adding to the Schloer Chase in that November. Jonbon has also been a gift with nine wins under Aidan so far, ending last season with Grade 1s Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree and the Celebration Chase at Sandown. In the same green and gold colours of top owner JP McManus, Aidan has won four high profile races on Epatante – the 2020 Fighting Fifth and dead-heating in it in 2021, the Christmas Hurdle in ’21 and an Aintree Hurdle in ’22. Adding to these are the ’21 Becher Case on Snow Leopardess, Taquin Du Seuil won the Bet Victor Gold Cup in '16 and he partnered his thousandth winner on Western Miller at Stratford in the summer of '19.

Aidan, 35, grew up in Inishannon, which is a small village situated west of Cork City, he now lives in Oddington, near Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds. Usually looking for the next Grade 1, the next winner even, Aidan has been sidelined since last June by a horrific knee injury when Ascension Day ran through the wing at Worcester. He is striving to get back in the saddle and continue doing what he loves - and his many friends and supporters in racing are wishing for exactly the same.

Did you have a horsey childhood? Not really – my mum and dad were schoolteachers so weren’t in horsey jobs. My mum did have horses when she was younger but only to a point.

My older brother Kevin learnt to ride around ten and I followed him. I didn’t do any Pony Club, hunting or showjumping. Growing up in Ireland meant horses were never far away – jockey Wayne Loden is from County Cork and other trainers were close by, so we never had to be horsey to have horses close by.

How did you get into racing? Again, I followed my brother. The racing had always been on the TV at home so I wanted to go straight into that. When I was about 11, I went to a local trainer John Murphy, who’d trained New Mill to win a Champion Chase, and then I went pony racing.

Which trainers have you worked for? Coming over here, I spent a year at Henrietta Knight’s and Terry Biddlecombe’s – they were brilliant and really put a lot of work into me behind the scenes, especially schooling and basic riding skills. I had a few rides for them and from there, I went to Venetia Williams. I started there as a 10lb claimer, came stable jockey a year or so later and stayed about eight years. Venetia was brilliant and I had a lot of big winners for her; it was a great time and I was very happy there.

Then, John Ferguson’s Bloomfields base in Newmarket looked like it was going to go places and I was offered the job there, which I took. It was hard to leave Venetia’s but this looked to be an operation that would be successful, which it was but it was very short lived before John had to retire. Then, all of a sudden, I was back on my own again so I rode out for Jonjo O’Neill because he was just up the road. I was stable jockey there for about two seasons, during which we had a few good winners. I loved it at Jonjo’s and learnt so much in two years there – Jonjo was generous with his time and chaperoning me; it was the first time I sat down with a trainer and discussed horses and races; plus, I also got the JP McManus connection.

I then went freelance because Jonjo Junior was coming up through as a young jockey. I’ve since rode a lot of winners for Olly Murphy.

Who do you admire in racing? I always find that a difficult question to answer because there’s so many people in racing that I admire. So many people helped me out when I first started out in Ireland to when I first came over here. Henrietta Knight, Terry Biddlecombe, Venetia Williams, Jonjo O’Neill, JP McManus, John Ferguson – all those have helped me and many more have helped me.

Put The Kettle On

What are your best days in racing? Any Festival winner is up there but Paisley Park has been special. To win my first Grade 1 is great but also to have won lots of graded races on him too for the past four of the past five seasons, especially over three miles. He is a character and has that backstory with his owner Andrew Gemmell. Paisley Park is getting older now but still won a Grade 1 days short of his eleventh birthday. It goes to show how he looks after himself but still wants to win; he’s unlucky not to have won two Stayers’ Hurdles but still has clocked up all those Graded races.

Favourite racecourse: I love Uttoxeter. I’ve also loved riding round Ascot and Aintree.

Favourite meeting: As a professional, the Cheltenham Festival is where everyone needs to be but the Aintree Festival is so atmospheric and I’d always recommend people go there on a day out. The Cheltenham November meeting has good racing but isn’t as commercial as March.

Race you’d most like to ride the winner of: The Grand National.

Racehorse you’d most likely to have ridden: Kauto Star – the longevity of his career was amazing.

What do you love about racing? That there’s so much joy behind racing and everyone gets enjoyment out of a winner. It’s the immediate connections – the owner, trainer and, back in the yard, the person who rides it to the person who looks after it, the head lads; then the jockey, the punter…one horse wins any race on any day and all of a sudden, there’s umpteen people getting a kick out of it. It doesn’t have to be a Cheltenham or Aintree winner either, it can be Southwell in the summer but at the bigger meetings, this joy is multiplied. I think it’s cool how racing does that.

I take it for granted as I’m a jockey but there are so many factors that can make a winner special – the horse could’ve had a long time off, the owner might never have had a winner or be ill or have lost a loved one and someone can still get joy from a winner.

What’s it like behind the scenes in the weighing room? It’s hard to describe but it’s an amazing, special place full of camaraderie. It’s basically just a changing room where we’re competitive with each other but we’re on the same team – what’s good for one is good for everybody. The person I’m sitting next to is out to beat me and I’m out to beat them but we all look after each other.

It goes outside the weighing room too. When I had my fall, my mobile phone was brought to me in the ambulance and they brought my car home. Jonj gave me his Game Ready and the lads came to the hospital and brought stuff to my house because I couldn’t get anywhere.

The valets are a big part of that too – they go above and beyond. They’re at the races two hours before the first and two hours after the last and it’s all day, every day. They do everything for us – they know when to leave us alone and get everything ready for us. No one really knows the significance of what the valets do for jockeys – they are massively forgotten; they simply do everything.

Favourite racing celebration: AP McCoy’s party at Adare Manor.

Ideal celebrity date: Margot Robbie.

Favourite meal: Italian – any pasta dish or pizza.

Favourite drink: A pint of lager.

Favourite snack: Crisps but I’m trying to get out of them!

Favourite holiday destination: Skiing. A few of us try to go skiing every year – Sam Twiston-Davies, Tom Cannon and a few more.

Favourite book: I do read and, because we spend a lot of time in the car, I listen to a lot of audio books. The most recent book I’ve read is Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, that’s very very good but the best book I’ve ever read is I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes – I really recommend that.

Favourite music: All music but especially indie-country-folk. I’m on Spotify a lot, especially in the car.

Favourite movie: I probably don’t have one anymore – I’ve watched so many movies. Nowadays, I do love a series and enjoyed Yellowstone a lot.

Other hobbies: Reading, travelling and I used to like golf.

Winning 2022 Long Walk on Paisley Park, holidays with the lads and bull wrestling in Pamplona, Spain

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