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Thursday 14 December 2017

Track Talk: Derek O'Connor has to be considered on same level as AP

Jockey Derek O'Connor celebrates winning the141st Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, on Chicago Grey in 2011
Jockey Derek O'Connor celebrates winning the141st Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, on Chicago Grey in 2011

Away from the Cheltenham Festival build up and Tony McCoy's long farewell and racing as a sport hosted another fine accolade last weekend and one that deserves every bit of a mention.

It has been inevitable for some time that Derek O'Connor, the record breaking record breaker of point-to-pointing, was going to hit another milestone and again become the first to do it and last Sunday in Limerick he achieved what he later described as his greatest moment yet in the sport. Riding his 1,000th winner.

Galway native O'Connor has 10-times been the champion rider in the sphere and somehow, despite being as good as unavailable at the weekends during the point-to-point season, even managed to be champion amateur on the track for a year too.

A titanic battle last season saw him narrowly lose out to Jamie Codd but even that was brought down to the very last day before he'd release all grip of the title.

O'Connor became the first man to ride 100 in a season and naturally holds the record tally of winners in a season on 113 as well as boasting two Cheltenham Festival winners to his name.

But you have to take a point-to-point jockey riding 1000 winners (which doesn't include the number he has ridden on the track) into context.

The calendar for point-to-point racing is only six-months long and they only race on Saturday and Sunday with the very odd exception of a couple of Friday meetings and one on a Tuesday and in total there are about 60 different race days in a season.

O'Connor rode one winner in the 1999/2000 season and none the following season. He claimed the novice riders title in 2002/03 and in 2003/04 and the rest really is history.

So, while taking absolutely nothing away from Tony McCoy and all he achieved in 22 seasons, it is worth nothing that O'Connor has partnered over 1,000 winners since 2001/2002 in a season which only has about 60 days, and there is no such thing as agents with point-to-point riders glued to the weekend entries when they come out on a Tuesday afternoon so that they can book their own rides.

O'Connor enjoyed a treble last Sunday to bring him to 1,002 winners and his stats are incredible. Since he started riding he has ridden to over 25 per cent strike rate, so the figures say he'll win on one in every four rides, although so far this season it has been just shy of one in every three rides and unsurprisingly in his record breaking season of 113 winners it was a 31.9 per cent strike rate.

Indeed, the total number of Derek O'Connor's rides that he finished fifth or worse or didn't finish at all on, is less than his total number of winners and well over 700 of his winners in Irish point-to-points have been in maiden races.

Enda Bogler and John Thomas McNamara certainly changed the face of that sphere but Derek O'Connor has undoubtedly brought it to a whole new level, pushed on in recent years by Jamie Codd, but with figures like the above, you would have to wonder just how far he'd have reached had he opted to go down the professional road, although enjoying what he does as much as he does probably means he hasn't one single regret.

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