Rory Cleary: ‘Getting To Know One Of Jim Bolger’s Main Jockeys’

Earlier this week, Jim Bolger told TDN Europe that the stable jockey void left by his retired son-in-law Kevin Manning would be filled by Rory Cleary and Luke McAteer.

   Cleary has already recorded big-race success for his long-standing boss, when guiding Mac Swiney (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}) to G1 Irish 2000 Guineas glory in 2021, and has opened up about what it means to be provided with an opportunity to play a bigger role at Coolcullen Stables this season.

   As well as being a key cog in Coolcullen’s wheel, Cleary is also a hugely-respected breeze-up rider, and has a long and successful association with Eddie O’Leary’s Lynn Lodge Stud outfit.

   In this week’s Starfield Stud-sponsored Q&A, Cleary speaks about that famous day with Mac Swiney, his passion for young horses, including showjumpers, and how excited he is about the new season.


Brian Sheerin: Jim Bolger firmed up riding plans for the stable this week and confirmed that he was looking to yourself and Luke McAteer to fill the void left by Kevin Manning. That must have provided you with a boost.

Rory Cleary: It’s great to hear it. That’s the reason why I am still there working for Jim Bolger because, any time there has been a spare ride going, he never looked outside the yard. It’s going to be an exciting start to the year and hopefully it all goes well and we can keep it that way.


What did it mean to ride a Classic winner aboard Mac Swiney in the Irish Guineas?

To ride a Classic winner, it means the world to any jockey, and it was amazing to do it. Because of Covid, the public weren’t there but the jockeys made it really special for me as they came out in force and welcomed me back into the winner’s enclosure. We did fancy Mac Swiney, especially when the rain came. It’s not like he was a no-hoper. You know that when a man like Jim Bolger runs one in a big race, you are not there to make up the numbers, so it was amazing when it happened. It’s something I’ll never forget.


You are widely regarded as one of the busiest jockeys in the weighroom. Give us an idea of what a normal day looks like for you?

I ride out for Jim Bolger every morning and normally ride work for whoever I can on the Curragh in the afternoons. I was in Tally-Ho today to ride breeze-up horses for Lynn Lodge Stud and then came back to my own place in Kildare where I rode a few of my own horses.


That’s a lot of miles.

It’s a good few alright. Bolger’s would be about a 50-minute drive every morning. I’d normally ride five or six lots in there and, on a work morning, I could ride a few more on top of that.


How much of an influence has Jim had on your career and what has it been like to be associated with the yard for over a decade now.

I’m with Jim for 12 years now and it’s been unbelievable. Just the routine of the place, the facilities that he has, it makes it a great place to work. Not only has it been a great place to work, but it has been a great place to learn. I have been very lucky to be riding work with Kevin Manning and Gordon Power. There are plenty of top-class lads down there from the ground up. There are men there who would be able to train in their own right but they are happy working for Jim. For me, it’s been a great place to be.


Mac Swiney, with Cleary in the saddle, winning the Irish 2000 Guineas |

You rode just one winner for Jim last season but it turned out to be in the G3 Eyrefield S. I suppose that shows that, even as the number two rider, top-class spares were going to fall your way, like we saw when you won the Irish 2000 Guineas aboard Mac Swiney.

Last year was a bit of a frustrating one for me to be honest. With the weights rising from 8st 4lbs to 8st 7lbs because of Covid, it took away those light weights from the big handicaps, which have been my bread and butter down through the years. Myself, Niall McCullagh and Wayne Lordan and a few others, we’d always have done light pretty easy, and in those big premier handicaps, you were bound to come in for some lovely spares. That didn’t really happen last year with the weights going up. Take Verhoyen (GB) (Piccolo {GB}) for example, I won a Scurry H. on him because Billy Lee, his regular rider, couldn’t do the weight. That was a nice spare to get. With the weights rising, it’s gone very competitive and it’s hard to get a ride in those races now.


You mentioned you do plenty of work with the breezers. Obviously they will be cranking up a notch in their work around this time of year. Are there any younger sires who have caught your attention at this early stage in the year?

The breeze-up side of things has gone very competitive and a lot of the consignors have really upped their game in recent years. They have bought the big pedigree horses by top sires so there’s a lot of quality there. Yes, there’s a few first-season sires on the scene and it’s always interesting to see them coming along. I have ridden a Blue Point (Ire) for Lynn Lodge Stud and he’s a nice horse, he’s definitely quick, but I wouldn’t be able to say I like the progeny of this sire or that sire until I’ve sat on a few of them. I haven’t sat on a whole pile of horses by first-season sires but, on the Blue Point I rode, I liked him.


Do you ride for many other breeze-up yards?

I ride mainly for Eddie O’Leary. He actually got me started with the breezers and I’m doing it a long time for him now. I also ride a good bit for Katie Walsh at Greenhills Farm and she has had a lot of success in recent years.


Have you ridden many of the horses bound for Goffs Dubai Breeze Up Sale, the first one of the year?

I have and they are all big, good-looking dirt-bred horses who won’t come into their own until they are 3-year-olds. They are horses who take a bit of time. Eddie has two going out there. I’ve sat on the two of them and they’re impressive.


Would you breeze a few yourself?

I’ve two this year and hopefully it goes okay. One of them is showing plenty, so hopefully we get well-paid for her. She’s by Raven’s Pass and she goes really nicely. Hopefully she’ll either go to the Tattersalls Guineas Sale or else the Goresbridge Sale at Fairyhouse. We’ve a nice filly by Highland Reel (Ire), but she’ll take a bit more time. Hopefully she’ll go to Fairyhouse.


It’s not only the breezers that you trade. I know the showjumpers are close to your heart and you’ve had quite a bit of luck with them.

Myself and my wife, we have a small yard in Kildare and we breed sport horses. We produce them on for all sorts of phases; hunters, eventers and showjumpers. Some of them might just end up being leisure horses. We do a lot of breaking and pre-training as well.


Rory Cleary is all smiles after winning the Irish 2000 Guineas aboard Mac Swiney for Jim Bolger |

What would the market be like for a good showjumper?

We don’t have the high-end horses but we’re hoping to get into that bracket. In time, we’d like to get into the bigger and better horses but, at the moment, we’re doing it on a small scale. Thankfully it’s worked out well and we’ve traded horses to America, England, Holland, Germany and lots of other places so it’s going well. Not only that, the people who have bought off us have come back and bought off us again.


And who would you pre-train for?

We mainly break horses in. I broke a lot of yearlings this year that will end up going breezing. I broke a lot of Cormac Farrell’s horses and he plans on breezing a lot of those. They are all going well and he has a nice filly by Frosted going to Dubai. He has a nice bunch over both codes and is a busy man. He’s constantly on the road and is doing very well for himself.


I spoke to your father Tom about a half an hour after you won the Guineas on Mac Swiney. Obviously, he couldn’t be there because of Covid but you could hear what the win meant to him and the Cleary family as a whole.

It was a very proud moment for us all and I know they got a great kick out of it. You know, if it wasn’t for the input of my parents, with Dad training the few horses and Mam starting us off on the ponies, who’s to say we’d have had the passion for it. It’s down to them that we developed the passion. For all the hard work they put in–they were never off the road bringing us showjumping, hunting or pony racing, and kept good horses under us–it meant a lot.


Have you ever thought about life beyond the saddle? Would you ever think of training like your father?

We’ll pre-train anyway but, to be honest, I really enjoy the breeze-up side of things and the sport horses as well. My wife is a huge help to me in the yard and does all of the mucking out and, when I have them broken and riding, she rides them out with me as well. It’s something we really enjoy doing together. We’ve the kids coming along and they’ve the ponies as well. We don’t know what way we could but it will be something involved with horses, that’s for sure.

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