Tipping Point: Cheltenham win would be fitting reward for Roger Loughran

Jockey who showed class under pressure over a decade ago one of racing’s good guys

Funny how names bubble up out of the ether in sport long after they'd leaked out one of the myriad holes in the memory bucket. Scanning through some of the entries and jockey bookings for Cheltenham this week, Roger Loughran fairly jumped off the screen. Well now, there's a name.

For anyone who doesn’t remember, there was about a 48-hour period back at the fag end of 2005 when Roger Loughran was, sadly, the most famous jockey in the world.

In a time before Facebook or Twitter or any of that jazz, he still managed to go viral before going viral was a thing that had a name. Made the racing pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, no less.

The reason was pure mortification. Riding for Dessie Hughes, he stood up on his horse Central House a good 70 metres short of the winning post at Leopardstown in a big race at Christmas. He'd seen a phantom winning post at the end of the running rail and rose to his full height in the irons to wave his whip at the crowd, only realising his mistake as two horses flashed past, their jockeys rowing away for all they were worth. Live on TV, he had nowhere to hide.


The reason the name leapt out from all the others over the weekend wasn’t so much for the incident itself but a memory of meeting Loughran a couple of months later for an interview.

It was a Wednesday night in a pub in Kildare town and the reason we were there at 8.30 in the evening was that Loughran had been riding in Down Royal that day and it was the only time suitable for him.

It had been a long and entirely fruitless trip north for him that day. He went up for one ride, a half-promising yoke called What A Perk for Arthur Moore in a handicap chase. They'd been going reasonably well too until What A Perk decided he'd had enough of Loughran's companionship and sent him sky-diving at the fifth fence.

Where he summoned the patience from to sit down and endure the company of a nosy newspaperman that night has always been a mystery to me. But he did and he was polite and friendly and thoroughly decent about it. He talked through the Christmas race as if it wasn’t the hundredth time he’d been asked. He had every reason to be weary and/or shirty but he was neither. You could only hope for good things for a guy like that.

The years rolled by and Roger Loughran’s name gradually disappeared from view, unseen by all but those who are immersed in the day-by-day of racing. His numbers went down – winners, good horses, bad horses, any horses. He was still out there but only just. Hidden in plain sight.

Minority sport

This happens in racing, far more so than in any other sport with a comparable number of professionals making a living in Ireland. Professional jockeys outnumber professional rugby players here but in visibility terms, they aren’t mapped.

There are countless Roger Loughrans shuffling from track to track as the weeks roll by, yet outside of the top dozen or so, who do you ever hear of? What do you know about any of them? Next to nothing, is what.

A major reason for that, clearly, is the way racing is covered in the media. When the vast majority of racing coverage is related to betting, it colonises the space that could otherwise be given to fleshing out the people involved in the actual sport.

Racing is the only minority sport guaranteed at least a full page in every daily newspaper and the only one with its own daily trade paper. But as long as everything is shot through the prism of what the odds say, there’s damn little room or attention for anything else.

There’s always a grand splash of irony in the fact that the biggest betting week of the year is the one time when the general sports media goes a bit deeper and tells more of the stories of the people behind the prices.

The Off The Ball lads had a brilliant half-hour package from Gordon Elliot's yard the week before last; RTÉ's main Saturday radio show had David Casey, Andy McNamara and John McIntyre chewing the fat for an hour over the weekend. It was all the sort of stuff you'd happily sit in the car listening to long after you pulled up in the driveway. Any time of the year.

We all do it. We all cover racing the way it’s always been covered. Entries, weights and jockey bookings, winners, losers and prices. Along the way, we either gloss over interesting stories or just decide that the average sports consumer is more interested in being told what to back.

And then Roger Loughran’s name bounces up off the screen and hits you in the nose. He didn’t disappear at all, it turns out. He dug in through the recession, kept working, kept grinding his way back. And this week, he goes to Cheltenham with two right chances, both in the space of half an hour on Wednesday afternoon.

So keep an eye out for Acapella Bourgeois in the RSA and Peregrine Run in the Coral Cup. Both of them will have a decent man on their backs, a man with a right story to tell.