No jockey enjoys losing but for Gold Cup winner Paddy Brennan a defeat has been known to trigger outbursts he is not proud of. Thankfully, for Brennan and his weighing room colleagues, he has been back among the big winners after a spell in the wilderness.
Brennan’s journey to the top of the mountain – his most famous day coming at Cheltenham in March 2010 on board Imperial Commander – was long and bumpy, including plenty of down days.
Now 40, Brennan might be beginning to entertain thoughts of retirement but, in his partnership with the increasing power that is trainer Fergal O’Brien, the rider’s numbers show no sign of slowing.
“I’ve been a jockey now for 24 years,” Brennan told Sky Sports Racing. “It’s a long time and there’s been many ups and many downs. That kind of life you have to live there’s going to be lots of stories.
“At the early stage of my career I just wanted it so bad and I definitely used to fly off the handle a lot more then. I couldn’t have continued on like that, the way I behaved at that part of my career.
“Saddles would go flying, you speak to people like you couldn’t speak to them now and some of that you wouldn’t be very proud of.
“Jockeys have to be a bit different. When you’re getting falls and stuff like that all the time you’ve got to be a little bit mad.”
You win a race like that and you just get mentally drunk immediately… you feel like God but it doesn’t last.
Brennan’s emotive nature means winners are often enjoyed as passionately.
“I get excited sometimes when I win a maiden hurdle, that’s just the person I am,” he said.
“It’s in the moment and I don’t like doing it all the time but winning a race you shouldn’t win is a brilliant feeling.”
Brennan, an established star of jump racing, actually began his career on the flat in Ireland, learning his trade from master Irish trainer Jim Bolger.
“He soon straightened out ‘manic Paddy’,” Brennan explained. “He’s the first person I think I was ever scared of.
“Jim Bolger walking from his house down to the yard and the sound of his shoes, I can remember like it was yesterday. You knew he was coming and you got in shape or started doing more of whatever you were doing.
“When he arrived I’ve never seen so many people run. Everyone was scared of him.”
Having struggled to make the light weights associated with the flat game, Brennan switched codes and headed for England in 2000.
An initial period with Paul Nicholls was followed by a critical move to Philip Hobbs.
“When I came to England I expected things to happen a lot quicker than they did but I wasn’t ready for it and it was a lot harder to get going than I expected,” Brennan explained.
“Philip’s advice was the most hurtful of all because he’d just say it. There was no raising of the voice.
“Philip Hobbs is what’s needed more or what’s missing for young jockeys. It’s just proper education of how to behave.”
Having seemingly impressed his new boss, Brennan would soon be recommended to fellow handler Nigel Twiston-Davies, kick-starting an unforgettable and dramatic rise to winning jump racing’s ultimate prize.
Before that most glorious day in Gloucestershire, however, Brennan would have to learn another harsh lesson as Imperial Commander clashed with Nicholls’ reigning Gold Cup champion Kauto Star and his legendary jockey Ruby Walsh in the 2009 Betfair Chase at Haydock.
“Ruby Walsh was just unbelievable that day. I learned more from him that day than I’ve ever learned from any jockey.
“We jumped four out and he said: ‘You’ve got me, Paddy’. He was getting in my head with mind games.
“He was fuelling me and I didn’t need any fuel. I pressed the green button too soon that day because of [Walsh’s] brilliance.”
Brennan would have to wait just under four months to exact his revenge in the Gold Cup as 7/1 shot Imperial Commander gave the Irishman his greatest day in the saddle.
“That was massive,” Brennan said. “That’s what you’ve got to remember, days like that.
“You win a race like that and you just get mentally drunk immediately. I could have just drank water for the next few days, it was a great feeling.
“You feel like God but it doesn’t last.”
A shock exit from his job with Twiston-Davies, a little over a year after they had shared Gold Cup glory, sparked a relative decline for Brennan as top-level rides dried up.
Grade One success eluded him for over four years until the arrival of another Cheltenham hopeful, Colin Tizzard’s star chaser Cue Card.
The pair tasted glory in the Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase en route to the 2016 Gold Cup where Brennan was left in despair after a late fall, having looked the likely winner.
Brennan recalled: “I got to a time in my career when I was winning so many Grade Ones, including the Gold Cup, and suddenly that ended and you’re coming down off the mountain.
“Cue Card was a big thing that came along but as time’s gone on I’ve recognised that the issue started many years before that.
“That day really took years [to get over]. It was really hard. There are so many other people struggling out there now and I can recognise that because I’ve been there.
“It would be a dream to even get near that again [winning a Gold Cup] but over time you learn to accept that you have got to figure out why that didn’t happen and maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
“I know I messed it up but I’m glad I’ve slowly got back to where I’m meant to be.”
Brennan is back thriving as stable jockey for O’Brien – now in partnership with fellow trainer Graeme McPherson – and currently sits third in the jump jockeys championship, having amassed 43 winners from 156 rides so far this season, at an impressive 28 per cent strike rate.
“Fergal has been massive for me,” Brennan said. “It was hard for a few years because I was not getting to ride in Gold Cups but then suddenly Fergal has taken me.
“It’s come at the end of my career, but having got back up to where I want to be means I will be much happier and content when I decide that that’s me done.”
As for how long ‘manic Paddy’ plans to go on race riding? “It changes all the time,” he said.
“I’ll definitely try and ride for two or three more years but it is jump racing so who knows.”
Watch ‘Inside the mind of Paddy Brennan’ on Sky Sports Racing at 9.30am on Wednesday, October 20
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