Keith Donoghue's National Hunt Season Five To Follow

<p>It's great to be back writing for the season with Hopefully my recent luck can continue into the rest of the year. It's properly getting going now and Gordon has a few of our big guns heading to Down Royal this weekend!</p>

Keith Donoghue's National Hunt Season Five To Follow
Keith Donoghue's National Hunt Season Five To Follow

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Great Start To The Season

It's been an amazing few weeks for me. I've had 24 winners so far this term from 170 rides. Over the last few years I wasn't even getting 170 rides in a season, let alone this many winners! It's been really great and I'm very appreciative of everyone who is supporting me.

Everything has turned right around since the first lockdown in March. I wasn't in a great place mentally in the first few months of the year, and my well known struggles with weight weren't helping matters either. I wasn't getting many rides at all and that can be very hard to take for a jockey when you work as hard as we do behind the scenes. If it wasn't for the fact that I had Tiger Roll to look forward to at Cheltenham, there was a good chance I was walking away from being a jockey. It was getting very tough to keep going.

After Cheltenham, lockdown hit and I was probably the only person in racing who was absolutely delighted. I took a few days off completely and just relaxed. I had a good think about things and decided that lockdown could go two ways for me, either I put on two or three stone or I had the chance to work harder than I ever have before to get my weight down as much as possible. I decided to give it a good go.

I train now like I'm a professional runner instead of training like a jockey, and it's worked very well for me. On average, I run 80 kilometres every week and have a consistent program to follow from the brilliant Maria Kealy Fitness, who I owe a lot to. This program is a mixture of loads of workouts like core work, sprint interval training and then endurance running. My diet has been completely changed as well, but I have to thank my mother for this, I'm not much of a cook! Simply put, this combination has worked brilliantly for me.

Over the last few years there have been points when I've really struggled to get down to 11-12, with my absolute minimum riding weight of 11-4. The problem was that when I would get down to 11-4, I would put that weight back on immediately after drinking water and eating a normal meal. This just wasn't good for me at all.

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After this training regime I'm now comfortably riding at 11-0. Those four extra pounds make the world of difference to a jockey. I'm now able to ride in 3-year-old hurdles and conditions races, it just means that getting rides is a bit easier as I can spread my net wider. I'm in a much better place physically and mentally as a result and I feel great.

Here's hoping my luck continues over the next few months.

Down Royal

I rode a few really nice ones over the summer, with one being Darver Star who impressed me a lot at Punchestown a few weeks ago. He gave me a great feel, he improved as the race went on and he will have learned a lot from that. I'm delighted Jonathan Moore is back from injury and he'll resume his partnership with him next time no doubt, but Darver Star is a ride any jockey would love to have! That's racing though and I wish connections the best of luck this season.

The Storyteller is another who I've loved being on this summer, he's a horse I get on really well with and I've won on him now five times from six starts together. I hope to get the leg up again at some point and I actually think he could run very well if he runs this weekend as intended at Down Royal.

Eskylane was another who gave me a great feel and he will improve a lot for that run. He jumped great, but he got quite tired at the end, like a few of ours have who are needing the run. He's an exciting horse and he'll be comfortable over most trips as well.

Those of you who read this column last year will know how much I love Envoi Allen and I'm happy to report he's in great form ahead of Down Royal this weekend. I schooled him over a few fences on grass on Tuesday and he was great. He's an absolute natural.

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He's such a pleasure to have around the place and the sky is the limit for him. I have always thought fences would bring out even more improvement and that's a scary thought with the massive level of ability he's already shown.

Samcro is in great form and should enjoy a good season again, sticking over the middle distances for the year you'd think, even though I think he'd be fine going up in trip as he saves a lot for himself. Queens Brook should run on Friday and she's a very exciting prospect to look forward to. She should improve a lot for that first run this season.

5 To Follow For The Season

I've put together a five to follow for the season ahead, but I've tried to stay away from the main horses you all know about! Below are some of the horses from the yard I think could surprise a few this season.

Escaria Ten: This lad is owned by the McNeill Family and he's a horse I quite like. He's working quite well at home, and over hurdles he won twice impressively last season. Before that ran very well to chase home Diol Ker who is a good one. His Cheltenham run should be forgiven as it was probably just a bit too much too soon for him. He might be one for handicaps later in the season, but I see no reason why he couldn't surprise a few at the top level when he steps up in trip. Proper staying races will be his game and he's one to keep on side.

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Hollow Games: Hollow Games is a bumper horse who is doing everything right at home at the moment. He won his point very impressively at Tortilla and while there seems to be a big buzz around for another bumper horse of ours in Sir Gerard, I also like the look of this lad. He's a big grinder who will make into a really classy chaser in time, but he should pay his way in bumpers beforehand.

Homme D'un Soir: He's a 4-year-old owned by Simon Munir & Isaac Souede who gave me a great feel at Wexford a few days ago. He got tired at the end, but he's the sort of horse who could well run up a sequence now with that behind him. It's hard to know where his ceiling in terms of ability might be, but he should definitely be paying his way this year.

Coko Beach: Another horse I got beaten on in the last few days, but he ran a huge race at Galway last week and will improve a lot for going up in trip even further. He really stayed going when he was passed by Pencilfulloflead, who is a good horse himself, and might be one for staying handicaps at the end of the season. He ran a great race in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival and there is plenty to come from this 5-year-old over fences.

Easywork: Obviously Envoi Allen is the most exciting young horse in the yard and rightfully so, but I don't think Easywork gets enough praise for how well he ran last season. Also, it would be a bit boring of me to put Envoi Allen in my five to follow! That was a huge run in the Ballymore last season from Easywork and his form before that was quite strong. He looks like a natural over fences, and it will be very interesting to see what trip Gordon decides to keep this lad over this season. He will cross paths with Envoi Allen no doubt, but he should win plenty himself this season.

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