Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Man Apart

A Man Apart

by Stephen Dwyer

By the time he was three years old, Barry Connell knew what he wanted from life. His father Patrick brought his little boy to race meeting every week, after which Barry desired nothing more than to be a jockey.

Fast forward forty years, Barry Connell is a successful fund manager, having established Merrion Capital, a stockbroking firm, he then established a 50-50 joint venture called Rockview Merrion Investments. Rockview manages a hedge fund for high net worth individuals. Success was quick to arrive and Barry’s brainchild was worth €35m in a few short years.

Racing fans will be familiar with the Rockview series of bumpers which Connell has sponsored since 2005. javascript:void(0)The Rockview series is run over ten tracks and allows qualified riders to accumulate points in designated bumpers. At the end of the year, the final takes place at the Curragh and it recognises the leading qualified rider, the winner is handed a €2,500 Holiday Voucher .Patrick Mullins is in the hunt for a hat trick of titles this year, Katie Walsh won it in 2006 and 2007 and Niall “Slippers” Madden claimed it in 2005. It’s a fine idea and one of the ways of demonstrating the interest that Barry Connell has for the sport.

As well as being a sponsor, Connell is a successful dual owner and jockey. Last year saw 13 winners, including his biggest ever Irish success Rock And Roll Kid in the valuable Tote Mile Handicap at Galway. Shinrock Paddy also won The Barry & Sandra Kelly Memorial Novice Hurdle at Navan. He also joined the elite few of Cheltenham winning owners when Pedrobob landed the 2007 County Hurdle under Philip Carberry.

Self admittedly, the main reason for getting involved in horses was to ride them and fulfil that childhood dream. Ever a man for self-actualisation, 1999 saw Connell taking out a jockey’s license to ride in a charity race over one mile six furlongs at Fairyhouse. On the day, he rode his own horse, Bushman's River, to victory by a short-head and was bitten by the riding bug.

No doubt he is a latecomer to the game but his enthusiasm and exuberance for riding are admirable. At 51, the same age as Mick Kinane, Connell has had many successful days riding his horses to success in bumpers. He even won a bumper at the November Cheltenham meet of 2003 when riding The Posh Paddy which was surely a career highlight. He does not ride over hurdles but his famous yellow and dark blue colours have won him many admirers.

His riding style is unique, sitting high in the saddle he is not a purist, he does not come from an area steeped in the equine world; he is a Southside Dubliner with no riding background. At times his riding approach was abecedarian but that was not the case in Stratford last year aboard his £60,000 purchase, Frascati Park. Going left-handed for the first time, the 6/5 favourite hung badly right. Connell appeared to lose everything, he dropped his whip, he lost the off-side rein, in fact he lost everything but his nerve. Appearing calm and in control, he sat motionless on the horse and won by a neck on the line, he was subsequently given the At The Races ride of the week. The Racing Post was suitably impressed at this feat when writing “this true Corinthian did not put the bump into Bumper”.

Retiring this week due to a prolonged riding injury in his left arm, Connell will still be heavily involved with racing. His last winner as a rider was aboard Bullock Harbour at last months’ Listowel Harvest Festival, it was the second win of 2010 following on from six wins in 2009.

Appearing as he did on race cards as Mr. B Connell, he has to be admired for fulfilling his lifelong dream, defying his age and being a man with the courage of his convictions.

In 2008 he was asked if the racing bug had left his system and if had had plans on retiring, he replied in the negative noting "look at the Flat jockeys and some of them can ride away well into their 50’s”.

Yet another job done for a man apart.

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