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Never give up


THE congratulations cards are wedged above the fireplace, battling each other for a good posi. Room is tight, particularly with the plaque as winning jockey of the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in April taking centre stage.

It isn’t exactly Auteuil on the dressing table in the corner either. More testaments to success abound. If you weren't aware initially, you would know within seconds of walking into the sitting room that Jamie Codd is prime-time in his field, a man that crossed the 600-winner mark in point-to-points just over three months ago.

Pride of place goes to the big silver cup festooned with purple and gold ribbons. Codd was presented with The Irish Field Riders’ Trophy in Kilkenny’s Lyrath Hotel last Saturday. Being a proud son of Wexford, a “mad GAA man”, the sight of the colours on the silverware he has pursued for so long, widened the beam of a smile that was already wrinkle-inducing. All that was missing was a cherry on top.

They partied well but now, it’s Tuesday morning, and the 32-year-old is fresh. He will be going to Goffs when this conversation is done, to view some potential superstars ahead of the Land Rover Sale. After that it will be a game of golf.

Little wonder he is cutting a contented figure. As he takes a sip of his coffee, you notice the wristband – mandatory Wexford livery – with the motto ‘Never Give Up’ embossed on it. You would have to say that Jamie Codd is a poster boy for the virtues of perseverance.

Having finished second to Derek O’Connor seven times, the Mayglass man had earned the nickname Dickie, as in Dickie Johnson, the perennial runner-up to AP McCoy in the British jump jockeys’ championship.

Winning the title had become an obsession and there were times he wondered if it was ever going to be for him. The worst was when he broke his wrist last March, while leading. Instead, O’Connor cruised to a 10th consecutive title. As Codd lay in the hospital bed, he felt lower than whale dirt.

But he dusted himself down. Never gave up. And here we are.

The story is in the journey though. It was pretty much an idyllic upbringing as far as Codd is concerned, on a farm with cows, machinery and a couple of point-to-pointers. Aidan O’Brien rode one to victory in Waterford. Billy Codd and neighbour Fintan Codd (no relation) hosted the Lingstown Point-To-Points on their land.

Three years boarding at St Peter’s College were heavenly, with hurling, football, handball and tennis getting all the attention. The books got none, so after the Leaving, his options were limited. The way he describes it, he fell into a job with Willie Mullins. As luck goes, landing on your arse in Closutton must be right up there.

In five years, he received a rounded education on horses and life. Mullins was “a hard man but a fair man”. As a kid, Codd had no interest in the trainer’s modus operandi. He just wanted to ride horses. It is only in recent years, riding work around the country, that he has tended to take trainers’ methods on board. Yet it is no surprise to him that his former boss has become the dominant force in Irish jump racing.

“Willie was… about the little details. I think the big thing is he knows his horses very, very well. He knows when to back off or to do more. And I do think his heavy gallop is a big factor as well.”

Codd rode future Grand National winner, Hedgehunter at Cheltenham; won a hurdle on Rule Supreme, who was a Sun Alliance Chase victor by then. He still considers Missed That, on which he won two bumpers, as “probably the best horse I ever sat on”.

There were a lot of good days and he learned oceans. Not just from the gaffer either. Early on, Ruby Walsh looked at videos with him. James Nash was a guiding light too. Gradually, the man who looked up to Richard Dunwoody initially but grew to idolise the likes of his brother Willie (a former Leinster champion who was “the bomb”) and John Berry (the last Wexford man to be leading point-to-point rider before him in 1993 and also the only other jockey apart from Codd to go through a card with six races or more), developed his own style.

He maintained the links with point-to-pointing and rode his first winner (Eyse) between the flags at Bramblestown in 2001. Kilultagh Thunder was his first on the track that Christmas. For a few years, he was a regular in the winner’s enclosure. Until gradually, he wasn’t resident there so often and Katie Walsh began to fire.

“When I left Willie’s I was like a little child. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I packed up the car and went over to Aidan Fitzgerald’s place and I was nearly crying. It was a big change. What am I gonna do now?

“I went back home and William was starting to take off training and he looked after me there for a while.

“I don’t think I was doing a terrible amount wrong but it’s a game where if you’re not riding winners… I had lost my claim, Katie was coming in and riding well and it just took off. It was like me when I started. I had the seven-pound claim and James Nash didn’t. It just happens.”

That was eight years ago but there was no fallout, no hard feelings. The tenure with Mullins “made a man of me” and Codd has ridden numerous winners for his former boss since. They include Shaneshill in the aforementioned Champion Bumper – his first Grade 1 win – as well as some important point-to-point victories in the past campaign.

And as for Katie? Well, they’re very good friends. After all, his girlfriend, Robyn O’Sullivan is Katie’s sister-in-law. “I’ve no choice” he laughs.

Robyn has been a key stabilising force. He was 28 when they met up, having enjoyed life until then. He considers it no coincidence that his riding better since as he became more serious about how he prepared and went about building contacts.

He thinks of the likes of Cecil Ross, Philip Dempsey, Trevor Horgan, Denis Murphy, Liam Kenny, Gordon Elliott, Jim Dreaper, his brother Willie of course, and many more (“the know who they are”) who have shown him loyalty, which he likes to think he has returned. There is Robert Patton and the team at Old Mill Saddlery, who have been long-standing sponsors. His parents. Robyn’s parents. Her brother, Ross. But Robyn has been the rock.

“Lads are seeing you on the good days and it’s brilliant but the bad days, when you’re lying in the hospital. They’re seeing your bad moods and all. It’s not about the one person that’s doing it. It’s definitely about the whole thing.

“You see the tennis, Andy Murray. See the entourage he has. It is (a team), that network that’s gonna stand by you. I have it, Derek has it. A lot of other lads have it but maybe they don’t’ use it to the same degree we have. But I’m very fortunate to have it.”

In 2008, he actually brple the record for winners in a season with 81 but O’Connor finished on 94. He knew what was possible then. Three years later, he broke the 100 barrier (104) but again, O’Connor bettered his tally, by just six. His confidence was only bolstered though. It was the two broken legs and fractured wrist that made him wonder if he would ever get over the line.

“The first one wasn’t too bad because I’ve been very lucky. I was able to take that on board, got back good and was still able to retain the Leinster, which was a big thing for me.

“Last year was fairly bad. Just the fact I was in front and pushing hard. I wasn’t right from the previous year, my leg was sore. I was still riding winners. When I broke the wrist then, I was on the ground. It took a while to get over that.”

He broke his leg a second time competing in a charity event for Jonjo Bright. His spirit might have shattered too but in truth, it couldn’t have happened at a better place. Knowing why he was there in the first place gave him perspective.

The timing wasn’t bad either. It was last June and he had time to rehab. He felt better starting the last campaign than he had in some time and rode “a fraction better” as a result.

“The key days were back in November. I got a good run in Tatts and Lisronagh… I rode eight or nine winners that weekend and pushed on and got a bit of a lead. Closer, in Ballindenisk back in May, Derek got to within one winner and I got two down there and that was as close as he got.”

When he finished in Ballingarry on Sunday, with a six-winner lead and only six races to go on Monday, he knew he was champion. After all the near-misses, the desire, media spotlight and pressure, there was no exultation though.

“It was just pure relief. The interest that was in it this year was fantastic, fantastic for everybody looking in. Lads have been saying to me for the last three months ‘you have to enjoy it’ and they’re right, you’ should be enjoying it but it’s hard to enjoy it when you’re in the melting pot like that.

“Red Barry is lining up for Wexford in a Leinster final at Croke Park against Dublin, with 60 or 70,000 people. Do you enjoy it? I don’t think you do. Maybe you’ll enjoy it after. But when it’s happening, I don’t think you enjoy these things. I know I will look back on it fondly and say ‘yeah, they were savage days’. But at the time, no.”

He believes that there is another chapter or two in his rivalry with O’Connor, who he praises for the manner in which he took defeat on the chin. Using another GAA analogy, he wonders if his colleague will be like Kilkenny hurlers, coming back even stronger after having a lengthy spell of dominance broken. And maybe the pressure is off O’Connor now that no-one is going to be talking about 11-in-a-row.

“If he’s gonna ride to a better standard next year, I’ll tell you one thing… we’re all in trouble!” smiles Codd.

“He’s a great man. I’ve said it all along. He was a great winner but by God he was a good loser. Very, very gracious in defeat. He hung around there on the Monday in Ballingarry for the celebrations, which is a hard thing to do. I’ve done it a couple of years. I had a beer with him after. It’s a measure of the man.”

Meanwhile, he is enjoying helping his brother build a serious reputation for producing good, young horses. The point-to-point scene was always a nursery but nothing like the extent it is now.

“There’s a lot more money involved. I think in the years back, it was only the few, the Costellos and that, that were selling horses. It’s big business now and big pressure because serious men are taking the chance buying these horses and trying to get the results, selling them on.

“(My brother) finished riding pretty early. He has built up a real good band of owners that are willing to spend a few quid at the sales in the hope of getting a return out of it, as in winning a four-year-old maiden or a five-year-old maiden, and getting paid that way.

“He’s done a great job at home and that has helped me too. It has given me something to look forward to. It makes you work a bit harder because it’s for home as well. I like to be down there schooling, doing little things. It’s coming back to where it started, getting winners, selling horses at the sales. Getting our name up there and that’s what it’s all about. Making those contacts.”

When he tweets about another young prospect, he invariably refers to the Codd Academy. Brand recognition.

That brand is fairly well known now. Tranquil Sea has been the flag-bearer, with two of his 14 wins coming in Grade 1s, four more in Grade 2s. Hopes are high for graduates Tell Us More and Alisier D’Irlande, after they sold for £290,000 and £300,000 respectively at the Brightwell Sales in December and April. The former is now a Gigginstown/Mullins charge that has already won a bumper, while the latter was purchased by Roger Brookhouse.

“It’s nice to be involved with the good horses. A few years ago, I used to love winning, let it be a seven-year-old up mares’ maiden, I didn’t care. It was just winning, winning, winning. But now, it’s the quality.

“I push myself fairly hard, and I push myself during the winter, to be sitting on as many young horses as I can, ‘cos I wanna win those races. They’re so important. You’re going riding a four-year-old or five-year-old for Gordon, Gigginstown, William or Denis Murphy, they’re worth money and you’ve a job to do. I get a great kick out of that. The pressure is on, you want to perform and you want the horse to perform.”

That is reflected in the fact that 75 of his 95 winners were maidens. Apart from his brother’s duo, he likes Denis Murphy’s pair Jeweloftheocean and Corner Creek, while Gordon Elliott’s Stone Hard “could be a really good one”.

So the last week was spent in Goffs, as an extra pair of eyes for his brother and the Doyles, Ross and Peter. After that, he has more golf planned, a few stag parties and the Derby Sale to take in. Then 16 days in Thailand with Robyn. He’ll barely sit on a horse.

When he gets back from his travels, that will be a five-week break. Then it’s back to work, doing the mileage, educating the future stars.

“I get a great kick out of it. I like the involvement, progressing them from breaking them, schooling them to actually winning on them. And then following their careers after they’ve moved on.”

He is in no doubt that one man has played a significant part in creating an environment that has given more people the opportunity to make money from the game.

“Richard Pugh has played a massive role, from where it was 10 years ago, bringing the whole thing forward. With the entries, being able to watch videos on the computer, the publicity, pushing the profile… it’s a passion for him. He loves it. He likes to see everything being right. He’s a big man for the Hunts that are running the point-to-points.

“He just wants to see it going forward and without him, I don’t think we’d be where we are with the young horses selling. The English lads can watch the videos of the horses winning, the results are there straight away. It’s come, so far, so quick and it’s mainly down to him.”

All he needs now is some GAA glory for Wexford. He will be in Wexford Park tonight to watch the hurlers take on Dublin. He thinks they could dethrone the Leinster champions.

The way his year has gone, you couldn’t rule it out.

This article appeared in The Irish Field in June 2014.


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