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Billy Loughnane reflects on amazing start to career after winning 14 of first 20 races

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Tales of the sacrifice and denial of a jockey’s life are for another day. Billy Loughnane is having the time of his life.

The 16-year-old, who takes six mounts at Lingfield Park on Saturday afternoon, currently sits at the top of the jockeys’ standings for 2023, his 14 winners – out of a career tally of 20 – gained at a strike-rate approaching one in four.

“It’s happened so quickly – I didn’t expect it to take off the way it has,” admits Loughnane. “It’s unbelievable, the way things are going.”

Watching the teenage apprentice’s composure in the saddle, it stretches credibility that just 89 days have passed since he took his first mount aboard Starfighter, trained by his father, Mark, in a 10-furlong handicap at Newcastle.

“I was really nervous – I was bricking it!” recalls Loughnane. “I had ridden the horse at home and I had ridden at Newcastle pony racing but I knew it would be so different.

“You’re riding against professional jockeys. They know what they are doing!”

So does Loughnane, if the past three months are any guide. His family relocated to Britain in 2011, nine years after Mark had started his training career in Co Tipperary.

“Dad’s been a trainer since I was born, so I was brought up around racehorses and ponies – I started riding a rocking horse from day one,” recounts Loughnane.

“Ever since I went to school in Ireland, when I was asked what I wanted to be, it was always a jockey. I did showjumping after we moved to England and did that until I was 13 but I always wanted to do pony racing – that was the main goal.

Jockey Billy Loughnane and his father Mark pictured at Wolverhampton Racecourse
(
PA)

“So I started pony racing when I was 13 and raced up until October, when I was champion pony rider.”

His 20th success, secured aboard Glorious Angel at Newcastle on Friday, reduced Loughnane’s riding allowance from 7lb to 5lb. The young jockey’s claim is a finite resource – it shrinks to 3lb after 50 victories and disappears altogether after 95.

So an imminent working holiday in America with Miami-based trainer David Meah will preserve Loughnane’s subsidy until the start of the 2023 turf campaign, when the aim is a challenge for the apprentice championship.

“I just want to ride as many winners as possible,” admits Loughnane. “But my agent, Sash Righton, my jockey coach, Rodi Greene, dad and I had a meeting to finalise what we were going to do.

Little Roman (black and white colours) was one of Billy Loughnane’s recent winners
(
Getty)

“I’ll go out in the first or second week of February and stay for three to four weeks. I will ride work there, try to learn a bit more about pace and try to get better for when I come back.

“To protect my 5lb claim, and to give myself the best chance of having a go at the apprentice title in the summer – that’s my main goal – we have to take a bit of a break. I didn’t know if I’d be good enough to have a go at it this year, but we’re going to give it our best shot.”

Three months ago, the weighing room’s elite were Loughnane’s idols. They are now his rivals.

“It’s amazing to be riding against the likes of William Buick and Tom Marquand, and I still look up to them,” reflects Loughnane. “But you’ve got to compete against them. A lot of work has gone into it – I grew up watching Frankel win all his big races, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

“The ball is rolling – we’ve got momentum at the minute – and hopefully it keeps going.”

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