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Press Release 13th March 2023 Cheltenham

By Nick Seddon

Irish jockey Sean Flanagan has revealed that he dreams of becoming a commercial pilot once his riding career has finished, as he prepares to fly himself over for this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The 34 year old first started flying around five years ago and since then he has made something of a habit of flying over to the UK for the big racing festivals – taking several weighing room colleagues with him along the way.

Flanagan flew himself and fellow jockey Ricky Doyle to last year’s Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree and this year he will be bringing along weighing room colleague Donagh Meyler for the trip, in a Robin DR400 which he owns with some friends.

And Flanagan, whose WhatsApp picture shows him wearing the silks of high-profile racehorse owner and Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, revealed that he would like to one day swap the saddle for a commercial pilot’s licence.

He said: “I’ve been flying for about four or five years now and I’ve probably clocked up close to 300 hours of flight time.

“I previously owned a plane on my own and then I sold that and a group of us got together, and we bought a plane, which is a four-seater and has 180 horsepower.

“This one is a little bit bigger and a little bit faster than the last one. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather today and the past couple of days and there’s been a nice wind this morning.

“With that in mind I made decision this morning that I was going to fly over and I spent an hour sat down to go through the weather and file flight plans and call in to Gloucester Airport – so just boxing things off. It’s a small bit of paperwork but now we’re good to crack on now.

“Donagh Meyler is the bravest man in the weighing room at the minute as he is the man who’s jumping in with me in the morning!

“I’ve taken a bit of stick and I’m a bit of a jack the lad in the car, my driving can be a bit erratic at times so some of the jockeys have said they wouldn’t get in a car with me never mind a plane!

“When you’re learning to fly though it’s all by the book and it’s not something you can really take a chance with, so I like to make sure I do things right.

“I’ve always said that flying is something I’d love to do when I retire from the saddle and I’ve kind of always worked towards it, but I really do need to give myself a kick in the backside and start doing the ATPL exams - there’s 14 written exams to do but once you’ve ticked those off you’re almost there.

“It’s that part which is going to be the hardest for me to do at the minute as I’m riding for many different yards and I’m in a different place every day. It’s a bit of a juggling act at the moment but I do believe I’ll sit down for those in the next year or so and start getting stuck into it.

“Once you’ve done that you’re almost there and you can start getting your commercial license and things like that. After that you can go to Aer Lingus or Ryanair or anywhere. Mr O’Leary won’t let me ride his horses, so I’ll just have to fly his planes!

“I’ve no plans to quit the saddle at the moment though. I had a fairly severe eye-opener yesterday when Liam Burke rode a winner at the age of 66 at Limerick - he rode his last winner the year I was born! I pointed that out to him and he said I’ve got a long way to go to catch up with him!”

Flanagan is in new territory at this year’s Festival having taken the bold decision to go freelance last summer, but he is hoping to have several rides across the week.

One of those is on board the Paul Nolan-trained Metamorpheus, who is a 20-1 chance for Tuesday’s penultimate Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. It is a race which is close to the heart of Flanagan, who recorded his sole winner at the Festival when striking in the race with 80-1 outsider Jeff Kidder in 2021 and he revealed that he is hopeful of a good run.

He said: “I’m going to be there all week. I’ve got one tomorrow and a couple booked on Friday in the Triumph and the Albert Bartlett, and then there’s a couple of possibilities during the week as well – so we’ll just have to see how we go.

“Metamorpheus won on soft/heavy ground over here in January but it’s obviously a different ball game – though I wouldn’t be opposed to a drop of rain between now and race time! It would have been slow ground that day and he’s not a very big horse but he’s a juvenile and they’re all in the same kind of bracket.

“He jumps and travels well and he seems like he stays quite well, which I think is key for a competitive handicap at Cheltenham. He ticks a lot of boxes and he’s got in with a nice weight on his back, so he’s certainly got a chance. More so than a lot of things you need a lot of luck on your side in competitive races like that, you need things to fall your way.

“I rode the winner of that race two years ago with Jeff Kidder. I’ve been used to going there for the past five or six years with the support of a yard so it’s different this year with me being a freelancer.

“I’ve been in a lot of different yards though and I suppose that has opened a lot of different doors through a bit of variability. I missed a crucial part of the year through injury when I was just starting to think I was breaking into a couple of yards but I’m happy and I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m a realist and I’ll just keep going until I can’t keep going anymore.”


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