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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jack Gilligan - Jockey

Jack Gilligan – Jockey

When I first met Jack, he was a 14 year old jockey student at the British Racing School who was visiting Lexington on a Sister Cities Exchange with the North American Racing Academy, run by Chris McCarron.  Now, when I type “Jack Gilligan jockey” into Google, I’m met with lists of races and wins, pictures and stories about his success (so far) in the U.S. 

Jack Gilligan, jockey. 
The son of a horse trainer who was born and raised in Newmarket, England, Jack’s career path was evident to him from very early in life.  His parents, Pat and Victoria, were both involved in the horse racing industry.  Pat has been a horse trainer for over 25 years, and Victoria also worked in horse training in England. 

“I’ve wanted to be a jockey ever since I can remember.  My parents are involved in racing, my dad’s a trainer.  I’ve just always been surrounded by it.  That’s all I ever wanted to be growing up.”

And so Jack began his path of pursuing that dream by attending the British Racing School in Newmarket, England. 

Here enters where Sister Cities began to play a role in Jack’s life.  

Exchange Experience

Lexington and Newmarket became Sister Cities in 2003, when Jack was only 5 years old.  While the Sister Cities connection is still new, the similarities of the cities are deep – especially when it comes to the horse racing industry. 

In 2012 at 14 years old, Jack and another student from the British Racing School participated in an exchange between the British Racing School (BRS) and the North American Racing Academy (NARA) as an extension of the Lexington-Newmarket Sister Cities Student Exchange.  They traveled to Lexington for 8 days, stayed with a host family, and shadowed students at NARA. 

Jack credit’s this experience as a Sister Cities exchange student at NARA in Lexington as a big factor in his future career as a jockey. 

“It gave me such a great opportunity to make such great connections in America, like Chris McCarron, and a few other directors of the racing academy, like Remi Bellocq.  They were really great connections to have to help sway me to come back to Kentucky.”

Chris McCarron is a Hall of Fame jockey, winner of two Kentucky Derbys, and founder of NARA.  Chris played a large part of Jack exchange experience in Lexington. 

Remi Bellocq is the executive director of equine programming at NARA and was Jack’s host family during his stay in 2012. 

Jack (second from right) in 2012 with his host family and fellow BRS student in Lexington.  
 During his exchange experience, Jack also tagged along some of the Sister Cities tours for the Newmarket exchange students, including tours to the Kentucky State Capitol, Locust Trace AgriScience School, meeting Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, and the Ale-8 Factory in Winchester. 

The exchange group in 2012 meeting Mayor Jim Gray.  

“You definitely have to go to Ale-8,” Jack told the students from Newmarket who were visiting on the Sister Cities exchange. 

Jack talking to the students of the 2016 Lexington-Newmarket Student Exchange. 
Racing Career (so far)

Following his completion of studies at the BRS at 16 years old, Jack knew he wanted to return to America to become a jockey.  His family packed up, and headed here with him.

Jack has been busy ever since.  He rode his first race just before he turned 17.  This fall, on October 9th, he got his first win at Keeneland, which has been a win he’s been waiting for. 

“It was really special [winning at Keeneland] because Keeneland’s, like, one of the special meets in America; you’ve kind of got Keeneland, Saratoga and Del Mar, the three most desirable tracks in America, everyone wants to win there.” 

Jack with the chaperone from Newmarket after he won his 3rd race of the fall meet at Keeneland.  
It was an elusive win though. 

“I’ve been here [Lexington] 2 years and raced in 5 meets at Keeneland and never had a winner there.  It was one of those tracks that just eluded me, so it was really great to finally get a win there.” 

The horse he won on was named Favorite Coach.  He won again with Favorite Coach on October 21st.

His third race of the fall meet came on Friday, October 28th in the 3rd race on a horse called Hugh B.  After this win, he met with exchange students on the Lexington-Newmarket Sister Cities student exchange to talk about his Sister Cities exchange experience, how it has helped him in his career path, and staying in touch with the people he’s met, including his host family from 2012 – Remi.   

Lexington and Newmarket Exchange students meet Jack at Keeneland in October, 2016.

“Remi’s become part of the family now, he and his family; he’ll come over for dinner and stuff like that.”

Jack with Anne Boggess, who's brother participated in the 2012 exchange the same year as Jack.  
At just 18 years old, Jack has raced in over 1,200 races at courses all over America, and he’s also raced in his hometown of Newmarket. 

“I rode a pony race at the Rowley Mile and I rode a thoroughbred race at the July Course.”

When asked how it felt to race in his hometown, Jack said “I loved it.  July Course is always going to be my favorite track, I love that track so much, so it was really special to ride a race there.”

Since he came to America to become a jockey, Jack has raced at Turfway, Churchill Downs, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, Ellis Park, Belterra, and many others, including Del Mar in California. 

Del Mar, he says, is where he eventually would like to ride consistently.  “That’s the ultimate goal.”

In his career so far, Jack has 105 first place finishes, 120 second place finishes, and 160 third place finishes.  Each race meet, he continues to add to these numbers. 

After our brief chat/interview, Jack’s story is one that proves inspiration to young people.  At 18 years old, he has already begun achieving a dream he’s had his whole life.  And it’s encouraging as well as exciting that a Sister Cities Exchange program helped him on his way to where he is now. 

Chatting with Jack after his win on Hugh B.  
His advice for future exchange students is simply, yet definitely inspiring. 

“I think it’s always great to go see other parts of the world and experience different cultures.  But it can [also] definitely open doors if you’ve got a career in mind, you know, you can definitely meet people that can help guide you down the right path.”

Jack and I after our interview.  I'll definitely be putting my money on his races in the future!

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