Ellis Park Press Release

(Photos: Jack Gilligan headshot and shown winning an allowance race at Ellis Park last Aug. 19 on Marquee Cal Gal. Credit: Coady Photography)

HENDERSON, Ky. (Sunday, June 17, 2018) — Jack Gilligan is one of Kentucky’s up-and-coming jockeys, finishing third in the 2017 Ellis Park jockey standings with 16 victories. The 21-year-old Gilligan will be at Ellis Park’s Call to the Post Media Day on Monday, June 18 at 11 a.m. Central in the clubhouse’s second-floor Gardenia Room. Also: trainers Buff Bradley, John Hancock, Jason Barkley and Tom Van Berg, along with track officials, as we preview the upcoming meet, July 1-Labor Day. 

You had a really good meet at Ellis Park last summer.

“It was my breakout meet, really. My agent, Liz Morris, and I worked really hard last spring and it really paid off. Looking forward to Ellis this year, and hopefully I can build upon it. I had a great meet at the Fair Grounds (over the winter), my first year there and I had 28 wins. Love it down there. And so far this has been my best meet at Churchill, with eight wins (through June 16) so far.”

What was the key to the Ellis meet? An outfit you were riding for, a horse? Your agent being relentless?

“A lot of it was my agent being relentless. All of May and June of last year, we didn’t ride an awful lot here at Churchill but I was breezing a lot (in the mornings). I was breezing eight a day, nearly, just working our butts off. Everybody just kind of gave us our shot at Ellis. All the trainers that we’d been breezing horses for, they said, ‘We can’t really help you at Churchill just yet, but we’ll help you at Ellis.’ It worked out great. I had a great Ellis meet.”

So how many years have you been riding?

“A total of five years. I rode for a year in England. I left school and came here and have been in America for going on four years now. In England you graduate at 16, went to the British Racing School for about six months and then started race riding.”

What brought you to America?

“My dad is actually an American citizen. He was born in New York but his family moved back to England when he was very young. He’s got an American passport, so that’s always meant my mum and I could get a green card. My dad was a trainer in England. Toward the end, his business wasn’t going so good. I’d rode for a year, and things were going OK but nothing amazing. The three of us — my, my mum and my dad — wanted a change and thought it was an opportunity to come over here, because visas are hard to get and I had this lucky opportunity to have a green card. We thought we’d give it a shot. In the beginning, we thought we’d give it six months and see how it went. We came over and we loved it. Things started going good, so we stayed.

“When I first came over, I rode a little bit at Indiana Grand, Belterra (in Cincinnati). I’d come over in August of 2014. I started out at Turfway Park, and finished second in the standings.”

Why did you come to this area?

“I actually did the British Racing School while I was in (regular) school. When I was 14 and 15, I did this special course, one day a week I’d go to the British Racing School. My friend and I were the two best students, and they did a student exchange with the North American Racing Academy when (retired riding great) Chris McCarron was running it. I spent a week here and I loved it. After I left, I stayed in touch with Chris. Before I came over here, he said, ‘You should just come here. We can get you set away with a gallop (exercise rider) job and get you started.’ That’s why I came back to Lexington. Chris helped me get going and put me in the right direction.”

Put in perspective how tough it is to get going when you don’t know any of the horsemen.

“Yeah, Chris was the only person I knew here. It’s very hard in the very beginning but you get familiarized very quickly. You’re working so many horses. I came in August and by December I was riding six, seven a day at Turfway.

“It is very different, to get used to the track work. It’s very different in Europe. You’re out riding on long straight tracks (in training). Riding counterclockwise is very different. The terminology is very different. In England at Newmarket, where I was from, a set (training with a horse) could be an hour, an hour and a half: We warm up, gallop, take them through the woods and let them pick the grass on the way home. The most you can get on is five a day. When you’re an apprentice over there, you’re basically the groom, the hotwalker and the exercise rider. You do all the work in the morning, muck the stalls, brush them, look after everything, ride them and then you clean up in the shedrow afterward and come back in the afternoon and do the same thing again: hay, water, feed, clean the stalls, brush them, groom them. It’s good because it does make you a complete horseman that way.

“But it’s hard. That was probably another reason why I left. I was tired of mucking stalls!… I was an apprentice over there to Sir Mark Prescott. He’s a pretty well-respected trainer at Newmarket. I was an apprentice for a year but rode only four winners in Europe. I only rode about 40 races in England in my first year. It’s done differently over there. You start off with 40 races, then the next year you might get 100 mounts, then 200-300. Most of the people have their ‘bug’ (weight allowances for apprentice jockeys) about four years. Once you reach 95 wins, you lose your bug. I came over here, and I hadn’t ridden my fifth winner, so my bug hadn’t started. It was like my sixth race over here that I won my first race in America, which probably wasn’t the best thing to happen, really. Because I hadn’t gotten really super-used to the riding here, and all of a sudden my (apprenticeship) time had started. But it worked good. I had an OK bug. I was riding Keeneland, Churchill, Ellis, Turfway and rode 53 winners.”

What did you think of Ellis Park first time you rode there?

“To be honest, the first year I didn’t do that good there. I had kind of a love-hate relationship. I went in there thinking it would go well, and it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. The next year, it was the same sort of thing. But I always liked it. I like the old rustic-ness of it. I’ve always liked the track. I think it’s one of the best dirt tracks in America. It can be a little speed-biased, but it’s very safe. I like riding the turf track as well.

“But the first couple of years, it didn’t like me so much. Last year that all changed. I loved it last year and can’t wait to go back.”