Humble Harrison

  • Posted: Thursday, 17th October 2019
  • Author: Carolyn Tanner

The PPORA's Pony Racing graduate award winner, Liam Harrison, speaks to Carolyn Tanner

"I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'm genuinely boring!" So says Liam Harrison, who bases his self-assessment on the fact that he is as far from being a party animal as a teenager can be.

"I'm usually in bed by 7.30," he laughed. "I don't drink, and I don't know how anyone can burn the candle at both ends. I didn't go out at all when I was at Neil's (Mulholland)."

The association with Mulholland began when Liam took his ponies to work on the trainer's gallops. He started riding out at the Conkwell Grange yard in school holidays and at weekends when he was 12, and joined the stable full time for a year after leaving education, recording one victory in six rides for the trainer.

Mulholland is just one person to whom Liam admits he owes a great deal. "I learned such a lot from him," he emphasises, "but when I got the chance to move to Fergal's (O'Brien) it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down." He has now been with O'Brien for two months, and already has one success under his belt for his new boss.

It was watching pony racing at a Point-to-Point when attending a meeting with his great-uncle, William McGrath, former CEO of the sport's generous sponsors, AGA Rangemaster, that the now 17-year-old decided he would like to get involved, and his success in that sphere continued when he graduated to Pointing.

As well as winning several pony races, he qualified for the Charles Owen final at Cheltenham in 2016, the year in which he was awarded the coveted Rose Bengal 148cm Scholarship for the most improved rider, and for which general conduct is taken into account.

Last season, he quickly transferred his ability to Point-to-Pointing, scoring on his debut ride at Larkhill on Tom Barton, trained by Sally Alner, to whom he had been introduced by Mulholland's assistant, Andrew Doyle. Nine victories in his first campaign saw him finish third in both the National Novice and the Harley Racing Championships, and he received the PPORA's Pony Racing graduate award, sponsored by Treehouse.

With a record such as that, most of his contemporaries would have been clamouring to take out a Conditional licence, but Liam has a wise head on young shoulders, preferring to gain another year's experience between the flags before joining the paid ranks.

He is looking for as many rides as possible in the coming season, but feels it will be harder now he is out of novice company. If his ability, though, coupled with hard work and dedication, is anything to go by, he will surely be in demand, and he is happy to ride out for other yards at lunchtimes. As yet, he does not have a sponsor, but would be grateful for any support which is forthcoming.

He regularly goes to Oaksey House for fitness sessions, and greatly appreciates the help and advice he receives from former jockeys Ian Popham, his agent, and Aodhagan Conlon, now a sports psychologist. He is disappointed that his move away from the West country means his association with his jockey coach, Rodi Greene, will probably have to end – "He's been fantastic, but it won't be feasible to travel so far."

And on the subject of travel, he is in no doubt that the person to whom he owes the most is his mother, Heather, who drove him to every single meeting last season. She also accompanied him to Spain for the second of his two Fegentri rides, for both of which he had to have special dispensation, being under the age of 18.

The fact that Liam has now passed his driving test does not mean that Heather's services as a chauffeur will be redundant. "She likes coming," explained Liam, "and I'll probably get her to drive anyway so that I can sleep on the journey!"