Richard Dunwoody is a legend who dominated the racing scene in the 80’s and 90’s before having his career cut short.
But where did he come from, what did he accomplish and what was it that made him so successful…and how can you benefit from his knowledge, even now?
Who Is He?
Born in Belfast on the 18th January 1964, Dunwoody was destined to become a jockey from a very early age. Raised around horses, the Ulsterman was riding the family’s pony before he could even walk. But with the Northern Irish Troubles flaring up in the late 1960s, it wasn’t long before Dunwoody’s parents relocated to England, and where his real training began.
Richard was soon sent to a local boarding school near Cheltenham which put him within spitting distance of the racetrack that he would come to dominate as an adult. He was soon in regular contact with the teams running the stables and secured an apprenticeship with the famous Paul Kelleway, before transferring to the National Hunt yard under Tim Forster. Naturally, it wasn’t long before Dunwoody began to distinguish himself, taking his first winner in 1983 at the age of nineteen, and starting a meteoric ascent to the heights of horseracing superstardom.
Famous for ‘making bad horses look good’, Dunwoody’s knack for getting the most out of his ride soon proved to be his making, along with an all-consuming desire to be the best. Over the course of his career Dunwoody chased bigger and bigger numbers, riding 1699 winners throughout his career, being crowned champion jockey across the 92-93 and 94-95 seasons and accomplishing the odds-defying feat of riding a century of winners across ten seasons.
As his career continued, Dunwoody kept pushing himself further and further. A famous hard-man of racing, there was no knock that he couldn’t get up from, and he spent his 93–94 season without taking a day off from injury. This led to him taking a record-braking 672 falls throughout his career and racking up injuries that often remained untreated. The jockey soon became characterised as a thrillseeker, absolutely driven to win any trophy before him – a trait that led to his autobiography being called ‘Obsessed’. But this drive and abrasiveness took its toll. His teenage years saw him suffer from anorexia by trying to bring his weight down to ride, his marriage failed and his strong professional relationship with Martin Pipe broke down due to his hard headedness.
Finally, things caught up with him after suffering a fall in 1999 on a horse called ‘Classic Manoeuvre’ and – despite characteristically getting back on another horse and winning one more race – a trip to a specialist soon after confirmed his worst fears. He had suffered serious arm and neck injurie, and continuing his career would lead to serious neck damage and make any further falls incredibly risky.
So, what happens when a man so driven has to give up his life’s work?
Turns out, he keeps very, very busy.
The period following his divorce and recuperation saw a new, more mature man emerge. He has dabbled with motorsports, quipping that his job was now driving into bales rather than jumping over them. He finished the 2004 London Marathon in a not too shabby time of 3h 17m and completed a 48-day, 680-mile journey along the Shackleton Route to the South Pole.
With such a breadth of post-racing activities, some critics have accused Dunwoody of turning his back on the sport, which could not be further from the truth. Dunwoody himself has described his voluntary exile as akin to an addict going cold turkey and staying away from anything that may trigger a relapse, claiming that “total withdrawal” was the only way to move on with his life.
But since retirement he has continued to give back, working as a pundit for a period and working to raise the public and sports awareness of the dangers of racing. He has recently partnered with a number of fellow jockeys to help support the Concussion in Sport study after suffering long-term memory lapses. Most recently, Dunwoody has picked up a passion for photography and he has given a talk at the Travel Photographer of the Year summer lecture series; continuing an interest he first picked up from his days in boarding school.
Having studied in the Spéos Photography School in Paris it’s maybe telling that the majority of his most successful pictures are of horses – though he claims it’s just because that’s it easier to get eye level with a horse than any other animal. So, while he may have left horseracing…horseracing isn’t quite done with him yet.
What Were His Most Famous Rides
His first winner: This was ‘Game Trust’ at Cheltenham for Colin Nash in 1983, storming out of nowhere to take his victory and setting his stand out as a force to be reckoned with.
One of his most famous rides that consolidated his name in the record books was taking ‘West Tip’ to victory at the Grand National in 1986…and then repeating his success on ‘Minnehoma’ in 1994 while wearing the red star of the horse’s owner, Freddie Starr!
Throughout his career, Dunwoody has distinguished himself by riding some of the world’s most famous horses. These include: Desert Orchid, a versatile grey – described by Dunwoody as the best horse he ever rode; Toby Balding’s famously versatile Morley Street, and One Man who helped Dunwoody taking the King George Chase twice.
What Made Him Successful
Focus and drive: Dunwoody possessed an obsessive drive, often at the price of everything else. When AP McCoy lists Dunwoody as the jockey to beat (besides, somewhat characteristically, himself) you know you’re doing something right.
Huge success at Cheltenham: Growing up in the yards at Cheltenham proved to be a huge advantage to Dunwoody, obtaining eighteen wins between 1985 and 1998 – five of which were trained by David Nicolson.
Ask him yourself: He is a motivational speaker and gives business seminars. He has also written multiple books including Hell for Leather, Horses of my Life, his autobiography ‘Obsessed’ and his books on racing. He speaks on topics including ‘controlling the uncontrollable’, goal setting, learning from mistakes and dealing with setbacks and an insight into the Aintree Grand National…all invaluable sources to the average punter.