A slice of racing history was made at Clonmel Racecourse in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, on Thursday (26 October) when teenage jockey Josh Williamson rode his first winner over hurdles.
The landmark success came 36 years after the schoolboy’s father, the legendary Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Norman Williamson, rode his first winner at the same track and, even more coincidentally, both debut victories came on grey horses.
Seventeen-year-old Josh’s win came with a brilliant ride on the Edward O’Grady-trained home-bred Housemartin in the Kilclooney Woods (QR) handicap hurdle in heavy going over two miles and half a furlong.
“It was my first time sitting on him – I’ve only been into Edward’s a handful of times, so it was very good of him to let me ride him,” said Josh, who crossed the line more than four lengths in front on the six-year-old, who was sent off at odds of 15/2.
“It was an amazing experience. I was about a length in front as we jumped the last and when we landed and he picked up again, that’s when I started to relax a bit and I was delighted to win.”
A rapturous return for the schoolboy jockey
In 1987, the first of Norman Williamson’s 1,268 winners came at Clonmel on Jack ‘N’ Jill and trainer Edward O’Grady was instrumental throughout Williamson senior’s riding career, the duo combining to win the supreme novices’ hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2003.
Norman was among a strong contingent at Clonmel last week to give Josh and Housemartin a rapturous welcome to the winner’s enclosure.
“There were a lot of people there – including my Granny Trish,” said Josh. “She flew over and thought she was going to miss the race but she got in just in time!”
After the jubilations at Clonmel, Josh went on to ride in two more races at Sligo the following day, finishing second on the Gordon Elliott-trained Bleu De Vassy, then he was back in action again at Galway on Sunday (29 October) – a far cry from the average schoolboy’s half-term break.
Josh has two more years at school but he rides out for Gordon Elliott on weekends and at every other opportunity and he credits his school for allowing him time away from the classroom when required: “They have been very good to me – there’s an understanding that this is my passion,” he told H&H.
From European eventing champion to hurdling success
Josh was part of the gold medal-winning Irish pony team at the European championships in 2022 but says, “Ever since I started riding ponies, I couldn’t wait to turn 16 to get my licence.
“Even while I was eventing, I was waiting to be able to ride in racing.
“I’d like to go to college and juggle it with race-riding at the same time and see how that works out – it’s worked out for my first cousin Harry Swan, so it would be great to do the same.”
Many people have observed the similarity between Josh’s riding style and that of his father Norman, who achieved the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double on Alderbrook and Master Oats in 1995.
“My dad is a great help and after every ride he’ll go through the race with me – even if he couldn’t watch it, he’ll talk me through it and tell me what I did wrong, tell me what I did right,” Josh said. “I think it must be genes or something, though.”
The future looks very bright for this young talent.
You may also like to read…
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.