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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

'I'll never forget coming back in after the National and seeing my family'

The jockey better known Slippers, 32, takes part in our weekly grilling

Niall 'Slippers' Madden: given his nickname by Enda Bolger
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What advice would you give your ten-year-old self?
I've had plenty of stick since I was 17 or 18 for going bald so I'd tell myself to start using Regaine.

When did you first know you would become a jockey and why?
Racing is in my blood as I'm from a family with a rich heritage in the sport. My father [Niall snr] was obviously a very successful jockey and my mother is a Taaffe. People say to me if I was going to the sales I would sell extremely well with that breeding.

Would you rather win the Cheltenham Gold Cup or be champion jockey?
Champion jockey – it's what every jockey aspires to be.

Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
It has to be my father – he's been my idol as well. He's always there to help with advice and give his opinion after a race – even sometimes when it's not needed! I still ring him on my way home after racing to talk through my rides.

How did you get your nickname?
Dad got the nickname Boots when he was working for Edward O'Grady aged 15 or 16. As mothers do, he was bought a pair of boots that were too big for him so they lasted longer and when he was walking around the yard, the lads could hear him before they could see him. It was Enda Bolger who started calling me Slippers and then my little brother Tom, who's also a jockey, got the nickname Socks from Brendan Bashford. They've just stuck and it's a nice trait that we all have a nickname.

Who is the best jockey in your family?
I'd love to say myself but it probably is Dad. He was very successful, riding seven Cheltenham Festival winners. He was very good from a young age and people are always keen to tell me just how good he was. He's just over six foot but was very stylish on a horse.

What are your standout memories of Numbersixvalverde's Grand National win in 2006?
I remember it like it was yesterday. The rain the night before, as he wanted slow ground, and walking the track and going through the fences with Dad in the morning. And I'll never forget coming back in and seeing my family. It was my first ride in the biggest jumps race in the world and while you know you've won the National, it took time to properly sink in. A day later Timmy Murphy said to me you don't realise what you've done until you've ridden in the race a good few years. He was right.

Numbersixvalverde (centre) clears the water jump on the way to winning the Grand National

You've started riding a lot more in Britain since last season, how did the move come about?
It was October 2016 and things had half quietened down for me at home so I rang Harry Fry, who is married to my girlfriend's sister Ciara, and they said they'd love to have me. There are more opportunities over here with racing every day so it was a chance worth taking and thankfully it has paid off. I'm based in England now and fly back to Ireland if something comes up.

If you could play any other sport professionally, which would it be and why?
I'm a keen golfer – not that I'm any good at it. It would be great to travel the world and play all the top courses.

What do you think racing does best?
The media coverage has gone up to another level with ATR, RUK, RTE and ITV showing the action. From behind-the-scenes footage to pre- and post-race information and interviews, there is a lot of insight provided by the media.

Other than better prize-money, what is the one thing you would change about racing?
I'd make sure there was a proper break at the end of the jumps season. It's a very long year for jump jockeys with racing all year round and it would be beneficial to have a three-week break or something similar in the summer.

What is your earliest racing memory?
We always used to go to my grandparents' to watch the Grand National. We'd have a lucky dip and everyone would have a horse. The first one I really remember was Party Politics in 1992.

Which country would you most like to race in that you haven’t yet?
I've never ridden in France and hopefully I'll get the opportunity at some stage.

Kauto Star or Arkle?
My grandad is Toss Taaffe and his brother Pat rode Arkle so I'd better say him.

What’s your biggest ambition in racing?
I'd love to be champion jockey, but I'd settle for riding as many winners as possible and staying safe.

And outside of racing?
For me and my family to stay healthy and well.

What is your worst habit?
Smoking. I'd love to be able to give up but unfortunately I haven't got the willpower.

If you could meet one person, past or present, who would it be?
Muhammad Ali. I've watched a few documentaries about him and seen the film Ali, in which Will Smith plays him. He was an extremely good athlete and a funny character too with some great one-liners.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I was on holiday with family down at Lahinch in County Clare and was having a heated argument over something stupid with Katie Walsh, who's my sister's best friend, and I turned round and walked straight into a lamp post. My sister and Katie thought it was hilarious, which made me even more angry at the time, but it's funny looking back at it now.

What is your most treasured possession?
A horse at home called Shake The Bucket. He's a home-bred who has won 13 races for us between point-to-points, chases, hurdles and on the all-weather at Dundalk. He's a family pet we all love and I'd say if Dad had the chance, he'd sleep in the bed beside him.

Shake The Bucket (left): a Madden family pet

How do you relax away from racing?
Playing golf and five-a-side soccer.

What is the strangest/funniest thing you have seen on a racecourse?
I was riding somewhere rattling quick in the summer and someone in the weighing room asked Roger Loughran what the ground was like and he replied: "I saw a crow land down the back straight and it broke both legs". The other thing that stands out was Danny Mullins riding the ambulance at Bellewstown.

Who do you most admire from the 'other' code?
It has to be Aidan O'Brien for what he has achieved. Never mind the 28 Group 1s in 2017, he's ultra-consistent year after year. He's an unbelievable trainer.

What’s your biggest fear?
I'd hate to be a failure in whatever I do.

Social media – friend or foe?
Friend – at the moment anyway.

Who would be your four ideal dinner party guests?
Sergio Garcia as I follow him in the golf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for a bit of eye candy, James Corden as our comedian for the night and Thierry Henry as I'm a big Arsenal supporter.


 

Look back on a sizzling year of racing in the new edition of the Racing Post Annual, priced at only £12.99, which has 208 colour pages packed with the best stories and pictures of 2017. To buy click here or call 01933 304858

People say to me if I was going to the sales I would sell extremely well with that breeding

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