Richard Dunwoody: Racing’s Mr Incredible & One of Northern Irelands Top Jumps Jockeys

AP McCoy may now hold just about every National Hunt record going, but before he emerged to dominate the scene, it was another Northern Irishman who sat atop the list of the most successful jumps jockeys. Step forward, Richard Dunwoody MBE – a man whose incredible career in the saddle is but one aspect of a simply remarkable life.

Born into the Racing Life

Born in Belfast on the 18th of January 1964, it’s fair to say that Richard had racing in the blood, with his father George being a successful jockey and trainer. Soon bitten by the bug, Richard stated his intention to become a jockey from a young age. As would become clear at various moments throughout his life, when Dunwoody set his mind on achieving a goal, little would stand in his way. Wasting little time, Richard began working as a conditional rider immediately upon leaving school. And from there, the only way was up.

A Stellar Career in the Saddle

Riding his first winner at Cheltenham in 1983, Richard’s talents in the saddle were soon noticed, leading to a successful partnership with top trainer David “The Duke” Nicholson. The duo formed such a successful team that, by 1990, Dunwoody broke through the 100 wins in a season barrier for the first time before claiming his first British Champion Jumps Jockey title in 1993 with 173 wins. Dunwoody’s star partner during this period was one of the most popular greys of all time – the late, great Desert Orchid, whom Dunwoody rode to seven victories in total, including two King George VI Chases and an Irish Grand National.

Next came a switch to the all-conquering Pond House yard of 15-time Champion Trainer Martin Pipe. The pair had their differences as Dunwoody stepped into the considerable shoes of Peter Scudamore, but despite those ups and downs, the winners continued to flow. Dunwoody claimed a second Champion Jockey title in 1994 with a career-best tally of 198 – following a protracted battle with Adrian Maguire, who had taken over as chief rider for David Nicholson – and a third in 1995 courtesy of his 160-win haul.

That represented the last of Dunwoody’s titles, as a certain AP McCoy took over, but the classy and reliable rider continued to ply his trade towards the racing summit, breaking through the 100-winner barrier every year until an injury-enforced retirement in 1999. When hanging up his silks midway through the 1999/00 season, Dunwoody had recorded 1,874 National Hunt wins from over 10,000 rides, which, at the time, was more than any other rider in the history of the sport, breaking the previous record held by Peter Scudamore.

Career Highlights

Each of those wins counted equally in Dunwoody’s battles for the jockeys championships, but, as with all riders, certain successes saw the rider hit the headlines more than others. Upon retirement, Dunwoody had ridden 40 British Grade 1 winners, an additional 21 in Ireland, and became the only jockey of his era to bag the “Big Three” of the Grand National, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Selected highlights and honours of an illustrious career included:

  • 18 Winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Charter Party (1988) and the Champion Hurdle aboard Kribensis (1990)
  • Two Grand National Wins – West Tip (1986), Minnehoma (1994)
  • Four King George Wins – Desert Orchid (1989, 1990) One Man (1995, 1996)
  • Awarded the MBE in the 1993 Birthday Honours list for services to Horse Racing
  • Five-time winner of the Lester Jump Jockey of the Year Award – 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995

Post Racing: South Pole Conquered, TV Salsa’s, and More

No doubt frustrated that his career ended early due to an arm injury, Dunwoody soon brushed off that disappointment to embark on a series of monumental challenges. Whilst many former riders head into the training ranks or settle down into the relatively easy life of punditry, Dunwoody had other ideas, creating a list of accomplishments to put the majority of the human race firmly in the shade. Still going strong in 2023, so far, Dunwoody has compiled the following list of feats:

  • 2003 – Completes the 350-mile Polar Ski Race to the North Pole.
  • 18th of January 2008 – Completes a 680-mile, 48-day trek to the South Pole with American explorer Doug Stroup. Dunwoody places this as his greatest achievement alongside his Champion Jockey titles.
  • 29th May 2009 – Completes a remarkable 1,000-mile challenge in Newmarket. Labelled by many as one of the greatest ever feats of human endurance, this challenge involved Dunwoody walking the same mile in Newmarket, every hour, for 1,000 consecutive hours – surviving on intermittent naps (up to a maximum of one hour, 20 minutes) for 48 days.
  • 2009 – Not content with his epic Newmarket strolling, Dunwoody also climbed the Argentine mountain of Aconcagua in the same year.
  • 2009 – Still not done for 2009, our globetrotter also squeezed in an appearance on Series 7 of Strictly Come Dancing – exiting in 15th place.
  • 2017 – Walks 2,000 Miles across Japan in 101 days.

Quite the man! The above list of completed challenges saw Dunwoody raise over £350,000 for charity and visit over 80 countries during his life. Somehow, the intrepid former jockey has also found the time to work as a pundit, columnist and motivational speaker, write several books, including two autobiographies, and launch an exhibition of his photographic work in 2014.

As of late 2023, Dunwoody is zeroing in on his 60th Birthday and currently spends much of his time at his Spanish home with partner Olivia and daughter Milly – no doubt plotting his next global adventure!