JONATHAN Burke is no stranger to festive successes – it is now five years since he partnered Sizing John, the future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, to a Grade One victory at Leopardstown’s prestigious Christmas meeting.
Yet, while a meteoric rise as retained rider to the late Yorkshire-born owner Alan Potts was followed by a lull when he lost the role, and then suffered injury misfortune, no rider is in better form than the personable Burke.
High-profile victories at the Ascot, Kempton and Cheltenham meetings over Christmas and the New Year, as well as a notable double at Warwick, justify the jockey’s decision to move to this country to further his career.
Now stable jockey to a resurgent Tom George, Burke harbours hopes of Cheltenham Festival success after Summerville Boy made all to win the Relkeel Hurdle at the Cotswold track on New Year’s Day.
Tactically astute as Summerville Boy returned to smaller obstacles following a heavy fall in a Grade One novice steeplechase at Sandown last month, it felt like a ‘coming of age’ moment for Burke as his partnership with the aforementioned George continues to excel.
“Tom has known me since I was very young as he’s always bought point-to-pointers from my dad (Liam),” said the jockey who, as a youngster, used to idolise family friend Ferdy Murphy, the late West Witton trainer.
“I’d have had my first rides for him four years ago and when I moved over to Charlie Longsdon’s, there was a spare at Ascot one day – Sir Valentino in a valuable chase. He won and it progressed from there.
“This relationship with Tom has been great for me.
“I’m working with a better class of horses, good owners and a great team of staff and we get on great.
“Working with Charlie Longsdon was a good start and a stepping stone into England, it just didn’t work out but it led to me getting this job, so it is great.
“From a jockey’s point of view, he is very easy man to ride for.
“He lets you do the homework and the schooling and leaves it to you.
“His famous line every time he is legging you up is ‘I’ll leave it to you’. It’s a great line to be given as you go out to race.”
Had it not been for the success that Burke is enjoying – Bun Doran’s Desert Orchid Chase win at Kempton was another festive highlight – then he might have been considering other options.
“When I moved over in 2017, I had it in my head I was going to give it until I was 25 and I turned 24 at Christmas time,” said Burke.
“Giving it until 25, there was always time if it didn’t work out here that I could go back to Ireland and plot a career from there.
“It took a while to settle in and get to know the tracks, but I’m settled here and enjoying things. I’m enjoying racing every day and when you are riding horses like this, it is a massive help as well.
“I’ve great support from my agent, Chris Broad, and the link up with Henrietta Knight has been great for me as I go in there schooling one day a week which is great for my confidence.”
Burke was out of luck at last year’s Cheltenham Festival when Glen Forsa was an early – and unlucky – casualty in the Arkle Trophy. However the Roger Brookhouse-owned Summerville Boy, a former winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is now being primed at the three mile Stayers’ Hurdle.
“When he stepped up in grade at Sandown after winning the Kalahari King Chase at Uttoxeter, he showed us he wasn’t going to make the top grade over fences and that made us revert back to hurdles,” added the jockey. “Obviously Paisley Park will be difficult to beat, but I think my horse horse will get a lot of confidence from landing the Relkeel.”