Irish jockey Paddy Merrigan has revealed his “insane lifestyle” in which he spent nearly one million quid on drink, drugs, and women.
Life for Merrigan was so chaotic, he nearly ended up in a mental health facility in Roscommon. However, about two-and-a-half years ago he turned around his life and is now looking to work as a jockey again, the Irish Independent reports.
“The minute I got off the boat in England my career took off very quick. I had lots of money and lots of sponsorship deals,” Merrigan,32, told Will Faulkner of Midlands Radio.
“Social scene was insane, to be honest. I was very wild. I was a very emotional jockey and I always craved something bigger than I have today.
“When I finished racing I began drinking very heavy.
“When I became successful lots of things came my way. Things like endorsements and lots of beautiful women and I craved all that.
“I was wild. I would meet up with lots of girls in the racing industry and have random…nothing meaningful for those few years. I was too emotionally attached to racing to have anything meaningful throughout that period.”
The good times soon came to a halt.
“It was the best week of my life racing. I had a double in Aintree. I had winners all that week, wherever I was, finishing up in Newbury.
“Previous to that week I had ridden a couple of horses and one was a high-profile fall at the last in Haydock. It was a big race and I come to the last in first place and the horse fell.
“A lot of people mistakingly thought this was the reason I had left. Now that I’m here to be honest, that hadn’t a whole lot to do with it at all because that owner, Guy Walter, supported me.
“I had lost on one horse the previous week. I was so passionate about my job then and I was told I wasn’t riding the horses – that horse to me was worth more than I was to myself – unfortunately, I was heartbroken and to be honest I walked away – I said to myself I never want to be a jockey again.
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“People say Paddy gave up because he was drinking and taking drugs but that’s all bullshit. Paddy Merrigan gave up horseracing because I was too passionate for my own good.
“I lost the rides on a couple of horses and, as I explained to a fella before, I have the greatest mother in the world. I said if you lined that horse up against a wall with my mother and told me to shoot one of them, my mother would have been dead that day and my mother is the most important person to me on the planet. That’s what that horse meant to me.
“When I was told I was not riding I thought it was a prank. It didn’t matter why I wasn’t riding the horse, nothing mattered. I wasn’t riding. So I said to the doctor that day, I said ‘I’m standing myself down, I am not riding’. I threw my racing gear and said ‘I’m done, I am out of here’.
“I got in my car and went from Kempton race course to Birmingham. I drove that car 150 mph straight to the short stay carpark, threw it in and said ‘get me the first flight out of here’.
“I left the car there for a few months or whatever.”
Merrigan went back to Ireland. He would spend some days working with horses in Athlone.
“I was riding out and going hunting a lot,” he said.
“I was enjoying that but I would be there a few days showing horses to sales people and I would be gone three days later partying with women and blowing money, living an insane lifestyle. Down the line I started drinking a lot. Since I gave up racing I would say I definitely, between everything, I could have blown nearly a million pound.”
He decided he needed to return to racing, but this was easier said than done.
“I landed back in England but I had no passion. I had no drive. Nothing in me. I wasn’t the same jockey. I rode a winner in Sandown and I remember driving out the gate thinking ‘I am so done with this’. I wasn’t happy.
“I remember seeing a picture of me in the winners’ enclosure and I was like a dead man, pale white. There was nothing in me. Same thing again, I left a car up with my friend who used to have the halfway house up in Cheltenham. Another new BMW, just left it where I used to live above the restaurant and bar and went home for another six or seven months.
“Abandoned a car, abandoned everything and that’s when I started drinking, gambling and taking drugs.
“It got bad for a while and then levelled out. It was bad for a couple of years and I met an ex-partner, who became the mother of my first child and I mellowed out for a little while. I was back in Gordon Elliott’s riding out.”
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While working for the renowned trainer, his life started spiraling out of control again.
“It got so bad for so long that I just became distant. I lost family relationships…was always a shit dad and things like that. I remember going to the Galway Races for one week with one suit on me and drinking for the full week and taking cocaine. I went down with a real nice black suit and real nice white shirt and by the end of the week that shirt was yellow. That’s the kind of lifestyle I was living.
“There was one incident where a friend of mine, I was best man at his wedding. I remember that week up to the wedding. Oh, I was in bad shape. I was in bad bad shape. He was trying to get me to do stuff for the wedding but I was nowhere to be got. Was probably drinking and taking drugs and whatever.
“He came to me and said ‘what’s wrong with you?’ I just broke down and for the first time I came clean. I thought I was going to do away with myself then, yeah.”
Two days later, that friend, Michael, would accompany him to the doctor who referred Merrigan to Roscommon Hospital.
“Michael and his wife brought me down. I walked into that hospital and that was an eye-opener for me. I was five minutes sitting in a room with all the patients that were there and that’s a scary, scary, scary place I can tell you.
“This is not the place for you. You don’t need to be tied to a bed and drugged.”
He went on to set up a business selling horses in Northern Ireland. He had a second child, but then separated from his partner. Cocaine and alcohol were always there. He knew that the only thing that could save him was racing.
“A friend of mine rang me about two-and-a-half years ago and asked what I was doing. He told me he was in America and to go out to him. I went out an visited him, Darren Egan, He is like a brother to me,” he said.
“I have been over and back visiting since. I had a girlfriend out there but broke up recently enough and my life has been fine the last two-and-a-half years. It hasn’t been successful or anything, but it has been fine.
“I have help of a good friend, Anthony Connell, who is a personal trainer. He gave me a programme about 12 weeks ago and my mindset is getting better and better.
“I am 32 and have eight good years left racing again.”
He said the drink and drugs have been replaced by his passion for horse racing.
“Absolutely (The passion is back).
“I was watching the racing recently and this emotion came over me. I broke down. I knew I wasn’t done yet. It’s in me.
“Now is the right time for me to go and inspire this nation about mental health.”