When the first race comes under starter’s orders tomorrow to commence four pulsating days of the best jumps festival of the year at Cheltenham, one of the hardest-working men in Irish horse racing circles will be enjoying a very welcome week off.
Since he replaced the retiring Des Scahill as the country’s primary racecourse commentator in 2018, Jerry Hannon from Listowel has been traveling the length and breadth of the country, bringing to life all the action from the flat and national hunt circuits.
It is a tough slog for the 41-year-old, but it is also a dream come true.
Since he first picked up a microphone at 18 years of age, for a pony race in Athea, and after coming under the wing of the famous Healy family in his hometown, Hannon has worked tremendously hard to achieve his professional ambition.
Recharging the batteries
While the North Kerry man has been cajoled by a few friends into heading over to the Cotswolds for Thursday and Friday, this is a precious week of no domestic racing in Ireland where batteries can be recharged in anticipation of the busy months to come — especially with the flat campaign flying down the tracks.
“I’ve only ever been twice. In 1997, I was in between Inter and Leaving Cert in St Michael’s, and my late dad Joe brought me over,” said Hannon, whose favorite horse of all time is Istabraq.
“I didn’t go again until I got sentimental around Christmas 2016, it would have been 20 years since I had been there, and I went in 2017 on the first day, the Tuesday.
“I had no intention of going this year, because we don’t race here that week, so it’s a chance for me to wind down.
“What I was doing in recent Cheltenhams was scouting out one or two friends, and we would head off to the sun, and you see it all over there.
“I used to go to Puerto Banus, and you had a betting shop there. You can even see all the championship races on your phone these days.
“I’ve kind of had my Cheltenham here already with the Dublin Racing Festival. I’m just as happy to be in front of the television, where you don’t miss a beat.
“But a few pals of mine, they planted a couple of seeds in my head, they twisted my arm anyway and I’m getting the early flight out of Dublin on the Thursday morning to Birmingham, and back in on Friday night for Thurles on the Saturday.”
Speaking to Buzz as he prepared to travel to Dundalk for the usual Friday evening card at the Louth track, having commentated at Clonmel the previous afternoon, it is pretty clear that Hannon spends a lot of time in his car.
How does he stay motivated for the normal, mundane, run-of-the-mill races?
“My late dad, he was the one who said, when I was starting out, to treat every race like it was the Grand National or the Derby, when I was laying my foundations at the time.
“What keeps me motivated is the big meetings on the horizon. You look forward to those, because to be motivated for the midweek stuff is a task.
“I try to keep my work simple. The soundest piece of advice that I ever got, and I have stuck to it to this present day, was to keep it simple and you can’t go wrong. Leave the editorial to those whose job that is.
“My work starts from an hour before racing.
“I get my race card, mark up my non-runners, jockey changes, etc, then I am in the zone until it comes to the last race.
“That’s it then, into my car, and I am switched off then until the next meeting. I can be hard on myself. I like a challenge, but there’s a touch of a perfectionist about me.
“Sometimes I find that you would be making a big thing out of a small thing. It’s just that I am so exposed now. You get away with nothing.
“You get away with f***ing nothing nowadays. There is always room for improvement, but I have called every Irish race, flat and national hunt. I wouldn’t have any real ambition outside of that.”
When your voice is heard practically every day by horse racing enthusiasts and, of course, the barstool ‘experts’ who believe that they can do better, there is always criticism when you are in the public eye.
Hannon hasn’t been immune to the abuse and the slagging, hence his decision to cut ties with the social media world.
“Nowadays, you are so exposed. When I would have started back in the day, you basically had to be at the races to hear the course commentary.
“Nowadays, you are quite vulnerable. The course commentary is channelled into every betting shop now in Ireland and England, it’s on Racing TV, the festivals will carry a feed for the local radio stations, you are under scrutiny all the time.
“You can’t be complacent. All the social media platforms, I have actually knocked on the head since the turn of the year.
“Number one, it was time consuming. It was a job in itself. What I found is that it was a lot of risk for no reward, being on these things. Twitter and Facebook and all those, I’ve pulled away from all of them.
“To put it bluntly, it was basically people telling you how to do your job.
“I have yet to call a race of these ‘Twitterati’ to a microphone. There’s nobody breaking down the door of the commentary box to put a microphone in front of their snouts to call a race.
“It was so time-consuming too, the phone was never out of my paw.”
Despite the intense scrutiny and the never-ending fear of the keyboard warriors, Jerry Hannon loves his job.
It is always what he wanted to do, and he will continue to do it to the best of his considerable ability.
He’ll look forward to the flat. The Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown never fails to disappoint according to Jerry — whose first race to commentate was at the Athea Pony Races in October 1999.
This week, it’s time for a break though, and to rest the vocal cords for a change.
A break from big handicaps with multiple Gigginstown and JP McManus-owned runners where only spotted caps are the difference between getting it wrong and right.
Nobody can say he hasn’t earned it.