Another season of thrilling wins for West Cork jockey

Posted on: 3rd August, 2017

Category: Sport & Fitness

Contributor: John Bohane

West Cork professional horse racing jockey Noel Fehily has enjoyed considerable success during his professional career with notable triumphs, which include winning both the King George VI Chase and the prestigious Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham on two occasions. Noel enjoyed a very successful week at this year’s Chelteham Festival, capturing two thrilling wins and securing a third place finish to cement his status as one of the top jockeys currently plying their trade on the professional circuit. John Bohane catches with the modest West Cork jockey, as he reflects on his successful career to date.

Noel has always enjoyed the thrill and buzz of horse racing and competing. He recalls starting to ride ponies at a very young age. “I first started riding ponies at the age of seven. I have particular great memories of riding ponies in Skibbereen. There was a great buzz and sense of energy to it all. I started riding I suppose at Manch Branch and I loved it instantly. I bought a pony at a young age and it all began from there really. I really loved it. Once I got involved in racing, there was only one way I was heading thereafter. I started pony racing with the Barrett family and my interest and love of racing just grew from there.”

Noel, who hails from the parish of Dunmanway, was a very keen and competitive sports man growing up. He had a love of all sporting disciplines, which helped install a fierce drive in him to succeed. Noel’s sporting memories include playing GAA for his beloved Diarmuid O Mathunas, as he recalls. “ I played football and hurling with Mathunas up until the minor grade before I dropped out as my racing career was starting to take off and I could not devote the time required to play GAA at a very competitive level. It was great to play with lads you grew up with.”

Noel began his jockey career by riding on the Irish point-to-point circuit. Following a successful stint touring this circuit. Noel moved on to the hunter chases, which ultimately became the field he was to compete most successfully in. “Point-to-point was a super experience. It was great for my development as a jockey, as I learned so much in a great environment. I then moved on to the next level. I moved to England in 1998 where I continued to ride in point-to-point races. When I moved over initially I promised myself that I would give it a real go and return home if things didn’t work out. Thankfully I settled into my stride in England straight away. I rode six winners before the Christmas period and the rest is history. There have been a lot of highs since I moved over. It has worked out brilliantly for me.”

Noel turned professional in 1999. He finished his debut season competing as a professional jockey with 17 winners, a great inaugural season competing in such a competitive environment. “I turned professional at the end of 1999. I was very nervous about the step up to the professional ranks. It was a big risk and a big worry, as you always have doubts with regards your ability. You worry about whether you are good enough to compete at the highest level. You also stress about whether you can survive and ultimately make a living from the professional game. I had a great backer in Charlie Mann who helped me adapt to the professional ranks.”

Noel settled into competing as a professional jockey with consummate ease. A modest Noel was surprised his rise through the ranks was relatively very smooth. “I was lucky I suppose in my first season that things went so well for me. I had a number of winners, which helps build confidence. In my second season I was crowned Champion Conditional Jockey, which was a great award to win and raised my confidence. Every season since I turned professional I have had a very good run of it. There has never been a year where I went backwards or I felt I didn’t progress which is great.”

Competing as a jockey carries a huge sense of danger with regards injuries given the very demanding and tough nature of the profession. Noel has had his fair share of injuries during his career, but thankfully none that have curtailed the West Cork man’s ability to constantly churn out victories on a regular basis. Enduring injuries to both his shoulders, wrist injuries and a broken leg, the resolute West Cork man accepts it is all part and parcel of being a leading jockey. “ It is only logical to assume that the more horses you ride, the more you will get injured. Touch wood, my body is in good shape at the moment. My season is going very well so far this year. The longest I was out of action was six months after I sustained a broken leg. I was also out for six months in 2010 when I damaged both my shoulders. No jockey escapes.”

Noel enjoyed great success working in tandem with acclaimed trainer Charlie Mann and is lavish in his praise for the illustrious horse trainer, who has trained over 800 winners at every level over jumps. “Charlie Mann has had a great influence on my career. I got very lucky working with him and it was great timing. He was building up his stable and his yard was just getting going at the same time that I was progressing with my career. We had a very good relationship. Richard Dunwoody retired and I stepped in. It was a great move and worked out well both for Charlie and I.”

Noel has always enjoyed riding at the Cheltenham Festival, where he has enjoyed great success, winning the Champion Hurdle on two occasions. He also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase this year when he rode Special Tiara to glory. This result was Noel’s 100th win of a special season. He first won the acclaimed Champion Hurdle in 2012 when he brilliantly rode Rock on Ruby to victory. Earlier this year, he repeated his great feat on Buveur d’Air, trained by Nicky Henderson. “It is a super festival to compete in. There is a great buzz and atmosphere throughout the four days. I have rode there for the last 20 years and the feeling is just as strong today as it was back in my first year. It is however a very difficult place to get winners. There have been plenty of years when I thought going into the festival that I had a good chance of doing well only to come up short. The fields are very big and the pace is very fast. It is a special place. It attracts the best jockeys and best horses. You need a bit of luck on the day to come up with a winner. The Irish presence at the festival is great. It is an unbelievable feeling to cross the line with a winner and to hear the crowd is a magical experience.”

Noel is still coming to terms with his success at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, which saw him ride two winners at the prestigious festival. “This year’s festival was definitely my best yet. It was a superb achievement to have two winners over the course of the festival. It couldn’t have gone any better for me. It was the highlight of my career. It was a super feeling to cross the line first in two big races. I got lucky when Geraghty got injured. The horses were superb and everything went well for me on the day. Luck was on my side on the day I suppose, which everyone needs at Cheltenham. I will never forget winning the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Championship Chase. It was definitely the pinnacle of my career. I can still remember crossing the line. It all happened very fast, the noise was unreal.”

Noel has enjoyed great support from his family and indeed the greater West Cork community during his successful career. He is grateful to all for their support. “My family has been great. Their support is very important. I was a bit homesick at the very start when I moved to England initially, but they got me through it. I have always received great support from many people throughout West Cork, which means a lot to me.”

Despite his busy itinerary as a professional jockey, which ensures his permanent base is in the UK, Noel comes home to West Cork as often as possible as he revealed. “I love coming home to see my family and friends. Unfortunately I don’t get home as often as possible. I hope to be home later this summer. West Cork is a special place with great people.”

Noel, who will turn 42 this Christmas, is enjoying another successful season competing with great distinction. He remains one of the top jockeys and has no plans to retire in the near future. “My aim is to keep my head down and keep working hard. I am in very good shape and I hope for many more years on the professional circuit. I take every day as it comes. I love competing at the top level and hopefully I can keep enjoying it.”


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