'I loved every minute of it...' Cork jockey Noel Fehily is bowing out on a high

'I loved every minute of it...' Cork jockey Noel Fehily is bowing out on a high
Picture: Paul Harding/PA Wire. 

NOEL FEHILY will bring his magnificent career in the saddle to an end at Newbury tomorrow.

The hugely popular Coppeen rider shocked the racing world with his retirement announcement at Cheltenham following his victory aboard Eglantine Du Seuil in the Mares Novice Hurdle. The 43-year-old has followed up on last week’s announcement by finishing up at the famous Newbury track.

Fehily explained: “After riding a winner at Cheltenham I thought it was a good time to finish. I’ve had a great career and I just didn’t want to drag it out. It’ll certainly be an emotional day, but I’ve loved every bit of it. I’m not getting any younger and it’s time to start working now.

“I’ve had great support, but it’s time to let the young lads get on with it. After an appendix operation in January, I wasn’t very well and I would have hated to have had to go out like that. The timing just felt right and my final rider will be for Harry Fry aboard Get In The Queue.”

Unlike other sports, plenty of jockeys enjoy success as their careers move through the years. Fehily is in that bracket.

Noel Fehily celebrates after riding Summerville Boy to victory last year. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Noel Fehily celebrates after riding Summerville Boy to victory last year. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It was significant that two up-and-coming trainers, Henry De Bromhead and Harry Fry, both sought out Fehily in a desperate search for winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Both were duly rewarded when Fehily and Rock On Ruby won the Champion Hurdle in 2012. De Bromhead saw Fehily as the perfect fit for Special Tiara in the Champion Chase and they lowered the colours of Douvan in 2017.

The west Cork man also won the champion hurdle the same year on Buveur D’Air for the McManus/Henderson team. Winning two of the four championship races that Cheltenham was a phenomenal achievement for the rider who was 41 years of age at the time. 

His association with that great three-mile chaser Silviniaco Conti also springs to mind. After the departure of Ruby Walsh back to Ireland, Paul Nicholls looked to Fehily to take over the steering of Silviniaco Conti.

It was an extremely successful partnership as they went on to complete back-to-back King George chase victories at Kempton.

Like many in his profession, Fehily started on the pony racing circuit which has produced many great jockeys over the years. He progressed to the point to point circuit before a job offer in England.

“Looking back now, it’s hard to believe how quick the time has passed since I went over in 1998. Richie Forristal rang to say there was a job in Charlie Mann’s, so I decided to give it a trial run from September to Christmas.

“In my own head it was all about riding winners and I set myself a target of five winners for this period. In the end I rode six, so I ended up staying. People like Richard Dunwoody and Mick Fitzgerald were riding there so it was a busy place to be.

“Dunwoody was champion jockey at the time and his hunger for success was there for all to see. So I Just kept the head down, worked hard and the following year I was the conditional jockey for the yard. From the start, Charlie Mann put me on all the top horses in handicaps so that gave me plenty of confidence.”

Noel Fehily enters the enclosure after winning on Special Tiara. Picture: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Noel Fehily enters the enclosure after winning on Special Tiara. Picture: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

That confidence made Fehily become one of the great jockeys of modern times. When AP McCoy was in his prime for two decades Fehily spent many years riding the second string for high profile owner JP McManus. Just like Mark Walsh is emerging from the shadows of Barry Geraghty now.

During the golden era for Paul Nicholls when Kauto Star, Denman, Big Bucks and Zarkander dominated jumps racing, Ruby Walsh was his stable jockey. But anytime Walsh was injured, Fehily was the man Nicholls wanted to ride his horses. Unfortunately, injury denied him a couple of big opportunities at this time.

“Paul Nicholls and Jonjo O’Neill were great supporters of mine. Ruby got a bad fall that winter in 2009 and Paul called me up to ride all those good horses. I won the Tingle Creek on Masterminded, but a week later I got a bad fall and broke my wrist in Wincanton. It was just bad luck as I was out for six months and missed all those big rides for the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.”

Rock On Ruby ridden by Noel Fehily. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Rock On Ruby ridden by Noel Fehily. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Since his retirement was announced, the outpouring of tributes have been fitting. All the leading riders, led by McCoy, have described the west Cork man as just a really decent fella with a great talent.

Another Cork jockey, Jerry McGrath, who enjoyed a Cheltenham winner last week paid this tribute to Fehily.

McGrath says: “Firstly, Noel Fehily is a gentleman and easily the most popular jockey in the weigh room. When I came over from Cork, he was absolutely brilliant to me in every way. He is a brilliant horseman who always has his horse in the right place.

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