FORMER jockey Noel Fehily certainly knows what it takes to win around Cheltenham and he is as enthusiastic as ever about this year’s eagerly awaited Festival in his new role as the head of a hugely successful racing club.
Fehily has had some memorable days at Cheltenham with a brilliant double in feature races in 2017 when he won the Champion Hurdle with Buveur DAir and then the following day won the Champion Chase with Special Tiara.
A remarkable treble was only denied when Fehily was on board second-placed Minella Rocco in the Gold Cup.
Previously the Coppeen native won the Champion Hurdle in 2012 with Rock On Ruby along with a pair of King George successes at Kempton with Silvniaco Conti in 2013 and 2014.
He was a truly gifted rider and his quiet unassuming manner made him one of the most popular riders in the weigh room.
In total he rode six winners around Cheltenham which included Rock On Ruby, Special Tiara, Summervile Boy, Unowwhatieanharry, Silver Jaro, and Eglantine Du Seuil.
The west Cork man may have no regrets about retiring from the saddle but returning back to the Festival was the first time he realised what he missed.
“The first day when I walked into the parade ring at Cheltenham was the only time I thought I missed it,” Fehily explained.
“The atmosphere was unreal. I went out the front and actually watched it in the crowd. The roar was something when the flag dropped for the first race. You hear it down at the start when you’re there, but when you’re racing you can’t take it in.
“I’m really looking forward to this year’s meeting and the racing club will have a couple of runners. I think the Irish horses will continue their dominance again this year as they look very strong in the novice hurdles and the bumpers.
“Honeysuckle has looked as good as ever this season, but Appreciate It is probably the one horse who is capable of troubling her. The Gold Cup looks wide open with plenty of horses in with chances.
“A Plus Tard looked very good at Haydock but disappointed at Leopardstown over Christmas. The one horse who might be underestimated is Al Boum Photo.
“He has already won two Gold Cups and his run at Tramore over New Year was good. Willie Mullins will have him right for the day and I think Al Boum is a big player.”
Following his brilliant career, Fehily has had no regrets whatsoever about hanging up his saddle.
He teamed up with weigh room colleague David Crosse and formed a new racing club which has gone from strength to strength.
“I didn’t miss the racing at all to be honest. Driving up and down the motorways here, there and everywhere wasn’t fun.
“There is huge distances involved in the day-to-day grind in England. It’s tough going.
I still ride out a lot and do work for Harry Fry once a week so that’s where I can pretend I’m still a jockey.
“It’s gone so quickly, but I’ve got loads on my plate. I’ve always had a keen interest in the breeding side of it and have always had a few youngsters around even when I was riding.
“But over the years that’s built up and we’ve had a few broodmares, bred a few and just steadily had more horses.
“We have a farm in Wiltshire and it’s all based there. We’re tipping away with it and I’m enjoying it, it’s a nice change and has been rewarding.”
All roads now lead to the Festival and Fehily is mulling over his entry options.
The competitor in the Coppeen rider tells him that going there to make up the numbers isn’t an option.
“As it stands we will probably have a couple of runners at Cheltenham. Come On Teddy will run in the Ultima Handicap Chase and he has an each/way chance at a big price (50/1) and was third in the Pertemps last year.
“We have a nice mare called Love Envoi who is entered in the Mares Novice Hurdle and she has won three times for us and is trained by Harry Fry.
“It’s so competitive there so you really need to bring a very good horse to compete at the big meetings like Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.
The syndicate was an idea I had when I was retiring. It’s kept me involved in different yards and I enjoy going racing with the horses.
“David (Crosse) got involved and it’s gone well. There’s been plenty of interest and we were lucky to get our very first runner Pride Of Lecale to win for Fergal O’Brien which created a bit of a buzz to start with.
“They’re a great way of getting people into the sport and a lot of them are first-time owners. We try to get them to the yards as much as possible and the response has been great.
“It’s what you want to see, people coming in, getting a good experience, as it can only be good for the future of the sport.
“Having a winner with a new group of owners would be a fantastic buzz so we’ll be hoping for the best. But the strength of the big Irish yards like Gordon Elliot’s, Willie Mullins and Henry De Bromhead is just pheromonal.”