Donn's Articles » Pat Fahy

Pat Fahy

Pat Fahy gave Ruby Walsh the leg up on Morning Assembly before the Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown last month, and made his way down the uncovered stand to watch the race. He had forgotten his binoculars, however, so he couldn’t tell for sure how his horse was jumping. It wasn’t until he got home and watched the recording that he saw how well he had jumped: brilliantly.

He points to the shelf above him on the wall in the kitchen.

“There they are there,” he says. Binoculars. “And that’s where they were that day. But at least I was right beside the last fence. Ruby couldn’t kick for a stride at the last, there was no stride there, so he had to sit. I thought Don Cossack was going better, but our fellow is some horse to battle.

“The first day when he won his bumper, I thought we were going to be tailed off. When he won the Grade 1 hurdle at Punchestown last April, I thought we were going to finish third. We’re learning about him all the time. Don’t expect him to lose if he is there with a chance at the last. Also, the ground wasn’t soft at Punchestown, and it’s a downhill finish, yet he was still able to get back up. We learned that about him as well.”

Ruby rides Morning Assembly again today in the Grade 1 Topaz Chase at Leopardstown. How important is Ruby to the horse? Thinks for a moment.

“Ruby is important to me.”

Fahy loved Morning Assembly from the moment he saw him: August Sale, Fairyhouse, 2011. Steve Parkin – whose filly Rosdhu Queen won the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket last year, and who was introduced to Fahy by Joe Foley of Ballyhane Stud – had wanted to have a horse with him for a while, so, together with Gerry Hogan, they trawled the National Hunt sales in search of the right horse.

“Steve wanted to have a horse with me in order to help me out,” says Pat. “For me. Not for him. That’s the type of guy he is. We couldn’t get anything at the Land Rover Sale or the Derby Sale, but as soon as we saw this fellow at the August Sale, we knew he was the right horse. He topped the sale at €15,000.”

The Shantou gelding surprised his trainer when he won on his racecourse debut in a Punchestown bumper in February 2012. Fahy would usually be happy with a good run on debut. Learn from your debut and move on. How far were you beaten? Can you make a racehorse out of this fellow? No doubts on that front here.

Second to Sizing Gold on his debut over hurdles at Leopardstown on this day last year, Morning Assembly won his maiden at Naas on his next run, then he fell in a Grade 2 hurdle at Fairyhouse.

“I don’t know what was going on with him at Fairyhouse,” says the trainer. “He had always been a brilliant jumper. But he started standing back and guessing at Fairyhouse. He didn’t seem to know what to do. We schooled him afterwards at The Curragh as well, and he schooled terribly. Thankfully we got it sorted though.”

It was obviously well sorted by the time he lined up for the Grade 1 three-mile novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival last April, because he jumped well and stayed on well to beat Inish Island and Ballycasey into second and third places respectively.

“To win a Grade 1 race was great. It’s not that we’re used to it, but we have done it before. And sure, there’s nothing thought of big winners around here in Leighlinbridge, with Jim Bolger and Willie Mullins both just down the road. You’re almost expected to win these big races around here!

“It’s important for us to have all types of winners, get ordinary horses to win, get fillies to win. This fellow has to go and do it now. We have been around for long enough. The days for dreaming are over. But we are enjoying this lad immensely. It’s great to have him around, and Steve Parkin and Joe Foley are great guys. You have to enjoy these days.”

It is great to see Fahy enjoying winners again, because he went through a long spell during which he couldn’t enjoy any of it. It will be four years this February since young Ronan Lawlor was tragically killed on Fahy’s gallops.

“16th February,” he says slowly. “The day after my birthday. It was just a routine piece of work, Ronan was just pulling his horse up when the horse jinked to his right and took off, and Ronan came off the side and hit a timber stake.”

Pat lost interest in training and, but for his wife Natalie, the entire training operation would probably have ceased.

“Jim Bolger had a mass said for Ronan. At the mass, the priest said that Ronan’s job now was to look after all the other jockeys. That has stuck with me. I’d be always on to Ronan now, asking him to look after the jockeys. I asked him to look after Davy Condon at Punchestown last April before Morning Assembly won. I asked him to look after Ruby last time. I’d be talking to Ronan during a race sometimes. When we’re in trouble, you’d always be on to Ronan. I’d talk to him every day. That’s his job now, to look after all of us. He’ll never be forgotten.”

It is 18 years since Fahy won the Heineken Gold Cup with Butches Boy, and it is nine years since he won the Durkan New Homes Chase with Mariah Rollins, but he has also been active on the flat in recent years. The trainer sent out Ballybacka Lady to win the 1000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown in May 2011, and to finish second to Duntle in the Desmond Stakes the following year. He sent out Ballybacka Queen to win her maiden at Tipperary last August, and to finish second in a listed race at The Curragh in September. She could be a high-class three-year-old next season.

These days, however, it’s all about National Hunt. Fahy had three runners on St Stephen’s Day: Good As Gold, who finished second in a handicap hurdle at Limerick, Stack The Deck, who won the bumper at Limerick, and Western Boy, who won his maiden hurdle at Leopardstown. His horses are flying.

Things could get even better this afternoon.

© The Sunday Times, 29th December 2013