Donn's Articles » Mark Enright

Mark Enright

Six years ago, on the morning of the first day of the 2012 Galway Festival, Mark Enright walked the track with Robbie McNamara.  An inexperienced conditional rider at the time, Enright had never ridden at Galway before, but he had a good ride in the second race on the evening, the handicap hurdle, Kalellshan for Denis Hogan, and he prepared.

“What’s the key to riding Galway?” he asked his companion.

“Freewheel down the hill,” said McNamara, “and kick up the hill.  If you’re squeezing down the hill, you have no chance.  You won’t get back up the other side.”

McNamara’s sage words were in Enright’s head as he rode Kalellshan that evening.  He set off in front, freewheeled down the hill to the second last hurdle, kicked back up it and won by five lengths.  And they were in his head again last Wednesday as he led the Galway Plate field on Clarcam.

Enright kicked Clarcam off in the front rank, and let him roll.  By the time they got to the top of the hill, two fences to jump, they were clear.  The rider sat, let his horse freewheel down the hill.  He popped the two fences in the dip, and he kicked.

“I didn’t think that we had gone too quickly,’ recalls Enright.  “He made his ground jumping, he was bringing me everywhere, I had used no horse.  When we straightened up, I grabbed a fresh hold of him, and he lengthened again.  I knew then that we had enough to get home.” 

He didn’t hear his rivals.  They were so far behind him.  All he could hear was trainer Gordon Elliott and the lads shouting him home from the inside of the track.

“To be honest, I don’t know how I felt.  It’s a bit of a blur.  It was unbelievable.  Barry Geraghty was the first one to congratulate me after we pulled up.  I was bumbling a bit in the television interviews afterwards.  It was all new to me.  I’m not sure what I was saying.  I had so many people to thank.  Gordon has been brilliant to be.  All the lads.  And the O’Learys for letting me ride him.”

He had ridden big winners before.  He had ridden good winners for JP McManus and Tom Mullins and Terence O’Brien and Charles Byrnes.  But to win a Galway Plate.  That’s massive.  That’s the biggest yet.

It has been some road for Mark Enright, it has been some achievement by him to get to the Galway Plate winner’s enclosure.  A Limerick native, he had no racing background, no horse background.  He didn’t sit on a horse until he was 13.

“I left school when I was 16 and started working with Mick Murphy in Tipperary.  My mother and father weren’t that keen on me leaving school, but they were brilliant, they knew that it was all I wanted to do.”

He went to Tommy Stack’s and got on okay, he rode a few winners, but things were a bit slow. 

“My weight wasn’t great, and I wasn’t that bothered about it, to be honest.  It was my first bit of freedom, I was living in a house with lads in Cashel.  I thought it was great.  I suppose it was my college, but I didn’t mind myself too well and my weight went up.”

He always knew really that he was built to be a National Hunt jockey more than a flat jockey, so he called Bryan Cooper to ask see if Dessie Hughes was looking for a conditional rider.

“Dessie was an unbelievable man.  He kept us so grounded.  He never let you get ahead of yourself.  The tutoring I got there was incredible.  Bryan was there too, and Roger Loughran.  They’re great lads.  I was getting lots of opportunities.  It was very sad when Dessie died, and it was shortly afterwards that I went freelance.”

The life of a freelance National Hunt jockey is a precarious one.  It lacks solidity.  Lots of trainers were good to him, trainers like Mouse Morris and Michael Hourigan and John Nicholson, but essentially, he was on his own.  Paying the rent, putting diesel into the car, and your only income is your riding fee.  Mark Enright struggled.

“I knew nothing about depression at the time.  It was something you’d hear about, you’d see it on the Late Late Show.  But I was always tired.  No matter what I did, I was just getting more and more tired.  My form was dipping all the time.”

He was walking home one day, he was walking past Mark Walsh’s house, not in a great place.  He saw that Mark was in there, so he decided he’d go in and have a cup of tea.  That was when it all came tumbling down.

“It all came out.  I broke down.  Mark was sharp enough to ring Dr Adrian McGoldrick, who came over straight away.  Robbie Mac came over, Bryan Cooper came over, and I just sat there on the couch bawling crying for about three hours.  There was something about Dr McGoldrick’s calmness that evening.  He just sat there, with his pen and paper, taking little notes, jotting things down in his little book. 

“I was talking away, I was all over the place.  He was just calm.  So when I was finished, he said, that’s okay, we have you now, you’re going to be fine.  I’m seeing this all the time.  It’s so common.  You’re going to be fine.  

“I can’t thank that man enough.  There was just something about his calmness, I started to think, maybe I am going to be fine.”

He was fine.  He is fine.  He got sorted, he got back on track, and he has the right framework in place now. 

Life is good.  He is in riding out at Gordon’s, that’s his base, that’s his foundation, and he is in demand.  Already this season, he has ridden for 35 different trainers.  He and his fiancée Jessie Foster have set a date for their wedding, and their 16-month old daughter Sophie is thriving.

“Jessie and Sophie couldn’t make it to Galway, but it was brilliant to come home.  Sophie didn’t care that I had ridden a Galway Plate winner.  ‘Daddy! Daddy!’  She was just delighted to see me.”

And Limerick in the All-Ireland final.  It could happen too.

“It was some match on Sunday.  Shane Dowling is a good friend.  I called into him on the Thursday before the semi-final and we spoke about everything except hurling.  We’ve had some good nights out.  Hopefully we’ll have another one now in two weeks.”

An All-Ireland championship or a Galway Plate?  He thinks for a moment.  Can he say both?

© The Sunday Times, 5th August 2018