Donn's Articles » Jarlath Fahey

Jarlath Fahey

The vets said that Sea The Lion would not come back.  When they have tendon trouble, they often don’t come back and, even if they do, it is rare that they reach the level of performance that they had attained before the injury, not to mind surpass it.  But Sea The Lion is a rare animal.

Winner of his maiden in 2014 when he was trained by Michael Halford, the son of Sea The Stars broke down at the end of that year, his three-year-old season.  His owner and breeder John Connaughton sent him to Tom Whelan, better known as a consignor at the bloodstock sales, see if he could nurse him back.  It took a while, it took over two years’ worth of patience and perseverance until, one day, Whelan called trainer Jarlath Fahey and asked him if he would take him.

“We were delighted to get Sea The Lion,” recalls Fahey.  “He was obviously a talented horse, and Tom had done an unbelievable job with him.  We started his training off slowly and, after about a month, I called Tom and said that he was going away grand.  So we decided that his wife Kathleen and my wife Suzanne would have a half-share each in him, and we’d see how we’d go.”

They went well.  Tom and Kathleen Whelan’s son Ronan rode him in his first race back at Killarney in May last year, and he ran a really encouraging race to finish third. 

“We expected a nice run out of him.  He was lazy at home, he still is, we didn’t know how good he could be.  He got shuffled a bit back at the stands, and Ronan thought that his race was run.  But he stayed on well from two furlongs out and he got up to finish third.  We were delighted with that.  And we were even more delighted when he was sound the following day.”

Sea The Lion kicked on.  He went to Navan two weeks later and sprang a 14/1 shock in a decent handicap.  Then he went to The Curragh for the Ragusa Handicap, a premier handicap on Irish Derby weekend, and he won that too, staying on strongly to prevail by a half a length.

“We were hoping for a good run.  You’d never really expect him to win, but we knew that he was in good form.  It was brilliant to win a big race like that.  That was a great day.  And we said, look, all the effort to get him back was worthwhile.  Whatever he does from here on in is a bonus.”

Fahey speaks in the collective.  It’s all we and us.  There’s a team ethos here, a family ethos.  This is a family-run operation.  Your staff are your family.  Daughters Aoife and Sinead work with their dad, ride Sea The Lion out every day.  Daughter Ciara, now working in Australia with leading antipodean trainer Gai Waterhouse, was in Tom Whelan’s when Sea The Lion arrived.  Even now, Suzanne and Aoife and Sinead sit around the kitchen table, contributing to the conversation when they feel the need.

“They do all the work.  I just do the talking.”

Family has always been important for Fahey.  His parents were deeply involved with pony racing, they were chairman and secretary of the Midlands Pony Racing Committee, so Fahey, like his brothers before him, cut his teeth on the pony racing circuit.  His brothers Seamus, Paul and Peter are all training now, and Jarlath rode a few winners as an amateur before taking out his own licence.

“I was working full-time with Glanbia at the time.  The horses were just a hobby initially.  But we were lucky, we got a few nice horses, we had a few winners, and it grew from there.  It got to a point where I couldn’t have a full-time job and have horses as well.  I had to choose one.  I don’t know if it was the cleverest thing at the time, but I chose horses.”

There have been good days.  There have been high points.  Maca Rince’s win in the Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse on Hatton’s Grace Hurdle weekend in 2007 was one.  Returntovendor’s victory in the big novices’ handicap hurdle final at the Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse last year was another.  And then there was Jennies Jewel.  Ascot Stakes 2016.  Highs don’t get much higher than Royal Ascot highs.

“We didn’t realise the enormity of Royal Ascot before we went there.  You couldn’t have written it.  For everything to go right like it did.  For the rain to come before the race and for her to get there as well as she was.  And the ride that Ronan (Whelan) gave her.  Unbelievable.

“She was an incredible mare for us.  I remember when we were over at Ascot in January that year, when we finished second behind Vroum Vroum Mag in the mares’ hurdle, one of the lads saying, wouldn’t it be something if we could come back here in the summer for Royal Ascot.  It was a pipe dream at the time.  We never thought that it could really happen.”

The Ebor Handicap at York has also been a bit of a pipe dream.  It is a race that has always been high on Tom Whelan’s wishlist.  A race you dream of more than a race you realistically aspire to win.  And yet, here we are, six days away from the 2018 renewal, and Sea The Lion is a live contender.   He has raced three times this season, and he has won three times.  Leopardstown, Cork, The Curragh, rat-tat-tat, by a half a length, a nose and a head.  Even as a seven-year-old, he continues to progress.

“He only just does what he has to do.  He has won six times, and if you add up his winning distances, you get to about a length and a half.  I have never been to York, but I am told that the track will suit him.  A flat track, a big galloping track with a long home straight.  We travel in hope.”

They will all go over on Thursday, on the ferry with the horse.  They couldn’t decide who would stay at home.  In the end, they decided that it wouldn’t be fair to leave anybody behind.  There’s that team ethos again.

© The Sunday Times, 19th August 2018