Donn's Articles » Noel Fehily

Noel Fehily

The jockeys lined the walkway before the Goffs UK Spring Sale Bumper at Newbury yesterday, and the assembled crowd applauded as Noel Fehily walked the walk that took him into the parade ring as a jockey for the final time.  There were presentations and photographs and autographs and selfies before the rider was legged up for a National Hunt horse race for the last time.

The race followed the script too.  Fehily kicked the Harry Fry-trained Get In The Queue home, four and a half lengths clear of his closest pursuer.  His final ride as a jockey, his final winner. 

It was a typical no-nonsense ride from Noel Fehily.  Always handy, settled nicely just behind the pace, kicked on two furlongs out, stayed on well to the line.  No dramatics, no heroics.  Keep it simple for maximum efficiency.  It’s Noel Fehily all over.

“It’s fantastic that it came off,” said Fehily.  “We came here with a plan that this fellow could win.  It would have been very disappointing if he didn’t, but he’s a very good horse.  He’s one of the ones that I’ll miss next season.  The whole family are here.  It’s a very special day, one I wont be forgetting for a long time.”

Fehily’s was a special career.  The Corkman arrived in Britain in the autumn of 1998, intent on giving it a go.  He says that his sole objective was survival, see if he could just make a living as a jockey.

He did far more than that.  Slowly and inexorably, he climbed to the top of his profession.  He rode Moral Support for Charlie Mann to win the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow in December 2000.  He rode Don’t Push It to win a big handicap hurdle at Chepstow and he rode Albertas Run to win a big handicap hurdle at Aintree, both for Jonjo O’Neill.  And he went back to Ireland, to Punchestown in 2008, to ride his first Grade 1 winner, Air Force One for Charlie Mann in the Champion Novice Chase in 2008.

His easy laid-back personality was evident in his riding style.  At ease on a horse, smooth and relaxed.  He was rarely in the wrong place in a race, rarely in the wrong position on the track.  If you saw Noel Fehily racing wide, you knew that it was probable that that was where the best of the ground was.  That the ground that he was giving away by racing wide was worth it for the energy that his horse was saving for racing on the best ground.

His talent was recognised by some of the best judges in the game.  He won the 2012 Champion Hurdle on Rock On Ruby for Harry Fry and he won the 2017 Champion Hurdle on Buveur D’Air for Nicky Henderon and JP McManus.  He won two King Georges and two Betfred Bowls on Silviniaco Conti for Paul Nicholls.  He won the Champion Chase on Special Tiara for Henry de Bromhead. 

He won at the Cheltenham Festival seven times, the seventh time on Eglantine Du Seuil in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle for Willie Mullins and Sullivan Bloodstock last Thursday.

“I thought, if I was lucky enough to ride a Cheltenham Festival winner this year,” said Fehily yesterday, “that I could announce my retirement then.  And if I announced it, I couldn’t see myself carrying on too much after that.  I have been overwhelmed by the attention that I have had since, the messages that I have received.  I thought that today would be a good final day.”

It was appropriate that his final ride, his final winner, was for Harry Fry.

“I’m delighted for Noel,” said the trainer.  “He’s been a brilliant jockey, he’s a great friend, and it’s an honour to provide him with his last ride, and to come away with a winner.  It’s a perfect fairytale ending.  He’s retiring but he’s not disappearing to the other side of the world.  He’s had a huge input into everything that we’ve done, and hopefully he will continue to do so.”

Noel Fehily arrived back into the winner’s enclosure on Get In The Queue after the bumper yesterday, and smiled at the applause.  No flying dismounts, no cartwheels.  He quietly slipped off the horse, took his saddle, politely did a quick interview, and weighed in for the final time.

© The Sunday Times, 24th March 2019