Donn's Articles » Shane Foley

Shane Foley

Shane Foley made the best of lockdown.  No racing from late March to early June.  All these high-class horses at Jessica Harrington’s, last year’s juveniles ready to run as three-year-olds, this year’s juveniles all set to race for the first time, and all he could do was keep them ticking over. 

He was pragmatic about it all though, he recognised the necessity, he saw the bigger picture.  He came home early from riding in Japan in February in order that he could be at home.  And no racing meant no pressure to race, so horses like Cayenne Pepper who needed time could be given time without missing potential engagements.  Also, he got to sit on some of the backward juveniles early in the season, he had the opportunity to do that, which he wouldn’t have had if racing had been pell-mell.  He kept working away and prepared himself for the day that racing would return. 

The preparation paid dividends too.  Like a coiled spring, on 8th June at Naas, the day that racing returned in Ireland, he burst forward and rode four winners.  Two days later at Navan, he rode two more.  The following day at Gowran Park, he rode two more.  That weekend at The Curragh, he won the Mooresbridge Stakes on Leo De Fury and he won a good juvenile fillies’ maiden on Dickiedooda.

“We were dying to get the horses going at the time,” says the rider.  “But it was the same for everybody.  We just had to play the hand we were dealt.  We kept them ticking over during lockdown, we knew what we had for when racing did start back, and we came out of the stalls fast.  We’ve been going well ever since, and hopefully we can keep it going.”

The good horses came out and Shane Foley won the good races on them.  One Voice won the Blue Wind Stakes, Valeria Messalina won the Brownstown Stakes, Millisle won the Ballyogan Stakes.  Four weeks ago, he rode Lucky Vega to win the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh. 

“I got a good kick out of that all right,” he recalls.  “He travelled through the race like a good horse.  He had a little bit of a setback before the Railway Stakes, we had to rush him a bit for that, and he ran a massive race there.  That crowned him.  He came out of that race and just went forward again.  He’s a proper horse.  He won well, he cantered through the race.  He’s very relaxed.  He has all the attributes of a good horse.” 

The majority of Foley’s winners so far this season have obviously been for Jessica Harrington but, unsurprisingly, when his commitments to his boss allow, he is in demand further afield.  Quarantine restrictions mean that he hasn’t been able to venture beyond Ireland’s borders, and he missed the winning ride on Alpine Star in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot as a consequence, which was gutting, but there are silver linings.  He has ridden winners for 14 different trainers in Ireland this year, and he is 17 clear in the jockeys’ championship.

“Every jockey, you’d love to win the Irish Derby and you’d love to be champion jockey.  I never thought that I would be in the position that I am in now, so I’ll just try to keep it up, keep going, and if it happens, it happens.  It’s not something I’d be thinking about day in day out.  You still have to get up and go to work and do your job.  What we want to do is ride winners.  So, when I’m riding winners, I’m still in front in the championship.”

The road to the top of the jockeys’ table has not been without its speed bumps.  In 2016, he rode Jet Setting to win the Irish 1000 Guineas.  He was superb on Adrian Keatley’s filly, getting her home by a head from the top-class filly Minding.  Even so, that September, with the filly under new ownership, he was replaced on her for the Matron Stakes by Christophe Soumillon.

Then in 2017, he lost the job as first rider at Michael Halford’s.

They were setbacks that could have floored a lesser individual, but Foley dug deep, worked hard, trusted in his talent and his work ethic.  He was back on board Jet Setting for her next race, the Group 3 Concorde Stakes at Tipperary, which they won doing handsprings.  Then in May 2018, he won the Irish 2000 Guineas on Romanised for Ken Condon, and he kicked on.  He had more rides and he rode more winners in 2018 than in 2017.

Five of those winners in 2018 were for Jessica Harrington, and the relationship between trainer and jockey strengthened.  At the start of the 2019 season, he was offered the job as first rider at Commonstown.

“Jessie is a fantastic woman, she’s able to train anything from a five-furlong sprinter to a mile-and-a-half flat horse to a three-mile chaser.  It’s a great team, and it’s fantastic to be a part of it.”

Next weekend is a big weekend for Shane Foley and Team Harrington, Longines Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown and The Curragh.  Plans are coming into focus: Lucky Vega in the National Stakes, Alpine Star probably in the Champion Stakes, Albigna in the Matron Stakes, Cayenne Pepper in the Blandford Stakes, Ancient Spirit in the Boomerang Mile, and others.  Njord maybe in the Sovereign Path Handicap, Cadillac in the Champions Juvenile Stakes. 

“It’s a massive weekend.  It’s the main weekend of our year really, six Group 1 races in one weekend.  It will be competitive, but we have a fantastic team of horses going.  We’re ready.”

The spring is coiled again.

© The Sunday Times, 6th September 2020