Donn's Articles » Pat Foley

Pat Foley

Danoli was three decades ago.  Thirty years.  Hard to believe.  Danoli won a bumper at Naas 29 years and 357 days ago today, then went and conquered the world.

Pat Foley stepped every step of the Danoli journey with his late father Tom, or every step that he was allowed to step.  Cheltenham was no place for a kid who probably should have been in school anyway.  He remembers the attention, the magic, the intensity.  The pressure that an ever-increasing level of expectation brought. 

It was all well-meaning of course.  Danoli was the Irish banker at Cheltenham, the people’s champion, the novice hurdler in the Irish Champion Hurdle, the novice chaser in the Irish Gold Cup, the small man taking on the behemoths.  One man and his horse climbing Everest.  But well-meaning willingness and expectation still brings pressure. 

Pat felt it even as a kid, so he can only imagine the magnitude of the pressure that his dad felt.  But Tom Foley just smiled and went about things in his own inimitable way, fielding every question, charming every questioner.  When he went to Cheltenham for the first time in 1994, the first time that he left the island of Ireland, his eyes opened wide with wonder as the media click-clicked. 

“The fences here,” said Tom then.  “They’re like paintings.”

We didn’t know it at the time, but when Rebel Gold won his beginners’ chase at Gowran Park on Thyestes Chase day in 2021, two years ago this Thursday, he was Tom Foley’s final winner as a trainer.  And it was the same Rebel Gold who won the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse last Saturday, providing Pat Foley with the biggest win of his nascent training career to date.

“That race had been the plan for a little while,” says Pat now, “so it was nice that it all came together the way that it did.”

Turns out, a little while is about eight months.  Pat entered Rebel Gold in two races at the Punchestown Festival last April, a two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase on the Wednesday and a two-mile handicap chase on the Thursday.  In the end, he ran him in the former, he had less weight to carry in the longer race and, while he ran a nice race, it was obvious that the distance stretched him.

“Aidan Coleman got off him that day,” recalls the trainer, “and said that he was a lovely horse, but that we should drop him in trip.  It was then that I started to think that the Dan & Joan Moore Chase in January would be a good race for him.”

The universe complied.  The rains came before Saturday, the ground turned soft to heavy, and Rebel Gold was bouncing going into the race.  He ran a big race in the Tim Duggan Chase at Limerick over Christmas, he only just gave best to Maskada, a talented and progressive mare of Henry de Bromhead’s, and Pat felt that he was in even better form going into Saturday’s race than he had been at Limerick.

Saturday’s race was an easy watch too.  Of course, it’s easier to watch the recording when you know the result but, even watching the race live, there was no point at which you thought that Rebel Gold wouldn’t win.  He always travelled well for Denis O’Regan, he moved to the front as they raced to the home turn, and he kept on nicely over the last two fences to win easily.

“I knew turning for home that Denis had a bit left,” says Pat.  “That if he jumped the last two fences, he should be okay.  But it was only when he crossed the line that it hit me.  The relief.  More than any other winner I have trained.  Maybe because it was a big race, because we had been thinking about it for so long.  Maybe it was the link to my father.  You know?  His last winner.  I had talked about Rebel Gold a lot with my father.  All of that.  It was a special day.”

Rebel Gold arrived at the Foleys’ yard in Aughabeg in the spring of 2019, after he had run in just one point-to-point.

“He was brought down in his first point-to-point, and the man who owned him then said that he was on the ground for about a half an hour before he got up.  We gave him plenty of time when he arrived here first.  The original plan was to win a point-to-point with him and sell him on, but we quickly realised that he was a horse who had lots of ability.  He was on his nerves though all the time, we had to teach him to settle.”

He was beaten in his next two point-to-points, and he didn’t win a bumper, and it took him five goes before he got off the mark over hurdles, but he improved with every one of those first four runs.  15th, 12th, 5th, 2nd.  He learned a little more about settling with each run.  Then he went to Limerick in June 2020 and won his maiden hurdle.

“The day that he won his beginners’ chase at Gowran Park,” says Pat.  “That was special too.  My father wasn’t well at all at the time, but he watched it all at home.  He got a great kick out of that win.”

It’s a real family operation, always has been.  Pat started working with his dad when he was 16, and his mother and his three older sisters, Adi, Sharon and Goretti, have always been a part of it.  Now, it is Pat Foley’s name that is on the licence, but it couldn’t happen without the rest of the family.

“We have a great working relationship, all of us.  It’s good when you’re all pulling in the same direction, when you all want to get to the same place.”

On Sunday, the day after Rebel Gold won at Fairyhouse, Pat sent out Lizlucky to finish second in a mares’ handicap hurdle at Punchestown.  The following day, he sent out Verdant Place to win a novices’ handicap hurdle back at Punchestown, his first winner for owner JP McManus.

“There can probably never be another Danoli, but weekends like last weekend are important.  We are all the while looking forward, you have to be always looking to get new horses, to improve, to take the next step forward, and thankfully that is happening for us at present.” 

More steps on a different journey.

© The Sunday Times, 22nd January 2023