Co. Cork-born National Hunt jockey Noel Fehily, widely regarded as one of the best horsemen of his generation, bids farewell today to the sport he has graced for the past two decades.
A former point-to-point jockey on the Cork and Waterford circuit in his youth, Fehily moved to Britain, where he became champion conditional jump jockey in 2001, before being appointed number one jockey to trainer Charlie Mann.
The English handler provided the Irish rider with his first winner in Britain in 1998 with the victory of Ivy Boy at Plumpton, and the pair would later team up to taste Grade 1 success with Air Force One in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown, Fehily’s first winner at the highest level. He became second jockey to his fellow Corkman, Jonjo O’Neill in 2005, while still riding for Charlie Mann.
Noel Fehily achieved the first of his seven Cheltenham Festival winners when riding Silver Jaro to victory in 2008, and claimed his first Champion Hurdle when Rock On Ruby won in 2012.
In a sport where one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity, Noel Fehily took the ride on Paul Nicholls’ Master Minded in the Tingle Creek Chase in 2010, when regular pilot Rugby Walsh got injured. The Co. Cork rider was now in the big league and would soon be noticed by owner Jared Sullivan whose horses Fehily was secured to ride. Silviniaco Conti, in Sullivan’s colours, provided Fehily with back-to-back success in the King George VI Chase in 2013 and 2014.
In 2017, Fehily rode the JP McManus-owned Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the first part of a massive Grade 1 double at The Festival, as he would team up with the Henry de Bromhead-trained Special Tiara a day later to take the Queen Mother Champion Chase. With two of Cheltenham’s top prizes in the bag within the space of 24 hours, Fehily went close on the Friday to also winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but eventually had to settle for the runner-up position on Minello Rocco.
This season has seen the Irish jockey suffer with his health, having had complications from appendix surgery last January. With this is mind, Fehily’s recent success on Eglantine Du Seuil at the Cheltenham Festival prompted him to announce his impending retirement, with the decision taken to leave the sport he has graced for so long at Newbury today:
“I shall enjoy the day, but it’s definitely going to be an emotional occasion as well. Riding is all I have ever done and all I have ever known.”
Trainer Harry Fry, with whom Noel Fehily has worked successfully in recent years, paid tribute to the jockey before his final day’s riding on Saturday, stating:
“He will be irreplaceable, but it is one chapter closing and another opening. Rock on Ruby put us on the map, and he (Fehily) was on board when he won the 2012 Champion Hurdle. He is a brilliant jockey. It is not just about his input as a jockey, but his fabulous input into plans to make sure the horses are running in the right races. He is a great horseman.”
Fehily’s final day will see him take the ride on Fry’s unbeaten Get In The Queue in the Goffs UK Spring Sale Bumper (5.00pm) at Newbury, and will also take the mount on Out Of This World (3.15pm) for the softly-spoken English handler in the EBF & TBA Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle Series Final, with the trainer saying:
“Hopefully we can send him off in style. Hopefully we will be able to pull it off (for Noel), but I’ve never been under pressure like it.”
Fehily will also ride Prabeni (2.40pm) for former boss Charlie Mann in the Be Wiser Insurance Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.