IT doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that Noel Fehily has a better eye for a horse than most.
That’s going to come in handy in his latest venture, Noel Fehily Racing, a new racehorse syndication business. Already, his knowledge is reaping results.
In November, Pride Of Lecale won with some to spare, it was a first success for the colours of the new syndicate, but dig a little deeper and you discover why the former Coppeen jockey has the right eye for talent.
Fehily rode Pride Of Lecale a couple of times and he was beaten by an average of 35 lengths over both runs, but the West Cork man saw something that most wouldn’t.
‘Noel identified the horse as one he thought could go on and progress. Sure enough, it went on to win in November,’ explains Clonakilty man Richie Forristal, who is the Racing Post's Ireland editor.
‘That proves that Noel has the right eye and the judgement. He identified that horse as one with untapped potential, and he was proved right straightaway after they won on the first start since they bought it.’
Again, the success of Pride Of Lecale didn’t surprise Forristal.
‘What he does is pre-training, and buying and selling youngsters, so he won’t train and have runners as such, as far as I know,’ Forristal explains.
‘He will do very well in what he is doing. He has a great eye for a horse. He has a great sense of what they are capable of in terms of their scope.’
Considering the brilliant career that Fehily enjoyed – he retired from the saddle on a high note last March – we shouldn’t be surprised that he understands horses better than most. His stats are incredible and with 1,352 wins between 1998 and 2019, he is in the top ten jump jockeys ever in Great Britain and Ireland. That’s a list that also includes Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Richard Dunwoody; not bad company for the West Cork man. That’s where he deserves to be too, insists Forristal.
‘He will be remembered as one of the best big race drivers that we have produced in recent times,’ Forristal says.
‘You only have to look at the legacy that he has left to see that. In the space of a ten-year period he rode nearly 30 Grade 1 winners, he won a Champion Chase, two Champion Hurdles, two King Georges and he was second in a Gold Cup as well.
‘On the big day he was the go-to man for a lot of trainers. You must remember too that he didn’t ride a Grade 1 winner until he was 32 years of age and he retired when he was 43, so he was a late bloomer in that sense.’
Fehily’s legend is assured. There are many highlights – winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with Rock On Ruby in 2012 and with Buveur d’Air in 2017, back-to-back wins in the King George VI Chase on Silviniaco Conti in 2013 and 2014, winning the Champion Chase on Special Tiara two years ago.
‘His relationship with Silviniaco Conti was a bit special. He was very good on him,’ Forristal explains.
‘Noel won two Champions Hurdles and that’s a massive race, but the King George has a bit of x-factor, it is a real iconic race, it is the centrepiece at Christmas and traditionalists rank it as one of the top three Chases.
‘To win two King Georges on Silviniaco Conti in the manner that he did was incredible.’
What’s also more than noteworthy is that Fehily retired on his own terms in March.
In 2018 he broke his neck in a fall at Punchestown, but even though he had nothing left to prove he wasn’t ready to pack it up. This year, he was.
‘To be able to do it the way I wanted to do it was special,’ Fehily told the Star earlier this year.
And he caught everyone by surprise when he announced he was bowing out after guiding Eglantine Du Seuil to win the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham.
EXCLUSIVE An emotional Noel Fehily says he will not be riding in another #CheltenhamFestival
"It's time to let the young ones get on with it" - multiple G1-winning jockey may have just weeks left in the saddle
Best known perhaps for partnership with Silviniaco Conti pic.twitter.com/gL0gZUoewl
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 14, 2019
Just over one week later Fehily went out on a high in Newbury after riding 1-3 hot favourite Get In The Queue to victory. It was a short goodbye but a fitting end.
‘A lot of lads in his position are deprived that chance to make their own decision,’ Forristal says.
‘If you get an injury at that age it can be very hard to come back. Noel would tell you himself that his powers of recovery had slowed down, he had the issue with his appendix (in early 2019) and so on and there were points when he did wonder if he would be in a spot of bother, so to get back to the point where he rode a winner at Cheltenham and to bow out on a winner at Newbury was important to him.
‘Noel had the stage to himself in Newbury too which was lovely, and it was great to see him go out on a positive note.’
As to what made Fehily – who turned 44 on Christmas Eve – so special, Forristal doesn’t hesitate in highlighting his temperament.
‘He was unbelievably calm and cool and composed. He was able to deliver. And he rode with conviction too. He had a very understated style,’ Forristal points out.
‘He was the same person off the saddle, he’s a very laidback guy who doesn’t get wound up over anything.’
Fehily has retired from the saddle, and 2019 was the closing of a glorious chapter that spanned two decades of high and lows, but there is a great comfort to know that Donal Noel Fehily is still involved in a sport where he excelled.
That immense bank of knowledge still has an important role to play.