National Hunt Jockey Noel Fehily, born in Ireland in 1975, is the son of a Cork farmer and therefore didn’t have racing in his blood. He started out riding on the point-to-point circuit in Ireland and didn’t move to the United Kingdom until 1998, when he was already in his early twenties.
He rode his first winner at Plumpton aboard ‘Ivy Boy’ in his first year and went on to finish the campaign with thirteen winners. He followed that up with sixteen winners the next season and turned professional in the year 2000.
His first few seasons in the UK saw him have minor success whilst also gaining vital experience. He was a solid, if not extraordinary, jockey with a gentle riding style coupled with a laid-back and calm personality off the course.
Despite the fact he hadn’t set the racing world on fire, Fehily was appointed second jockey for Jonjo O’Neill in 2005 whilst also riding several horses for Charlie Mann.
It would be another three years before his career really took off, with him winning his first Group/Grade One race. He rode the Mann-trained ‘Air Force One’ to victory in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown in 2008 to achieve that milestone.
The 2008/09 season would prove to be a successful one for Fehily when he finished the campaign with 89 winners in Great Britain, finishing fourth in the race for the Champion Jockey title, whilst amassing overall prize money of just over £900,000.
He became first jockey to Emma Lavelle in 2012 and achieved a 21% winning strike rate aboard her horses. He has also ridden several horses for Paul Nicholls, mainly when Ruby Walsh was forced to miss action, with a high level of success.
Fehily’s career has been severely blighted by injuries and he has spent a lot of time sitting on the side-lines. Time out with a broken leg, several shoulder injuries and serious wrist problems all affected his quest for success. The 2010/11 season was a particularly poor one for him, with just 150 rides during the campaign.
Due to the injury problems causing him to miss so much time, it would be the 2013/14 season before he finally rode over 100 winners in a single campaign in Great Britain. His total of 127 with a strike rate of 21% was without doubt his most successful campaign to date, as he also accumulated total prize money of over £1million for the first time (£1.3m).
Fehily won over £1.5million in total prizes the following season, despite only having 85 winners. He has achieved over that amount again this season with a few more rides still left before it’s over. This campaign sees him sitting in fourth place in the Champion Jockey title race with 118 winners, whilst he has also ridden over 100 second places.
Since that first Group One win in 2008, he has ridden another sixteen. Three Paul Nicholls trained horses have given him plenty of major success including ‘Master Minded’ in the 2010 Tingle Creek Chase and ‘Rock on Ruby’ in the Champion Hurdle at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival.
His most successful Group One horse has been the Nicholls trained ‘Silviniaco Conti’, who he has ridden to six top-level victories. Those include the King George VI in 2014 and the Betfair Ascot Chase in February this year.
His most recent success in a Group One race was on the Nicky Henderson trained ‘Buveur D’air’ in a top novices hurdle at the Aintree Grand National festival at the start of April.
Off the race course, Fehily married his wife Natasha in County Cork in 2007 and they have since had a daughter, Niamh, who was born in 2012. His wife describes him as “if he was any more relaxed he would be asleep”. That analogy sums up him and his attitude to racing perfectly. He is known for letting the race just happen instead of trying to force it and that attitude has paid off in the long run.
Despite taking a long time to really find success and having to overcome several injuries in his quest for it, Fehily has ridden over 1,000 winners in Britain in his near twenty-year career. Those winners have come from just under 7,000 rides with a more than respectable 15% winning strike rate.
Noel Fehily, the farmer’s son from Cork, is now a highly respected and successful veteran jumps jockey who seems to be getting better with age. He may be one of the elder jockeys on the circuit but he is still determined to ride more winners and maybe even bag a Champion Jockey Title before he calls it a day.