Wednesday 28 September 2016

Aintree the 'dream territory' for Fahy

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

Pat Fahy trained Morning Assembly goes in the Crabbie’s £1m feature at Aintree on Saturday. Photo: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
Pat Fahy trained Morning Assembly goes in the Crabbie’s £1m feature at Aintree on Saturday. Photo: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
Trainer Pat Fahy sends out Morning Assembly in the Crabbie’s £1m feature at Aintree on Saturday. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Pat Fahy's renaissance has been one of the domestic season's most redemptive features, so it would be some climax if it were all to culminate in Grand National glory with Morning Assembly.

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At Aintree on Saturday, the Athenry native will saddle the star of his Leighlinbridge yard in the Crabbie's £1m feature.

There are two Grade One winners that are set to carry less than 10st 10lb and have beaten the Gold Cup hero Don Cossack. They are trained within a few miles of each other in Carlow.

One is Morning Assembly, the other is Willie Mullins's Ballycasey. Second and third to Smashing at Gowran Park in February, both ran well in defeat in Cheltenham handicaps.

Shorter

Morning Assembly, though, trades three times shorter than Ballycasey at odds of 25/1. Fahy does his best to play down expectations, but it's not easy.

"I'm very happy with him," he admits. "But for a mistake at the third-last fence at Cheltenham, I think he would have been third, and he is a natural jumper. He has won on testing and goodish ground, which is what it was the day he beat Don Cossack (in a Grade Two chase at Punchestown in 2013).

"If we can have him there at his best, with just 10st 9lb, then we're going around loose. To tell you the truth, if he wasn't mine, I'd be fancying him, but he is - and the National isn't a normal race. Still, I will never have a National horse like it again."

Fahy has had National types before. Nuaffe, the horse that made his name 20 years ago, twice failed to get round, as did Dun Belle in 1998.

Amazingly, it is 16 years since his last winner on English soil. That was Quadco in Aintree's Champion Bumper, with a seven-pound-claiming amateur rider called DN Russell up top.

The ever-assured dual champion jockey has played a pivotal role in Fahy's resurgence, but the affable 56-year-old hopes for even more yet. "Davy was never heard of until he rode Quadco - or at least that's what I tell him," Fahy quips. "He owes me a good one now - it's payback time."

Since Quadco's blistering 16-length victory, Fahy has experienced the full gamut of the game's volatile extremes. He thrived during Irish racing's builder-driven boom, saddling 33 winners in 2005.

Then the wheels fell off, and his struggle was exacerbated by the tragic death of 21-year-old Ronan Lawlor following a fall at Fahy's Ellen Lodge Stables. It has been a long road back, but Morning Assembly spearheaded the recovery in 2013. Injured last term, he has returned in fine shape and Fahy's fortunes have soared in tandem. A running tally of 17 jumps wins is equal to his last two totals combined and his best since 2006.

"I put in a lot of gallops in here before the crash," Fahy recalls. "I had all this ready and then the crash happened. I always say that it's like building a hotel, and then there is no tourism, so you have to be patient. We are gradually getting it back now, so I am delighted with what I did a long time ago.

"And I'm lucky that I've lovely owners that I get on with, unlike what I had to put up with back then. The people that owned horses in the boom would be out of the yard in a heartbeat.

Enjoyable

"They are gone now and it makes things so much more enjoyable. It was a horrible part of my life before anything else ever happened.

"Having a National runner is dream territory, but my way of looking at things now, I'm going to meet Joe Foley (of Ballyhane Stud) and (Morning Assembly's owner) Steve Parkin and other friends there, and we're going to have a bit of a laugh and craic.

"If we win the National, we'll enjoy it, but we're around long enough to know that there is no point letting nerves take over and not enjoying the day. I will be delighted to be there will enjoy every second of it."

Tonight, Fahy saddles Ballybacka Queen in a Listed race at Leopardstown. "I don't think she will need the run," he says of her return. "It would be lovely if she went close and you'd go over to Aintree then with your chest out and a spring in your step."

Irish Independent

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