Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 22 August 2019

Back to happy hunting ground

Mark Enright, who triumphed in the Galway Plate on board Clarcam 12 months ago, is back from injury and looking forward to this year’s meeting. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Mark Enright, who triumphed in the Galway Plate on board Clarcam 12 months ago, is back from injury and looking forward to this year’s meeting. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Daragh ó Conchúir

It has been a trying time for Mark Enright, but in the context of the hurdles that the jump jockey has already had to clear in his life, it doesn't register on the sharp end of the scale.

Being out of work for three months and having a lot of time to think is the ideal environment for someone who was a cup of tea away from attempting suicide a little over four years ago.

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This is a different man, however, who at 27 now understands what is happening when it happens, sees the signs and knows what to do when the darkness begins to descend.

Thankfully, there is plenty to bring a smile to his face. For starters, returning with two winners from his first three rides after breaking his shoulder from a fall in the Irish Grand National in April was a real boost. Then there is the fact that Galway is almost upon us. It is a track that exudes positivity for him, not least because of his memorable triumph on board Clarcam in the Galway Plate 12 months ago.

A keen hurler and footballer with Feohanagh/Castletown before falling in love with ponies riding out for the late Mickey Lee - father of Flat pilot Billy - he has had the chance to continue following club-mate Seamus Flanagan and the Limerick hurlers. Best of all, he got to spend oodles of time with his two-year-old daughter Sophie.

"Originally (the prognosis) was four weeks," explains Enright of the period immediately after the spill from Measureofmydreams. "Then an MRI showed a second fracture and it was another six weeks. Then things weren't coming together and there was another few weeks.

"It was 13 weeks altogether. It felt like 13 years. When you don't have a job you're only looking for scraps. You have to be back in plenty of time. I'd have loved to be riding all summer and have a book of rides for Galway. You have to be back in plenty of time to show lads you can still do it.

"When you're out you're completely forgotten about. Then you've the likes of Darragh O'Keeffe, now absolutely flying, the likes of Hugh Morgan riding winners and lads are mad to put them up. When a claimer is going well, it's very easy for a trainer to use them. And then you've the main lads going well all the time. When they're all going well, it's hard to knock them off the pedestal.

"I don't think I'll ever fully get rid (of depression). I'd say it's something that's always going to affect me a little bit but I coped well enough. I was busy with Sophie as much as I could.

"She stayed here with me a good bit when I was off . . . But it was a tough 13 weeks. It was very tough. If I didn't have Sophie I mightn't see anyone for that few days as I'm living on my own at the minute. That was tough."

At the beginning of January 2015, Enright was in the depths of despair. He knew nothing only that he could not take it anymore and went about saying goodbye to his friends and colleagues, without revealing his intention to take his own life. His last port of call was fellow jockey Mark Walsh, and only because he spotted Walsh's car outside the house. They sat down, started talking and suddenly the dam of tears burst.

Walsh quickly called Dr Adrian McGoldrick, senior medical officer of the IHRB, who made a very quick diagnosis. He was back in the saddle a fortnight later, a new man, though one who must be alert to the dangers always.

"I know myself well enough now at this stage and if I start to see myself slipping I'm able to cope or I go see someone like Dr McGoldrick. In that sense it's never going to slip too far because I know my own mind at this stage. In the past I hadn't a clue what was wrong with me, whereas now, if I feel my form slipping I can get on top of it a bit. And that's what I did when I was out.

"There was a couple of tough weeks but I was able to get on top of it. And Sophie is great. She's flying around the place. Wrecking the joint!"

He has always been open about his illness and many more jockeys have spoken about their mental health difficulties since with studies indicating an inordinately high ratio of depression or some symptoms of mental illness compared to other sports people and the general public. It is why the biggest win of his professional career was greeted with such enthusiasm in the sport.

"It was magical. It's a day I'll never forget. I'm after watching it back a little bit since I started back riding out even to get myself going. Everything went right on the day. Even the horse (Drumcliff) falling the first fence down the back allowed me to fill my lad up. Everything fell into place. There'd be days when everything would go right and there'd be days when everything would go wrong and that was a day when everything went right. Riding a winner the same day for Jessie Harrington was class too.

"It was just a mighty week and I had a winner for Henry de Bromhead on the Sunday but I'd say I'll struggle to top that this year somehow!"

It did not move him to the next level, however. He reckons there was a fortnight of five rides a day but when the winners didn't flow the normality of being a mid-tier jockey scratching and clawing for a ride was restored. He is a bit of a Galway specialist though and that will be noted for the week ahead.

"The first time I rode there I walked it with Robbie McNamara, as he'd been used to riding the (Dermot) Weld hotpots around there. I'd say it was the first and only time he walked a track! I'd to drag him out of the weigh room.

"He didn't say much going round but he said at the top of the hill: 'Whatever you do, don't let me see you squeezing a horse down this hill. If you drive a horse down this hill, you've absolutely no chance of getting to the top of it'.

"He says, 'Sit agin' them at the top of the hill and let them freewheel.' It's something I've always done. It doesn't matter if I'm 15th, I try as hard as I can not to push them down the hill. Let them freewheel and you'll always run on up the hill. It just seems to work.

"Keep them nice and smooth with momentum down the hill, you'll always get them rolling up. It's a long way from home. You get to the bottom of that hill at the second-last hurdle, or even the last fence on that chase track, it's a long, lonely aul' run-in. Clarcam, it felt like an hour and a half."

Who knows what this week will unfold. But already, Mark Enright is a winner.

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