Fehily aims to Rock on
Noel Fehily will undergo X-rays on his right leg tomorrow to ascertain if he can resume race-riding duties -- six months after suffering multiple fractures when parting company with State Of Play in the Aintree Grand National.
It is a painfully familiar routine for the 36-year-old native of Castletown-Kinneigh in west Cork, the latest juncture in a rollercoaster couple of seasons.
When fate shone favourably on the unassuming but immensely talented rider by way of Rock On Ruby's shock Champion Hurdle victory (right) at Cheltenham last March, there was a sense that a career plagued by injury might finally reap its due reward.
One month later, Fehily was thrown fairly harmlessly to the Aintree turf by State Of Play, only for one of the following horses to kick him while he was down. Four fractures to his right leg quenched the Champion Hurdle celebrations, but he is now on the verge of what might justifiably be described as his latest comeback.
"I have been riding work and schooling for over a month and the leg feels grand, but the bone has been slow healing," Fehily says. "It was just the way it was broken; the fractures were horizontal and vertical, so it was messy.
"The ones that were broken crossways healed quickly, but the lengthways breaks have been slow, because they are not weight-bearing so they don't get the same blood supply."
It's the lot of a jump jockey to get knocked down and get back up again. That's what you sign up for, but few have encountered such well-documented extremities as Fehily has of late.
In the past two years alone he has suffered a gruelling catalogue of injuries. He was sidelined for six months after ripping the tendons off his right shoulder and, a month after his return, he broke a collarbone and bruised his spine.
He was no sooner back from that five-week lay-off than Paul Nicholls plucked him from relative obscurity to substitute for an injured Ruby Walsh in the autumn of 2010.
The new partnership was getting along famously when Fehily dislocated his wrist, but he made a swift recovery to steer Master Minded to a glorious Tingle Creek Chase success at Cheltenham.
Then, the wrist became dislodged once more. He went under the knife, missed a second successive Cheltenham Festival, not to mention what proved to be Kauto Star's delayed bid for Kempton immortality in the King George. It's a long road without a turn, though.
Opportunity knocked unexpectedly on Rock On Ruby back in March, and
Fehily grabbed it with both hands for a tremendously popular success.
For someone possessing his extraordinarily even temperament, such highs and lows were always accepted as routine. The latest setback, however, tested his resolve.
"I didn't take it well this time," he admits frankly of the injury. "I had been out for a long time the year before and, with Rock On Ruby winning the Champion Hurdle and everything, I thought my luck had turned. There are always worse things that could happen, I suppose, but at the time getting broke up again felt to me like the worst thing that could happen.
"I knew it would be another long stretch too, so I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, and I did wonder how much more of this I could take.
"But eventually you have to get up and get going again. Once I was able to get on the bike and start working on my fitness, I started to feel better. Then you start riding out and schooling, you come across a nice one and you are counting down the days again. That's the way I am now -- bursting to get back."
The intervening period hasn't been entirely unproductive, with the small matter of his wife Natasha giving birth to Niamh, their first child, a month ago. He has also been appointed as first jockey to Charlie Longsdon's burgeoning Oxfordshire stable, while Harry Fry -- widely credited for having masterminded Rock On Ruby's Cheltenham triumph at Nicholls' satellite yard -- has now taken over that part of the operation for Paul Barber.
As well as maintaining long-standing ties with Charlie Mann, that leaves Fehily with an increasingly potent-looking portfolio, one which will doubtless be further complemented by Nicholls when the need arises. Now all he needs is to pass the doctor.
• Tipperary were forced to cancel yesterday's fixture and today's due to a waterlogged track.