Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 16 December 2018

Rejuvenated Flanagan eyes big prizes

In the stables

Sean Flanagan has dealt with a number of setbacks during his career. Photo: Patrick McCann
Sean Flanagan has dealt with a number of setbacks during his career. Photo: Patrick McCann
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

When Sean Flanagan describes how he held a horse's leg in the air to avoid a kick in the face as the half-tonne animal rolled over him following a crushing fall, it paints an accurate picture of the dangers associated with being a jockey.

Flanagan walked away on that occasion at Tramore last August and the Wexford rider thought himself lucky to only have a fractured tibia. He knows it could have been worse.

Two months on the sidelines afforded him some quality time with his eight-month-old daughter Lilah and a greater appreciation for the daily work of his partner Lauren.

While frustrated with being out of action, Flanagan has been no stranger to hard-luck stories throughout his career in the saddle - he didn't seem destined to make a living from racing after having a series of falls as an amateur in bumpers.

A lack of opportunities after turning professional saw him move to Wales to work for Evan Williams but with few rides on the track, he was "back to square one" before a failed attempt to freelance in England and an unfruitful return to Ireland which forced him to contemplate his future.

A ride at Leopardstown for trainer Liz Doyle - and owners which he knew personally - saw him pull the horse up injured on the Flat before returning to the weighing room, abruptly grabbing all of his gear and leaving the Foxrock track.

He has no hesitation in saying that he'd had enough, this wasn't how he envisaged his career so he didn't go near a horse for six weeks until a desperate call came from Andrew Doyle begging him to ride some work.

Flanagan reluctantly did, and then all of a sudden an opportunity arose to ride for American trainer Jack Fisher - Willie Mullins's equivalent in the States - in Baltimore which he grasped with both hands before regularly riding a good calibre of horse and his fair share of winners.

He was 6/4 favourite to be American champion jumps jockey when he decided to return home and he arrived back "a different man, full of confidence" and things picked up immediately on his return.

The opportunity to ride out "a better type of horse" each day saw him seek work with Noel Meade and he was a surprise replacement as stable jockey in September of 2016 when Paul Carberry hung up his boots.

Insisting that "it's all about timing", Flanagan hasn't taken a backward step since with 59 winners last term - primarily for the Meath trainer - while he's already halfway there with 30 winners this season.

That includes a Down Royal treble two weeks ago spearheaded by Road To Respect's bloodless Grade One success and Meade's seven-year-old keeps him dreaming of what might be in the Gold Cup next March.

"I thought Road To Respect was phenomenal and we're a lot happier with him compared to last season - the prospects look better and if we didn't get the rain that we did at Cheltenham maybe we would have been a little closer," he says smiling.

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