Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 22 February 2018

Sexton can leave these dark days behind him

Kelly's rise from hell can prove an inspiration for talented jumps rider

Minding and Ryan Moore pass the Ascot winning post in front to land Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Minding and Ryan Moore pass the Ascot winning post in front to land Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Johnny Ward

Shane Kelly would dread the rising sun and all its foreboding.

"When light was coming through the curtains, you'd know it was nearly time to go to work," he told me.

We can all relate to that sense of morning unease. The difference with Kelly was that he'd have spent the night drinking and sniffing cocaine; now he was off to ride horses without sleep.

"The fear would hit me: how would you get through the day feeling like this? It used to kill me. I never wanted the party to end.

"I'd be taking cocaine regularly, straight from the party to work. Michael Halford was my boss then and he probably just thought I was heavy on the beer. I'd go there sometimes after no sleep. Sure you couldn't sleep after cocaine: your heart is beating like hell."

For the kid from Monasterevin, who eschewed football to be around his neighbour's stables, this wasn't how it should have turned out. Deep down he knew it was unsustainable, but reality is parked easily when getting through the day is demanding enough.

News emerged last week that two riders had failed tests for cocaine at the Galway festival. There was shock in racing that former champion conditional Kevin Sexton was one. It's very hard to summon a bad word from anyone about Sexton and his future ought to brim with promise.

Sexton was said to be understandably low in the days after the story broke. Very soon, he could appreciate that there was light in the distance. Gordon Elliott said he would back him with work if he sorted himself out and Shane Kelly texted him to say he was there if he could be any use.

The circumstances behind Sexton's failed test are unknown and Kelly didn't meet me over a coffee on a Saturday night in a service station in Newbridge to speculate about them. He was there to relate his story and it commenced before I had even pressed record.

I wasn't sure where you ideally interview someone on a Saturday night, but it was soon apparent he wasn't keen on a pub or anything resembling one.

The Turf Club's CEO, Denis Egan, has said the 25-year-old is a terrific example of how to overcome problems and turn your life around. After half-an-hour in his company, it was easy to see why.

Kelly left Ireland as a kid and things soon took a turn for the worse.

"I made the choice to move to Malton in England. I love home, but I was determined to make it and I was afraid of letting people down," he said.

"I was very homesick. I lived over a pub on my own for six months: go to work, come home, drink, do whatever. I then moved in with two other jockeys and that's when the partying started.

"When ma and da came over they warned me I was drinking too much. Every time they came I was drinking, we'd even have cans in the car on the way home from the races. I was never content and if I sat at home I'd be so depressed.

"I remember the first Christmas Day there being depressed off my head and I drank three bottles of champagne. That night one of the lads turned me on my side as I was getting sick in my sleep."

Kelly has a talent that others would love to possess, but after three years in England he arrived home. Ability was only going to get him so far.

He continued to drink and do drugs. When he left Halford to join Michael O'Callaghan, his workplace changed, but his antics hadn't. In England, he used to cheat the tests at the races - "getting other people to piss into bottles for me" - but he says you can't get away with that in Ireland and by the time he was caught last year after a Leopardstown meet, he greeted it almost with hands outstretched.

"The fun had gone out of cocaine for me. It was nearly a relief to tell Mike I needed help, that I couldn't do this any more. Mike is so easy to talk to. He couldn't believe how bad it was because I never missed work.

"He just thought that I was always in bad form. It was depression from the drugs and drink. I feel back to the way I was when I was younger now, like it was before all the madness started. I used to think I was bipolar."

With Egan and Dr Adrian McGoldrick's help - as well as addiction meetings - he has turned it around, given up on drink and drugs. He had four mounts at Naas yesterday and three gorgeous daughters to contextualise things if the races don't go his way.

Like Sexton, Kieren Fallon and Frankie Dettori, Kelly made mistakes. He has served his time, so will Sexton, and the vast majority of the great people in Irish racing will look to what they have to offer, not what was done in the past.

Sexton, who has ridden for Gigginstown and a Troytown winner, can prove that he will not be defined by a mishap at the Galway festival. Time, talent and the help of the likes of Adrian McGoldrick are his allies.

Champions Day at Ascot more than lived up to even the highest of hopes.

Aidan O'Brien had two hot fancies beaten, but to see Found push Almanzor with such grit towards the conclusion of a really demanding campaign was testament to trainer and horse.

Minding's heroics in the QEII meant that, finally, she proved she could take on the best of the boys and win. Ryan Moore rode a superbly astute tactical race on a wonder-mare, whose remarkable versatility regarding trip and ground illustrates the brilliance of the immortal Galileo.

Moore was ending a barren run in terms of Champions Day renewals. If he was good, so was Christophe Soumillon, who manoeuvred the held-up Almanzor into a nice posse in the big race.

He stays in training at four. As with Kevin Sexton and Shane Kelly, we'll have many more days to revel in their talent and determination at the track.

Ride of the week

He was unshipped before the line, but Robbie Dunne's attempts to stay on Red Hot Chilly in Thursday's juvenile hurdle at Uttoxeter were heroic.

Quote of the week

"The last day she worked, Seamie [Heffernan] got off her and said he couldn't believe it. I can't say how happy we are." Trainer Aidan O'Brien after Minding's QEII win at Ascot.

Tweet of the week

Analogs Daughter


Yeehaa @Ruby_Walsh Has won the American, Australian, Welsh, Scottish, English, Irish Nationals. Put that in your pipe and smoke it @AP_McCoy

- Banter from a racing fan for AP.

Gamble of the week

US Army Ranger was put up at 20/1 here for Saturday's Champion Stakes. He went off 7/1. He ran more like his original price and trailed home in eighth.

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