Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 26 March 2019

The 77-year-old who still rides out in the morning

Mr Evergreen: Veteran trainer Frank Oakes (right) with jockey Ricky Doyle after his horse Mountain Fox won at Thurles earlier this season
Mr Evergreen: Veteran trainer Frank Oakes (right) with jockey Ricky Doyle after his horse Mountain Fox won at Thurles earlier this season
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

He may be 77 years young, but Frank Oakes continues to buck the trend of what's generally considered normal behaviour for a septuagenarian and he has no intentions of slowing down as he reaches the twilight of his colourful training career.

If hovering around the Curragh on midweek mornings, you will see Oakes careering up the gallops on one of the two horses he has in training - his third (Mountain Coral) is retired in the paddocks - under a restricted license from his Kildare base.

He moved from the Meath town of Athboy - where he played hurling and football and still wishes he could go back - with his wife Carmel 12 years ago and loves being able to "go out the Curragh whenever I like".

His daughter Wendy replaces him at the weekend - another daugther Irene is a former trainer - when she returns from Dublin but saddling up every morning keeps him full of life and he won't stop anytime soon.

"It's something to get up for in the mornings and go out, it gets you out of bed in the morning," Oakes says.

Everyone gets their their 15 minutes of fame and the enigmatic Oakes certainly left his mark when his time to shine arrived last November following a shock winner at Thurles, which was his first visit to the winners' enclosure in five years.

Mountain Fox went off a disregarded 25/1 outsider - Frank didn't even part with his hard-earned cash after being stung by his previous display when the money was down at Dundalk - in a decent maiden hurdle under Ricky Doyle, but came home in front before Oakes delivered some television gold in his post-race interview.

As well-known racing photographer Pat Healy guided Mountain Fox - owned and bred by his trainer - around the parade ring, Oakes stole the show on At The Races with his captivating television interview a throwback to simpler times in a much-changed game.

He was inundated with interview requests in the days and weeks that followed - "the phone never stopped ringing" - and is quick to inform this reporter that our ten minutes on the phone together is a rarity.

"You're a lucky one here so you are," Oakes chuckles. "I was contacted by RTÉ to talk to them; I said 'no way'. A few people from papers contacted me and I said 'no way'.

"And I'd another one ringing me like you did and he said to me 'will you give me ten minutes?' I said 'I'll give you two, and one of them is gone already'."

Oakes feels his "racing career has been well documented already at this stage" and while reticent to elaborate on how he has survived such a tough game, his longevity is a testament to his steely determination.

He fell in love with the Turf when following in the footsteps of his father - who "was always involved in horses and transported horses all his life for big stables" - everywhere as a child.

He would follow a similar path and rode as an amateur jockey but admits that he knows "nothing else probably" and has always had a hand with horses, although he gave up training in big numbers "a long time ago".

Very respected as a shrewd judge and more than capable to have one ready to land a punt, Oakes has the unique distinction that three champion Flat jockeys have ridden winners for him. When he's looking for a top jockey, he usually gets them.

Pat Smullen, Joseph O'Brien and Colin Keane are the trio in question while he takes great pride in a piece of racing history which no one else can possibly lay claim to with son-in-law Barry Cash doing the steering.

History

"I'm very proud of the fact that I made history which will never be repeated. I won the first ever plastic hurdle race in Limerick, the first one in Ireland and that's the only bit of history I made," he says.

Racing has changed drastically during Frank's lifetime but he finds his rare trips to the racecourse with a runner to be much different with a host of fresh faces at every turn.

"There's been unreal change. Years ago I knew everybody. Trainers, jockeys, breeders. Now I go to a race meeting and I wouldn't know ten but that's the way it goes," he reflects.

Having also asked for ten minutes of his time, getting more than two was a bonus, as was a parting shot that Mountain Fox should win on the Flat later this year "with a bit of luck".

Irish Independent

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