While Tralee was once home to a racecourse and Kerry still has Listowel and Killarney providing horse racing fare for the cognoscenti, as well as the Dingle Derby being the principal prize on the flapping (pony racing) circuit, the Kingdom would never be considered a traditional racing region.
[timgcapSean Says and Philip Enright win the Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boosts Handicap Hurdle. Healy Racing Photo]SeanSaysPhilipEnrightPunchestownJan152020_large.jpg[/timgcap]
Certainly, where Philip Enright was concerned, his background was not one that would have found him drawn to that sphere naturally.
Once he was brought to Kennedy Equine Centre for a lesson though, he went back for more and developed an enjoyment for show jumping.
It was only after he sat on a racehorse for the first time however, that his life’s future suddenly opened up in front of his eyes. For sure, he was going to be a jockey.
Now 32, he looks back fondly on the days with Tom Cooper, the dual Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer who taught him so much in a period when another Tralee youngster and current Curragh-based trainer Michael O’Callaghan was also working in the yard.
Cooper’s future Gold Cup-winning son Bryan was just a child, running around.
“I’d be still great friends with the Coopers. In fairness to Tom, he probably taught me an awful lot about racing from an early age.”
Gerry Cully provided him with his first winner as a jockey, on I Will Now at Downpatrick in August, 2005 but it is Cork trainer Robert Tyner who brought him to another level.
“I’ve been very lucky to have the likes of Robert Tyner backing me from Day One
“Thankfully, a lot of trainers around Cork and Munster started using me from that. The likes of James Dullea, John Joe Walsh, Eoghan O’Grady. Eddie Cawley was very good to me when I started off.
“The last couple of seasons I’ve broadened my contacts and have a nice link with Edward O’Grady as well. I’ve been lucky to ride for lots of trainers, it’s hard to mention them all.
“But I wouldn’t be where I am today without Robert Tyner. I started there in 2006 with one winner ridden. It took a while before I was riding everything but he gave me the opportunities and thankfully I was lucky enough to win the Pierse Hurdle for him (on Spring The Que).”
He had steered Sophist to Grade 3 success the previous month for John McConnell, and in February landed another major handicap pot in Fairyhouse for Tyner on The Halfway Bar.
“From there, I grew in confidence and it gave him more confidence in me. He’s a brilliant trainer and he has winners every year. It’s great to have his backing. If you’re going bad, he’ll stand by you anyway.”
Injuries are part and parcel of his profession, but Enright has been largely fortunate in that regard over 15 years.
The first was a two-month absence caused by a fractured left wrist suffered in a fall at Killarney in 2014.
The next serious spell on the sidelines was four and a half months, initially because of a fractured left leg that occurred in Tipperary the following year. Just as he returned to fitness, he fractured his heel in a schooling accident.
There was a fractured jaw in Thurles three years ago that ruled him out for six weeks and then the fall at Limerick in October 2018 that left him with a broken T6 vertebrae in his back and a neck ligament injury. But he was back in the saddle in seven weeks from that.
This is a pretty clean record for a jump jockey and along with a prodigious workrate, has contributed to a consistent level of achievement.
“I get around as much as I can and ride in plenty of schooling races. The people I ride for are loyal to me.
“Touch wood, I’ve been very lucky with injuries. One or two seasons I missed a good few months but other than that, I’ve been lucky.”
Preists Leap, trained Tom O’Leary, was an important horse in the development of Enright’s career, winning the Thyestes Chase in 2008 and following up 12 months later. They also completed the course in two Aintree Grand Nationals.
There was an element of the fortune Enright alludes to in the creation of that partnership.
“Conor O’Dwyer couldn’t do the weight and he actually put me forward for it. I was riding winners at the time but for him to put me forward was great and very lucky. It was a massive help at the time.”
Later on, the Eoghan O’Grady-trained Westerner Point propelled him to Tim Duggan Chase triumphs in 2016 and 2018.
Carrigmoorna Rock (Tyner) and Davids Charm (Walsh) yielded another pair of Grade 3 victories, while other highlights include a brace of Grade 2s, in the Hilly Way Chase on Days Hotel for Henry de Bromhead and the EBF Mares’ Novice Chase on the Tyner-conditioned Byerley Babe.
“The win in the Hilly Way on Days Hotel for Henry de Bromhead was probably one that got me into the spotlight. I’ve ridden plenty of winners for Henry too, he’s been very good to me as well. Things like that help.
“Days Hotel ran in the Grade 1 at Punchestown the year Sprinter Sacre came over to take on Sizing Europe (in 2013) and it was unreal to be involved in that. Even before the race the parade ring was 10 deep. I’ve never experienced anything like that in Ireland, before or after, and only saw something similar in the Grand National at Aintree.”
Enright hit the 30-winner mark in Ireland at Punchestown on Wednesday, equalling his best-ever tally here, and for good measure, was on the mark for Tony Martin at Musselburgh in Scotland yesterday (part of a double on the day).
“Things are flying thank God. I’m getting plenty of winners and plenty of rides for different trainers, which is great. Ken Whelan, my agent, is doing a great job. He’s working hard for me. He’s on the ball every morning in fairness to him.”
He derives particular satisfaction from the enjoyment his parents, Marian and Paudie are deriving from his success.
“My mother and father, without their support I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere” the Dunmanway-based pilot emphasises. “My mother used to get up at six o’clock every morning to drop me into Tom Cooper’s.
“I left school after third year and in fairness, while my parents weren’t overly happy, they told me they’d support me and if I ever wanted to come home I could.
“To be doing well now, it feels like I’m paying them back for their belief in me.”
The ambition now is to form a partnership with a Grade 1 horse. He had a taste of it at Punchestown on Days Hotel, and knows what a really good horse feels like, having won twice on future Champion Chaser Special Tiara.
"Henry was grateful and let me ride him. He won his maiden hurdle first-time out and I won a beginners’ chase on him and he went on to be pretty good.
“That’s what you get up in the morning for. Every time you put your leg over a three-year-old or four-year-old for someone, you hope you’re coming in liking them as much as they do. I love riding young horses in schooling races because there’s a chance one of them might be a superstar.”
And the dream lives on.