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How to win at the Galway Races, the hard way

A year ago, Mark Enright notched his biggest career win at Ballybrit. The 33-1 victory came after the jockey, with lots of help, recovered from depression.
Jul 30th 2019, 8:14 PM 14,594 3

THIS TIME, LAST year Limerick jockey Mark Enright celebrated the biggest win of his career by steering Clarcam to victory in the Galway Plate.

His unbridled joy caught the public imagination but in 2015, Enright also made headlines when he made public his battle with depression.

The 27-year-old recalls last year’s success aboard Clarcam at the Galway Festival and relives the painful moments that pushed him to the brink of suicide four years ago.

Mark Enright after riding Make it Hurrah Here's Fish: Mark Enright. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

1.

I LOVE RIDING Galway from the front.

A lot of lads think that’s the last place you want to be because it’s a long, lonely run-in. I reckon I’ve more winners in Galway making the running than I have altogether at other tracks.

The first time I ever rode in Galway, I walked the track with Robbie McNamara.

‘Freewheel down the hill and kick up the hill,’ he told me. I always do that.

When I started riding, Robbie was brilliant for me. I was living with him and he was watching everything. When I’d come in, he’d be there at the television going through each race.

“What were you doing at the fifth last?”

“Why didn’t you give him a kick?”

“You were horrendous on that.”

I could have ridden a winner. I still got grilled. It made me a better jockey. I’m probably not the most natural jockey in the world but I give it 110 per cent every time. I don’t like praise. I love a bit of criticism. Usually when you’re getting criticism, it’s from people who know.

***

Strangely, the bad moments made life feel good again. When Mark Enright returned to the weighroom at Gowran Park in 2015 after publicising his battle with depression, the last thing he wanted was sympathy. No fear of that returning to a tribe that treats all maladies with disdain.

David Casey spoke first when Enright arrived: “Lads! Watch the coat hangers there. Fish is in.”

No soft landings around a racetrack.

Like the jester, silence was Enright’s greatest fear. When the joke went up, he rose with it, glad to join the chorus of laughter. Fish – his obscure nickname conjured long before by fellow riders – revelled in that moment, accepting Casey’s comment for what it really was: a sincere welcome back to work.

“No one thinks I’m mad in here,” Enright thought to himself.

The smiling continued after the big race but the joking had stopped. On his way to the parade ring following the Thyestes Chase, the happy jockey rediscovered another slice of racing reality. He reported to the trainer, Michael Hourigan, who promptly cursed him for returning empty handed.

“Forty fucking thousand for second,” Hourigan roared. “You stupid bollocks.”

Enright, unseated at the last aboard The Job Is Right, fanned Hourigan’s rage. His smile would not fade.

“I didn’t want people tip-toeing around me,” says Enright. “I went home that day delighted with myself. I think that was the best thing that ever could have happened to me, falling off that horse.”

Life felt normal again. He could but be dissatisfied.

2.

Mouse Morris always drilled it into me: you have to ride them like they’re the best horse in the race. If you think they have no chance, then you’re beaten before you go out.

Christmas, 2017, I was going around Leopardstown and Limerick riding average horses. Hacking about. No winners. You get the horse to run well but there’s no sense of achievement.

Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott – they were training the winners. Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell, Jack Kennedy – they were riding them. I thought to myself: I’m not going to get to the next level doing what I’m doing.

I had a 12-second conversation with Gordon one day in Naas. I needed a base for myself. I figured it could only help me. I’m riding better horses, riding with better jockeys, and surrounded by the best people.

***

His eyes brighten as soon as Sophie comes into the conversation. Beyond a line of sight he gazes, his face suddenly full of awe. Then his pupils glaze, reflecting his vision of her absent wonder, and for a brief moment he turns quiet, cherishing this blink of silent contemplation.

Quickly he regains a rhythm. Images are verbalised and he cradles his tales of fatherhood with unguarded affection. Sophie was born in March of 2017 and Enright has doted ever since. They wore matching outfits for the 2018 All Ireland Senior Hurling Final. Daddy’s county roots dictated Limerick colours.

He cannot help but spoil her. She brings him so much joy he feels bad not giving back. Her whims pass impervious to his moods and he is all the better for having a focus beyond racing, someone to remind him what is most important in life.

“Daddy! Daddy! Boppy! Boppy!” she shouts when he comes in the door. Her world is her bottle. That and making minor mischief, an explorer at large. Results on the racing track mean nothing in Sophie’s world.

The day he won last year’s Galway Plate aboard Clarcam, Sophie pulled a pair of knickers on her head. She raced around the house, in this ridiculous fashion, oblivious to what was happening on television.

“Sophie is deadly,” he confirms. “Flying around the place. Giving orders. She’s the boss now.”

Mark Enright on Clarcam (left) on his way to winning the race Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3.

‘WHAT ABOUT CLARCAM?’ I asked Keith Donoghue before the Galway Plate last year.

“Probably won’t like the ground,” he told me. “Great spin. You’ll enjoy his jumping. Lie up his neck.”

We thought he had no chance. I didn’t even go through the form. There was no pressure.

Gordon said: “Ride him handy. He likes to bowl along in front.”

If he was fancied, I’d have known exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be at each stage of the race.

You’d be going through every scenario. If I track him, he’ll give me a good lead into the race. He’s a strong traveller. He might not stay. He’ll get me to the second last. He’s a dodgy jumper. Don’t want to follow him.

The third last is where you win a race in Galway. I think it’s the most important fence. It’s a swinging fence. I turned in sharp to it on the first circuit and met it on a good stride. A great jump. Next thing we’re turning and away. You’re gaining lengths on every horse and you’re running when you land.

Coming back into the straight I started to steady him up. If I’d kept sending him in front all the way around, I would have gotten myself beaten and Drumcliff might have won the race.

***

NEW YEAR’S DAY fell on a Thursday in 2015. Mark Enright went racing in Tramore with Robbie McNamara, another day on site, two mates sharing a lift to work.

McNamara knew Enright as well as anyone and better than most. A mentor, McNamara shared a house with him and lived the same life. But there and then sat the human shell of a shattered soul, scars and scratches invisible to his close friend upsides.

“I got two falls in Tramore that day and I didn’t give a shite,” Enright recalls. “I didn’t even feel it hitting the ground. I was numb. I was on a different planet really. I was gone.”

The situation was stark, his mind blackened by the bleakest of thoughts.

Internally he declared: “This is the last day I’m going racing.”

Yet what seems so sad about it all is how he worked so hard to hide his desperation.

“In a way I overdid it,” Enright explains. “It’s like when you’re drunk and you’re trying to show someone that you’re not drunk. You become louder. I was the one trying to create the craic to divert attention away from myself.”

For all that friends knew, Enright was happy and healthy, living his dream.

“You want someone to ask you,” he confides. “Then you’re trying to cover it up in another way. It’s a horrible, horrible illness.”

His troubled mind colluded against him. Depression took such a hold, suicide seemed his only cure. At home, he had accumulated painkillers, stockpiling them in his drawer for a planned overdose.

At Mark’s prompting, they stopped in Kilcullen on the way back from Tramore. Settled, they stayed there socialising for the night. With drink on board and Enright in the best of form, all appeared swell. But this world was less than wonderful.

Enright felt numb, his senses deserting. Onwards he travelled, body moving beyond his spirit, to Ratoath, Co Meath, the home of retired jockey Paul Carberry. Another social gathering, more festive cheer. From there, he travelled to Cashel, Co Tipperary for a night with friends from his apprentice days.

“Without saying goodbye to people, I wanted to have one last hurrah with them,” Enright suggests. “I was saying farewell.”

His covert operation near completion, he took the train home to Kildare. For all the partying, one close friend did not cross his path through those three days. After two pints of Guinness in Kildare Town, he headed for the Ruanbeg estate, knowing this walk would take him past Mark Walsh’s house.

With Walsh enjoying a bumper season and racing nearby in Naas that afternoon, his friend’s car was an unexpected sight. Enright called, presuming it his last goodbye.

Replaying that scene prompts a chilling thought: “If Mark Walsh wasn’t there that day… I had ideas in my head and I was set in those ideas.”

4.

Mark Enright on Clarcam celebrates winning the race 'It’s eerie almost, like scoring a goal in a Junior B match.' Source: James Crombie/INPHO

THE SECOND FENCE on the second circuit was the winning of the Plate for me. If Aine O’Connor doesn’t fall I think it could have been a different race. Drumcliff was carting her and sickening my horse a bit. The last couple of years Clarcam’s used to being passed. A lot of horses give up.

Suddenly that thought is gone from him when he lands in front with nothing beside him. Now I’m four lengths in front and he starts fighting the bridle again. If Drumcliff had landed beside me, I’d have been throwing the reins at Clarcam, kicking him and he would have said, ‘Fuck off’, whereas I take him back and he starts pulling against the bridle.

You can see other lads are slapping down the shoulder and niggling. I’m very quiet.

Going to the third last, I’m about 10 lengths clear. We wing it and land running. In about two strides I’m gone 15 lengths ahead of them because I’m turning.

We had two tricky fences left. They weren’t his best jumps. Once I got them out of the way, I took a hold of him because I was waiting for him to tie up.

It’s two and a half furlongs the run in. And it’s a long way without a jump, which keeps a horse interested. I was still concerned about who might come from behind. I’m squeezing away and I’ve got my stick out. My thing now is to get to the middle of the outside. It’s the least raced on ground in Galway but it’s lonely. The horse’s instinct is to take the rail. Now I’ve no target and I’m in the middle of the track.

A lot of horses tire and that last furlong can feel like 10 minutes. Clarcam wasn’t tying up though, he maintained his pace.

***

OVER tea with Mark Walsh in Ruanbeg, tears finally made visible his interior anguish. Enright felt the burden lift now that someone else could see his pain. Walsh contacted Dr Adrian McGoldrick, then the Senior Medical Officer with the Turf Club.

McGoldrick came to the house and listened. Despite the chaos of his mind, Enright could sense the doctor’s calmness, a comforting presence amid this ordeal.

“Okay,” said McGoldrick, ready to reveal diagnosis: “Depression.”

He gently tipped the patient on his head and promised relief: “We’ll have you right as rain in no time.”

Enright faced a cul-de-sac but McGoldrick shifted his gaze, pointing him in a different direction. Initially he retreated to St Patrick’s University Hospital.

His first night there, he had to surrender his phone charger and shoes. Considered high risk, Enright also had to hand over his shoe laces, a grim reminder of this dangerous low.

“How did you end up here?” he wondered.

Sleepless night diminished the following day. His faded appetite only improved at lunchtime.

St Pat’s scared him. Enright envisioned straitjackets and padded rooms but discovered that the patients were normal people, struggling, just like him.

“I spent a lot of time behind the curtain,” he recalls. “I was thinking about my own stuff, reading different things and listening to other lads talking to one another about their own problems. I just thought: ‘I don’t have any problems listening to them.’ It might have been the kick up the arse that I needed.”

Within a week he craved outdoor life. He wanted a return to his old environment. The medics approved. Through counselling, and with the aid of antidepressants, Enright gradually regained some zest. Crucially, he developed tools to cope with bluer days.

“If I wake up in the morning and I feel down for no reason, I’m able to counteract it,” he states. “I have songs downloaded onto a playlist and I have two or three lads that I can ring, have a chat, blab on, give out about stupid stuff. I just need to vent to someone. I’ll give out for five minutes and I’m grand again.”

5.

Mark Enright celebrates with the Galway Plate 'The Galway Plate was the biggest day of my career but I want it to happen again.' Source: James Crombie/INPHO

You have to keep kicking and keep the horse going forward riding to the finish. Only with 100 yards to go did I know that we were home and hosed in the Plate. I could see the big screen and I had a peek. I couldn’t even see the lads behind me so I knew I was safe enough.

It was kind of a numb feeling crossing the line: “Jesus, I’ve won.”

Gordon always watches the race on the inside and I could hear him roaring me on but the crowd was silent. Clarcam was 33/1. Nobody had him backed. There’s no cheering when I cross the line. It’s eerie almost, like scoring a goal in a Junior B match.

The adrenaline is running. It’s great, I’ve won the Galway Plate, but at the same time I’ve only won another race.

You’re thrilled inside and you kind of want to do a bit of jig but you’re the only person feeling that. You’re kind of more delighted for your family than anyone else because they get such a huge kick out of it. Whereas for myself, it was a good achievement, delighted but tomorrow is another day.

That’s why I enjoyed Limerick winning the All-Ireland so much. I left Croke Park that day and everyone was going mental. It was magic. You’re celebrating with thousands of people. Everybody is roaring and screaming, and you feel the same.

As a jockey, you’re always thinking ahead. Is it greed? I don’t know. You can never get enough. Look at AP McCoy. Maybe that’s just the mentality of jockeys, you always want more.

Now I want to win the next big race. You want to get that feeling every day. I might never get that feeling again. The Galway Plate was the biggest day of my career but I want it to happen again.

***

BEFORE being admitted to St Pat’s, Enright spent time with fellow rider Davy Russell. A few days on Russell’s farm in Youghal, Co Cork provided the younger man an agricultural experience with an old school practitioner.

“He was f-ing and blinding at me,” Enright remembers.

From those interactions he gleaned something valuable: “At least he doesn’t think I’m mad.”

Russell has been important for Enright in many ways. They lived together in Cashel years before when Enright was green and Russell nearly grey with knowledge.

“I learned a lot about life,” Enright attests. “Even just listening to him on the phone and how he dealt with people.”

Reunited in Youghal, their conversations took on a more serious dimension. Russell gave it to him straight: “You know you don’t have to be a jockey. You’re not keeping anyone happy by being a jockey only yourself.”

For all the pain life brought to bear, sport set him free.

“Racing was when I was at my happiest,” Enright reflects. “I was never going to walk away from it. Racing horses was my freedom.”

Thankfully, it still is.

***

If you need to talk, contact for free:

  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (available 24/7)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org (available 24/7)
  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)
  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s, available 24/7)

 

*This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared in the Irish Racing Yearbook 2019

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Brendan Coffey

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