Jockey Donal Fahy with one of the family hunters at Tara.
A Tara jockey is to take on the toughest race in the world - just months after coming back from an injury which saw him out of action for seven months.
Donal Fahy from Belper says he owes so much to the Injured Jockeys Fund for his quick rehabilitation following a race fall that he is taking on the Mongol Derby challenge to raise funds for the association.
With fellow jockey, Richie Killorin from Galway, he is taking on the Mongol Derby in August - and the duo are believed the be the first Irish jockeys to undertake the gruelling race. The Mongol Derby is the longest, toughest horse race in the world. It is described as a 1,000km multi-horse race across the epic wilderness of the Mongolian steppe. Its mammoth network of horse stations is a recreation of Genghis Khan's legendary empire-busting postal system.
But before they take on that task, the two jockeys have another mammoth task on front of them - fundraising to take part in the event. The official race charity is Mercy Corps Mongolia, which runs economic development projects in rural Mongolia, helping herders access markets, business expertise and each other, to secure a sustainable and meaningful livelihood. After that, the lads hope to give whatever funds they have raised to the Injured Jockeys Fund.
"We'll be riding native Mongolian horses," Donie Fahy explained. "They're practically ponies, small but hardy as nails."
He went on: "The race takes seven to 10 days to complete, with the winners usually finishing it in seven. It goes from station to station, known as urtuus, with a break every 40km. The welfare of the pony has to be considered, so you have to ride properly and smart so as the animal isn't lame, exhausted or hurt at the end of the stage. If it is, you are delayed and penalised time-wise. You should be covering 120km a day."
Donie and Richie, as well as being the first two Irish jockeys, are the first two professional jockeys to take on the challenge. Richard Dunwoody completed the first day of the race when it began a few years ago.
At Ludlow on 20th October last, Donie Fahy suffered a horror fall from In Close, undergoing bone graft surgery and having screws inserted into the fracture suffered to his lower back. He fractured and dislocated his vertebrae, and snapped the ligaments connected to the vertebrae.
"The surgeon said that if I had shifted on the ground at all I could have been paralysed. The fact that I didn't move anything and the work of the medical staff at the course saved me from being in a wheelchair. From what we thought at the start was just a straightforward fracture, the MRI scan showed it was a lot more serious," he explained.
He spent three months at Oaksey House, alongside fellow injured Meath jockey Peter Toole, from Ratoath, and says that without the help and support of the Injured Jockeys Fund over that period, he wouldn't have been back riding as quick as he is. The care and emphasis on getting back to fitness was second to none. Killorin had the same experience after receiving a broken jaw.
The 26-year-old has been riding in Britain for four years, initially as a conditional jockey to Evan Williams, where he rode out his claim. He has been freelancing for the past 18 months. He was passed fit to ride by his consultant on 10th May, and since then has been riding out and schooling for many trainers including John Flint, John Llewellyn, John O'Shea, Brendan Powell and Tim Vaughan.
He had a strike rate of six hurdle and chase wins this season before his fall. Riding in Ireland as an amateur and conditional for Colm Murphy, he had 16 wins here before heading across the water. His father, Frank, works in the construction industry, while his mother, Patricia, is a primary school principal in Navan.
The two Irish jockeys have set ambitious targets for fundraising. In addition to the €6,000 each they have to raise for the Mercy Corps, they hope to raise as much again for the Injured Jockeys Fund, which has greatly benefited the many Irish jockeys who have suffered injury on the racetracks. That's a target of almost €25,000 between the two of them. An Irish fundraiser is planned for late July.
Both jockeys have set up their own website to channel monies to their cause - www.mongolderbyrace.com - through which donations can be made online. The race takes place from Friday, 10th August, with the final dust expected to settle on Sunday 19th August. There are two days pre-race training on 7th-9th August, and the start gun will fire after a hearty breakfast on the 10th.