Donal Fahy...."by far the toughest thing I have ever done".
A Meath jockey recovering from a race injury which put him out of action for seven months has just won the toughest race in the world - the 1,000km Mongol Derby.
Donal Fahy from Belper, Tara, had joined fellow jockey, Galwegian Richie Killorin, to raise funds for the Injured Jockeys' Fund. He says he owed so much to the fund that he thought the best way of repaying it was by taking part in a race that has defeated many a rider.
The derby is the longest horse race in the world and takes place across the epic wilderness of the Mongolian steppes, a world away from Leopardstown or The Curragh.
The mammoth network of horse stations is a recreation of Genghis Khan's legendary empire-smashing postal system.
Fahy came in first in the race with Richie Killorin a close second. Winding down from the race in a nightclub in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, late on Monday night, the Meathman told the Meath Chronicle: "The only thing I can say is that this is by far the toughest thing I have ever done."
Shouting to make himself heard over the din, he said that he and Richie Killoran had started off as a team, "and we ended up as a team".
The race normally takes from seven to 10 days and the two Irishmen ran into their first hitch when they were two days into the race. The Mongol ponies are "tough as nails" but they are also known for their stubborn streak. "These two yokes had a mind of their own. They more or less told us 'you're not going anywhere with us'," he added.
"Only for two girls named Charlotte and Julie who got us fresh ponies, we'd still be out there," Donal added.
Both jockeys were due to catch a plane heading for London Heathrow at 7.30am yesterday (Tuesday).
In the lead-up to the trip, the men had to fundraise over a number of months. 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 Irish lads were hoping to give whatever funds they have raised to the Injured Jockeys' Fund.
The race took place from station to station - known as urtuus, with a break every 40km. The welfare of the ponies was uppermost in their minds - a lame pony could leave a rider walking for a very long time.
Donal and Richie are the first two Irishmen and the first professional jockeys to take up the Mongol challenge.
Donal has made a remarkable recovery following a crashing fall from In Close at Ludlow last October. He underwent bone graft surgery and had screws inserted into the fracture suffered in his lower back. Surgeons told him that if he had moved slightly on the course after the injury, he could have been paralysed.
He stresses that, but for the Injured Jockeys' Fund, he would not have been back racing for a very long time. He had had a strike rate of six hurdle and chase wins this season before his fall.