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An Interview with Ex-Jockey Mick Fitzgerald

Mick Fitzgerald started out on the Flat in his native Ireland but a growth spurt made him switch over to the jumps. Moving over to the UK, his first winner came at Ludlow on Lover’s Secret in December 1988. He then followed up on Corston Springs at Hereford but then it was over a year until he rode his third winner. After switching to Gerald Ham's Somerset yard, Mick's talent finally became noticed, especially after winning four races on Duncan Idaho. He took the conditional's championship for the 1992-3 season. In the October of '93, Mick rode a chase winner on Billy Bathgate at Ascot and this was perhaps, at the time, the most significant winner so far - the first for trainer Nicky Henderson, for whom he remained stable jockey for the next fifteen years. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with and shared many good times.

During his career as a top National Hunt jockey, Mick, known as Fitzy, rode over 1300 winners. He was victorious in fourteen races at the Cheltenham Festival, including a Cheltenham Gold Cup on See More Business and a Champion Chase on Call Equiname in 1999, a Stayers’ Hurdle on Bacchanal in 2000 and a Ryanair Chase on his self-confessed favourite Fondmort in 2006. He was leading jockey at the Festival in ’99 and 2000.

Photo credit: Alamy

Another pinnacle was winning a Grand National in 1996 on Rough Quest. In the post-race television interview with Des Lynam, Mick boldly said that ‘After that, even sex is an anti-climax’, which later was inspiration behind the title of his autobiography, Better Than Sex.

Mick held the position of stable jockey for Nicky Henderson until injury forced his retirement, aged 38, in summer 2008. Despite his curtailed riding career, Mick, 52, will always be one of the top jump jockeys of all time. Since then, he has been kept busy working as a jockey coach and a TV presenter. His distinctively gravelly tones were initially heard on At The Races before switching to the former Channel 4 Racing in 2013 and then joined ITV Racing in 2017.

As a child, Mick grew up in County Kerry before moving to Wexford. He lives in the thick of the racing community in Lambourn, Berkshire, with wife Chloe and their three children. They have eight horses, included the retired champion Altior, two dogs, a cat and a goat, who is a companion to one of the horses.


Did you have a horsey childhood? From the age of nine, I had my first pony. I did quite a lot of showjumping.


How did you get into racing? I rode a racehorse for the first time when I was thirteen and that changed my life.


What was your favourite racecourse as a jockey and now as a TV presenter? Cheltenham.


What was your favourite meeting as a jockey and now as a TV presenter? The Cheltenham Festival.


What were your best days in racing? I always wanted to win the Grand National more than any other race and after I’d won it, I realised how big it was. The enormity of what I’d achieved struck me and it was a very special day. Winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup was part of an unbelievable day for me – it was part of a treble that I rode. That was brilliant in itself but it also meant I was leading rider at that year’s Festival.


What was your favourite racehorse? I loved Fondmort. He was a very special horse and a gent as well.


How did you get into TV presenting? I got asked by George Irvine, who was the boss of SIS and ATR at the time, to come and do some work when I was off injured. So, it’s basically down to him. I really enjoyed it.


What is the best aspect to racing? The horses. They’re magnificent animals and we are very lucky to work with them. A horse doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, black or white, just as long as you’re nice to them.


How has racing changed over the years? Racing has changed for the better the fact that every race is televised. This means that jockeys can go home and watch all their races and watch all the races of the horses they’re up against. This can give jockeys an advantage.

Yet, the downside of that is everybody can see every ride and when mistakes were made before, especially during the week, no one really noticed except the people that were there. Now, young riders don’t get away with anything and social media is extremely damaging. Yet, it can also be very good when used in the right way. A young rider has to realise now that social media has its pros and cons. No one should get too wrapped up in when it’s going well because the excitement will be counterbalanced by the negativity of when it’s going really badly.


What was Nicky Henderson like as a boss? Nicky was brilliant and we became very good friends. He’s an unbelievable man to have on your side because when he’s fighting your corner, I never felt like he hadn’t got an arm round you. He’s very protective of his own. Nicky being 100% behind me was the one thing I took away from my time as his stable jockey. In this game where it is very much results driven, you need that kind of support.


Favourite meal: A rare fillet steak with fries.

Favourite drink: Back in the day when I was drinking, it was a pint of Guinness but I’m tea-total now so it’s Coca-Cola.

Favourite holiday destination: Many years ago, I went to Hawaii and I loved it.

Favourite music: I like a bit of dance music.

Hobbies: Golf and my family.


See More Business

Photo Credit: Horse & Hound


*Many thanks to Old Gold Racing for the help in securing this interview. They published it first in their fabulous newsletter Racing Weekly. To sign up, go to https://mailchi.mp/2f6ba62d6182/racing-weekly-lead-capture

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