“Fran Berry was the one of the best Irish jockeys that failed to win a classic race”.
The modest County Kildare born rider quickly laughs that off our proclamation, asserting; “there were plenty better riders than me that never got to win a classic”. Group 1-winning rider Berry was forced to retire from the saddle on medical advice after sustaining serious injuries in a fall at Wolverhampton last year – the County Kildare-born rider, fractured six vertebrae in his spine and broke four ribs in the horror fall,
Berry reflects on the career with perspective to us
“I feel very blessed to have had the career I’ve had, winning races at Royal Ascot, Cheltenham and Tokyo and wherever else in between.
Berry then added; For the past 23 years, I have got to live out my childhood dream of being a jockey, and it has been great competing at the highest level at the best tracks in the world, so I couldn’t be too down-beat about retiring on a nearly even keel.”.
Not known to some, Berry rode a Cheltenham Festival winner when aged eighteen, on the Christy Roche-trained Khayrawani in the Coral Cup — owned by leading racehorse owner JP McManus, for whom his father Frank is still his racing manager to this very day, speaking of that memory Berry states; “This was one success in a long line of opportunities I had during my career, I was continuously surrounded by people who had my best interests at heart – which unquestionably helped me during my career.
“Horse racing in an entirety has been very good to me and my family”.
Soon after that big-success at Cheltenham racecourse, Berry switched his complete attentions to the flat, he was regarded as one of the most dependable jockeys in Ireland on the level – debatably his biggest highlight was in his native Ireland, when he rode Champion two-year-old Pathfork to triumph in the Group One National Stakes at the Curragh back in 2010 for trainer Jessica Harrington; speaking of that race he highlighted; “Sure, it was a great memory and it would be up there in the top five of my favourite wins”.
What was his favourite win?
“That’s easy. Common World, winning the Gladness Stakes back in 2006 was my all-time favoured success. I know it was only a Group 3 race, but I was only coming back from a serious injury at that time and the realism that I won a big race with all my family, and friends in-attendance made it a really extraordinary win for me”
Berry also benefitted from an outstanding partnership with the popular grey Thundering Blue – trained by David Menuisier, who finished third in the Juddmonte at York, before claiming the Stockholm Cup at Bro Park in Sweden,Berry spoke about the popular grey. “Horses like Thundering Blue don’t come around too often, to play a small part in his successes was a privilege”.
It is well documented that Berry achieved so much, as a rider though any given sportsman always retires with a certain degree of regret – is Berry any different? – “I am appreciative of everything I have accomplished, although there is always a niggling thought in the back of my mind, that I never won a classic. In-retrospection I never really got much chances in them, races though I understand that is the nature of the competitiveness of the sport”, emphasizes Berry.
“Fran, Fran, the punter’s man”
– that was a well-known ‘mantra’ around Dundalk Stadium on Friday evening’s throughout the cold wintery nights when Berry was riding, he was notorious for winning the last race on the card, often considered the ‘getting out stakes’ for punters tiresome to recoup their losses and go home with a winner – it is alleged that throughout Berry’s career he won 25% of his races on the last race of the evening, that is a bizarre statistic for any jockey to have – Berry added; “I heard that statistic a few times, its humorous alright but on a more serious note I think the logic behind me having a winner in the last was that longer distances races are continuously left to the last on the card, a lot of trainers who I had the backing off, had horses running in them type of races – which perhaps explains a lot”.
Social media would tame lion. Berry reflects to us how he feels he had it much easier than the jockeys now coming through the ranks; “When I was starting out there was no platform available were anyone could vent their frustration, the progression of the internet, has a lot of good points – but I feel it is open to being misused as well, jockeys now, are always on their mobile phones, and when they get beaten for whatever reason – the abuse is not far behind. It can’t be good for anyone’s mental health. I endured nothing like that, luckily”.
Now, into his second career as a pundit for Racing Tv, and regular columnist for Sporting life how has this ex-rider adapted to the enormous ‘life’ changes for him?, he responded; “It is like anything else, it takes time even though I can open-heartily say I’m really enjoying every minute of it”
“I now have the ideal work, family scenario going on, which beforehand was not possibly when riding”.
He then added; “I hope I’m getting better with every television appearance and I every blog I post. – it is all a learning curve, which I’m fully embracing.
It would be ridiculous to let this form-student go, without getting two horses to follow, he replied, “Your putting me on the spot, but here goes nothing. I am looking forward to seeing the Joseph O’Brien trained Degraves this season – I’d be expecting him to go far, and also I am looking forward to the reappearance of the Johnny Murtagh trained Know It All – I’d be surprised if wasn’t too win a few.”.