Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
The Big Interview with Paul Hanagan
PAUL HANAGAN says leaving Richard Fahey’s Malton yard was the toughest decision of his life. But, as he settles in Newmarket, the dual champion jockey tells STEVE CARROLL that he can’t wait to capitalise on his new job with Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
ONE thing they should give all new arrivals in Newmarket is a map. “I’ve lost count of the number of gallops here,” says Paul Hanagan of the orientation he is quickly having to master in his new role as retained jockey to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s string of horses.
“It’s going to take time to get things right and settle in. I never thought it was going to be easy.”
Moving around the different gallops, and the numerous trainers with whom his new boss owns horses, is just one of the major shifts that the 32-year-old’s life has witnessed in the past few weeks.
As we speak, Hanagan has been in Newmarket a little over three weeks, commuting down from his Malton home on a Monday evening and returning following racing on Saturday night.
If getting used to new surroundings is difficult, then being away from his family – wife Anna and his two boys – is excruciating.
“It’s very tough,” he admits. “But my eldest, Josh, has not been long at school and I’m just renting a place at the moment. If they came down now you have to get a school, get a house and you are having to change them about all the time.
“I am always going to keep the house in Malton because that is home for me. I think I am always going to be in York for a few days so I can base myself there. For the time being, my family are staying where they are.
“It’s hard and the week is hard but it is only a matter of time before they come down – three months or six months. It is not going to be like this forever.”
Legacy is what brought Hanagan to the life-changing decision to up sticks and move south.
He admits he was “kind of set in my ways” following 16 years with Musley Bank-based Richard Fahey, an association which began when the rider was just a boy and brought him a champion apprentice title along with two champion jockey crowns.
And while being the country’s king rider two years in a row is a fantastic achievement, and is effectively what has landed him this plum job, he also appreciates it will not rewrite the pages of racing history.
These days, a rider is remembered for his Group and Classic victories.
Having watched the likes of Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori celebrate at Newmarket and Epsom, it is a party Hanagan wants to crash. Even though it meant leaving Fahey.
“It was probably the toughest decision of my life,” he says. “I have been with Richard for so long. I got very upset but, like Richard has said, I am still going to be riding for him as much as I can. I am still going to be riding plenty of winners for Richard. It’s just that I am moving down south.
“The thing that did it for me was the history of Sheikh Hamdan, and the horses like Nashwan and Nayef. You are just trying to get on the likes of those. That’s what I want to do. I have never even had a runner in the Derby to ride, or a decent horse in the Guineas.
“This could be the time. I feel I have proved myself with the last two Championships. This is the next chapter. That’s what it’s all about and it might open a few more doors for me as well.”
One thing that will not be lacking in his Newmarket adventure is effort.
Few jockeys work as hard as Hanagan, or push themselves as much through the mental barrier, in pursuit of their goals. In the past two years, he has celebrated nearly 400 winners and ridden in more than 2,500 races.
It has brought its rewards. But, as the jockey reveals, it also threatened to take too much of a toll. He has decided to rein things in.
He explains: “The last two years I have been running around like a headless chicken.
“There’s no rush (here) and I think I need it. I don’t think I could have carried on like before. I worried about burnout. It takes an enormous physical toll. I felt I was getting a bit sour towards the back end of last season.
“I was knackered and it was just getting to me and, as soon as you get off the last ride at Doncaster, you are being asked if you are going to go again. I was just ‘no chance’. I think I did a bit too much. I’ve done it back-to-back now.
“I think I was 16-1 the first time and you always get people thinking it was a fluke so I was delighted to do it the second time.”
His new routine could mean going to the track for just a single ride, a strange feeling for a workaholic jockey who has gone beyond reasonable limits. Hanagan, though, can see immediate positives.
“It’s a bit like when I am riding work,” he says. “Sometimes I am finished at 8am in the morning. It’ll take some getting used to but I think this change has come at a good time. I am going to be ready for the big days, like the Derby, Royal Ascot and the Guineas. I am not trying to do everything at once.”
There will be those who expect immediate success, who will be quick to criticise if Hanagan is not quickly firing in Group winners. But the rider sees a bigger picture. For him, patience is the key. Even so, the anticipation of what is to come is extremely exciting.
“I think it’s not all about this season. I want to build a few bridges and see how it works. Anything this season would be bonus but it would be great to win something to get a relationship going with a nice owner.
“It’s still very early days. I am getting in as much as I can. But it is all about the long term.
“I can’t wait for it all to happen to be honest. I just wanted to be given the chance. I am going to get it and it is great to be given it.”