Jessica Harrington targets historic Derby triumph

Fiona Tomas
·3-min read
Jessica Harrington watches racing from her home in Kildare  - Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Jessica Harrington watches racing from her home in Kildare - Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
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Women's Sport Social Embed

From the safe confines of her living room, Jessica Harrington will settle on to her sofa to watch the Investec Derby just before the clock strikes 5pm on Saturday.

It has become a familiar routine of late for Ireland’s most decorated dual-purpose trainer who, at the age of 73, returned to watch racing in attendance only this week, at Leopardstown, after Horse Racing Ireland lifted its ban on over-70s at racecourses.

Harrington is bullish about how the coronavirus pandemic has altered life and an undercurrent of stoicism cuts through the crackly phone line from her yard in Moone, County Kildare.

“It was what it was,” she says matter-of-factly. “I couldn’t go racing. I’m so delighted to have racing back, I actually couldn’t care less if they told me to stand on my head the whole time through the racing – I would have done it.”

It is perhaps Harrington’s dry-humoured wit inasmuch as her glittering record which have immortalised her as one of the best in the game.

She will forever be associated with the two-mile champion chaser Moscow Flyer, but there have been other top-class horses, from the superstar filly Alpha Centauri winning the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 2018 to Sizing John’s 2017 Gold Cup victory, establishing her as Cheltenham’s all-time leading female trainer, with 11 winners.

“I consider myself a trainer, whether I’m female or male,” says Harrington, who was married to the late bloodstock agent Johnny Harrington. “We all do the same job, we all try to achieve the same thing, which is to get winners. That’s all we’re there for.

“Whether you’re male or female really doesn’t cross my mind – I’ve probably had to work twice as hard to get there because I’m female – but even that doesn’t worry me any longer. I just keep my head down and keep working.”

Her industriousness on the yard was well suited with Ireland’s lockdown, where she stayed put with her daughters Emma and Kate, who are mainstays in the family business. Walks became a regular occurrence, as well as other outdoor activities (“We did the garden, the place got tidied up, everything that got painted was painted – if you stood still you got painted – everything that could be cut, got cut”).

At Epsom she is seeking her first British Classic with Gold Maze, who finished a striking sixth in last week’s Irish Derby. The maiden’s eye-catching pedigree is almost certain to raise a few eyebrows: his sire, Golden Horn, was a Derby winner with Frankie Dettori in 2015, while his mother’s sire, Galileo, achieved the feat in 2001.

No woman has ever trained the winner of the Derby, with Libertarian’s handler Elaine Burke becoming only the seventh woman to have a runner in the Classic in 2013. Given the colt’s heritage, how does Harrington view his prospects, and those of a first Derby ride for former champion apprentice David Egan?

“He stays a mile and a half well, I know he’s still a maiden, but he’s run some very good races. He actually ran a very good race last Saturday.

“He was a bit free early on and got bumped around a bit, but he still finished sixth which wasn’t a bad result. He’s going there, it’s a very open Derby again this weekend and he’ll look to take his chance and we’ll see how we get on.”

The Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday 4th July is part of the 2020 QIPCO British Champions Series. For more info go to britishchampionsseries.com.