Two Irish jockeys have claimed first and second place in the world’s longest and toughest horse race, in Mongolia.
Donal Fahy and Richard Killoran decided to take part in the 1000km Mongol Derby to raise money for the Injured Jockey Fund (IJF), which has helped them both get back to fitness following nasty falls. Donal broke his back last October, which required three months rehabilitation, while Richard did some serious damage to his jaw, which involved expensive dental work, funded by the IJF.
“We are so lucky to have an organisation like the IJF,” Donal told H&C. “So while getting involved in the race was random and crazy, it was also about giving something back.”
Donal spent most of the race chasing South African Barry Armitage who led from the start. But after a perfectly-timed run through the last few stages and an impressive sprint to the finishing line – nose-to-nose with Armitage – he took first place.
“I didn’t expect to win, but we weren’t there just to make up the numbers,” said Donal. “Chasing the South African made the whole week exciting and I was over the moon when I beat him. Although I was more pleased that I’d finished the race as it meant I didn’t have to do it again the next day.”
While Armitage came second, the veterinary inspection revealed that his horse was lame. As a result, two hours was added to his time as a penalty, which meant he was out of the top three.
Richard rode alongside Donal throughout the ten day derby, and crossed the line just 44 seconds after the two front runners to take second place. There was then a 55 minute and one second wait before Austrian rider Michaela Gradinger crossed the finishing line in third place.
The Mongol Derby replicates the ancient horse-messenger system used by Genghis Khan, which enabled him to send messages across his empire.
It’s a gruelling trek over mountains, marshland and sand dunes, although fresh horses are used every 40km, supplied by local nomadic herding families and breeders along the route.
There is no such respite for the riders, however, and Donal said they were riding around 14 hours a day.
“It’s the toughest thing you’ll ever do,” he said. “Physically it wasn’t too bad, although we were sore at first, but the mental side of it was really hard. All you’re given is the end point and you have to find your own way. We were always trying to push forward so it was tough.”
In addition, to raising money for their charity of choice, the riders are also asked to raise money for Mercy Corps. This is the chosen charity of the Mongolian Derby and it helps fund development projects in rural Mongolia.
“The people there have nothing, but they always had a smile on their face and the hospitably was brilliant,” said Donal. “It’s a vast place and to experience a country like that was just amazing. It may have been the toughest 10 days of my life, but without a shadow of doubt it was also the best.”
Donal and Richard are still collecting money for the IJF. To make a donation you can visit their page at JustGiving.