‘Danoli, Danoli, you’re the pride of ‘Neill and Foley/You’re our hero sweet Danoli’. So sang the incomparable Richie Kavanagh of the horse which introduced Tom Foley to the rest of the racing world. And in so doing, got people attuned to horse racing that otherwise would have as much inclination of so doing as a cow would of taking a Bank Holiday off.
I’d heard of the famous steed’s owner previously. Dan O’Neill, the renowned bone setter from Myshall in Co Carlow, because he’d worked on my uncle Ollie’s back a few years before the People’s Champion shot to prominence winning the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle – as it was then, now the Ballymore – but that would only tell a fraction of the story of a wonderful, yet in another way luckless, popular horse.
Having won three Bumpers – no mean feat in itself – after his Cheltenham exploits, he went on to win the Aintree Hurdle twice, the second of which came after the first of the major injury setbacks which blighted the gelding’s career and prevented him from reaching even greater heights than was already the case.
The affection there was towards the man from Aughabeg and his star horse was actually symbolic of what makes jump racing so special to so many of us. The Danoli story also, of course, highlighted the reality that, with National Hunt at least, the ‘ordinary’ Joe or Josephine Soap can compete on level terms with the likes of JP McManus and Michael O’Leary and Rich Ricci. Be that as trainer or owner.
Even after Danoli came back from that first injury layoff, all the back-class was still there in spades, which he proved by collecting the Hennessey Gold Cup of 1997. A race in which he had Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Jodami and Imperial Call, as well as the very talented Merry Gale from the Jim Dreaper yard in behind him. Sadly though, that proved to be the final time he entered the winner’s circle.
Tom Foley’s racing story, it must be said, spanned far beyond Danoli. Royal Paradise was another to bring fame to Aughabeg. During two spells under the soft spoken handler’s quiet care. Sandwiched in between a spell in training across the water. In more recent seasons, stock such as Toushan, Goaheadmakemyday, Golanbrook in Dan ONeill’s silks and Good Reception in the McManus hoops gave the ever popular trainer some memorable days.
How poignantly fitting it was that Tom’s last winner came on Thyestes Day at his local venue Gowran Park via the talented Rebel Gold. The champion of the people went out on a high. May he rest in peace.