Mark Enright: it felt like I was walking around with blocks tied on my ankles
David Jennings catches up with the refreshingly honest rider
It will be four years in January.
"I went to Tramore on New Year's Day with Robbie Mc [McNamara] and I got two falls. But it had nothing to do with the falls. I had the letters written and everything. They were in my bedroom locker before I left for Tramore. The next time I got home I was going to end it," says Mark Enright, who was 22 at the time.
"We were on the way home and I said to Robbie in the car 'will we go for a few drinks in Kilcullen?' He said no bother so we parked up in Kilcullen and went on the beer. We did Kilcullen, then on to Kildare town, up to Skryne and then on to Newbridge. Then I got the train to Thurles to meet the lads I knew from my time working in Stack's. To me, that was my way of saying goodbye to everyone. I wanted to have one last hurrah with my friends.
"After the session with the lads in Thurles, I was on my way home. It was going to happen that day. I hopped off the train in Kildare and was heading back to my place but for some reason Mark's [Walsh] car was outside his gaff. I presumed he would have been away racing. He was absolutely flying that year, riding winners everywhere. For some bizarre reason, he had no rides that day which was very strange.
"See I used to call into Mark most days at some stage for a cup of tea and, when I'd be leaving, I'd say 'toodle-oo, Mick'. Roger Loughran christened him Mick and that’s what I always call him. I thought I'd call into Mick, have a cup of tea and say ‘toodle-oo, Mick’ for the last time."
"All of a sudden there were floods of tears dropping into my tea. I just completely broke down. I told him I couldn't go on. I was in hysterics. Mark was brilliant, only for him I'd be gone. I definitely think Mark Walsh was there that day for a reason. Robbie Mc and Bryan [Cooper] came over to his house the same evening. If Mark Walsh wasn't there that day we would not be sitting here having this conversation.
"He got on the phone and called Adrian [McGoldrick, IHRB medical officer] straight away. Adrian arrived over and I still to this day remember exactly what he said and the way he said it. He just said 'Yep. Grand. Okay. I see people like this everyday of the week. This is fine. We will have you right as rain in no time, Mark. There is no need to worry'.
"There was something about the way he said that. The calmness in his voice that made me think 'Jesus, maybe I will be all right after all'. He was so relaxed about it all. I cannot thank that man enough. He is a miracle man."
Enright was diagnosed with depression.
"It was tiredness, pure tiredness," he explains. "Spending day after day in bed. No energy. No motivation. Not wanting to do anything. Everything was an effort. And I mean everything. Getting up from the couch and going to the fridge to pour yourself a glass of milk was a mammoth effort. I couldn’t see any point in living on. I was ready to go.
"It felt like I was walking around the place with blocks tied on my ankles. Racing was my only escape. When I was on the back of a horse in a race everything was forgotten about. It was my five-minute escape and I loved it. You might ride a winner and you would get an incredible buzz for a few minutes. But you are so low before the winner that it is only getting you up to the level you should have been at in the first place."
Enright’s erratic lifestyle was not helping matters either. The raw reality of a second-tier jockey trying to make a living.
"Everywhere I was going it was in the hope of getting a ride. I was getting paid nowhere, absolutely nowhere. My riding fees were my only income. I used to just pray that I would stumble across a nice horse somewhere. I used to ride a few nice ones for Mouse [Morris] who was very good to me.
"But then if he had a nice one, the owners would want Russell or Cooper or somebody more high-profile than me. That kills me. You are mad looking forward to riding a nice horse in a race, you've done all the work at home with them, you've schooled them and done everything with them and then the owners decide they want somebody else for the race. It's deflating. When you're not getting paid you are simply surviving on hope.
"There were a lot of weeks where I had zero income. There was nothing coming in and everything going out. I was putting diesel in the car like there was no tomorrow and going here, there and everywhere. I was living in my car basically and there was no structure in my life. I was up at 5.30am one morning and maybe even earlier the next morning if I had to go to Cork or somewhere to ride out. It turned me completely off the game."
Some stability was needed, a base. Somewhere he could get a regular income. A trainer he could rely on.
"I had no winners all over Christmas. I found myself riding bad horses and coming down the home straight at Leopardstown or Limerick looking at the big screen watching Gordon [Elliott] and Willie [Mullins] winning everything and there you are 50 lengths behind them trying to carry a nag over the line for tenth or 12th. How on earth do you beat these fellas? So I said to myself 'if I can't beat them I will try to join them'.
"I went to Gordon one day in January this year. It was about a 12-second conversation. Maybe shorter. I explained how things had gone quiet for me and asked out straight was there any chance of a job? Could I come in a few mornings? He said 'call in whenever you want’. I had a chat with him then a few days later and I told him that I didn't expect any rides or anything and that I was just coming in for a base. He told me if I keep my head down and my mouth shut that he would give me plenty of rides."
Enright did what he was told and Elliott stuck to his word. He was called up for Clarcam in the Galway Plate this summer. An exposed 33-1 shot with three others from the stable better fancied but it was a rare appearance on the main stage.
"Conor Orr was supposed to ride him and claim off him but he was still an amateur at the time and they probably said it would cost too much money if he did win. Busty [Ian Ammond] came out the morning before and told me I was on Clarcam but that it could easily change before the morning is out."
The change never happened. The only change that occurred was a significant one in Enright’s career. He proved he could win a big one. His front-running masterclass on Clarcam was not the work of a jockey severely lacking in confidence. It was fearless.
"I love riding the chase track from the front at Galway,” he says, recalling the greatest day of his career. "The third-last is the key fence. You can nick a few lengths at the back of that and then you're gone. I love that fence. I will probably have to eat my words now when I get dumped at the back of it by something but I just think that fence can win you any race. If you meet it on the right stride and absolutely wing it, you land running and you are already turning so you steal two lengths on everything behind you. Then you are able to freewheel down the hill. You don't have to kick, the hill will take you down to the second-last.
"I think the third-last is the fence where I won the Plate on Clarcam too. I was able to sit up on him going down the hill. His worst two jumps were the last two in the dip but I could have winged them if I really wanted to. I knew we were far enough clear and that we did not need any heroics at that stage. It was just a case of getting over them.
"I was waving my stick to the crowd like a f**king lunatic. But sure nobody had him backed. He was 33-1. There was complete silence in the crowd and there was my acting like an idiot. Pure silence there was. I cringe when I think back.
"I grew up with Barry Geraghty as my hero. He was my ultimate idol. I adored him and the way he rode. When I pulled up on Clarcam, who was the first to come over and congratulate me? Barry. That was surreal."
What is also surreal is Enright’s past. As he sips a cappuccino in the Knightsbrook Hotel in Trim, the 26-year-old is refreshingly honest about his darkest days, so forthright that the person he is opening up to is fighting back the tears, unsuccessfully. He can talk so candidly about the past as that was a different person who doesn’t even remotely resemble the bubbly, chatty and positive young man sitting across from me now.
"Life is good, man. Life is good," he says with a smile. "I spent a bit of time in St Patrick's hospital in Dublin. I was there for ten days. I spent most of the time behind the curtain listening to other people. Now these were people with serious problems. They would be there all day chatting and I would listen to them all. I needed to find myself and find out who I was and what I was doing. I worked with the counsellors and Adrian and they were incredible.
"I'm not on medication anymore. I have my coping mechanisms now. If I wake up in the morning and I am in bad form, maybe I had a bad day the previous day something, I have songs on my phone that help me. I will pump out a dance tune as loud as it will go on the way to Gordon's and, by the time I get there, I would be singing along. That snaps me out of it. It is my own way of dealing with it.”
What would he say to the Mark Enright of 2014 if he met him now?
"I would want to shake him and say 'come on, buddy, everything will be all okay'.
Everything will indeed be okay, Mark. He has an 18-month daughter, Sophie, to help him smile every evening and the future is brighter than ever before. Thirteen winners have already been tucked away this season, only two shy of his total for the entire previous campaign, and one of Ireland’s top trainers describes him as one of the best lightweight riders in the business.
"Mark is a great lad. I really like him. You won’t find too many better fellas able to do the low weights he can," replied Elliott when asked about one of his newest employees.
Enright is loving life right now but, like the rest of us, he is allowed to dream. Why not?
"I'd love someone to put a little bit of faith in me," he urges. "I am sick to the teeth of people saying to me that I just don't have enough experience for the big day. Sure Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh and Davy Russell did not always have experience for the big day. They had to start somewhere too. I'd love someone to say, 'Mark you're my man. Here is your chance.' If I f**k up then, at least I can say I got my chance and it was me who f***ed it up."
And the fairytale? "Oh, that would be to ride a Cheltenham winner."
You can guarantee the Cheltenham chute would be awash with well-wishers if that chapter comes true.
'It is good to talk, no matter what comes out of your mouth'
"I didn't want to say anything about the way I was feeling because I was sure that people would think I was mad. I know everyone tells you that you should talk but sure I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what was wrong with me. How do you verbally say to someone that you're depressed? They will just say they had a few nights on the beer and they're depressed too. It is different. Very different. You need to talk, though. You need to say something, anything at all. Just get it out there. Do not bottle it all up.
"I had originally said that I was out with my appendix [when the breakdown occurred] but I was afraid the lads would ask me where my scar was when I went back into the weighing room so I decided the best thing to do was get it out there and then at least everyone would know. There would be no secrets.
"I didn't think it would be on the front page [of the Racing Post]. I thought it would be a little paragraph buried somewhere in the paper so I got a bit of a shock when I saw the paper but, in hindsight, it was a great thing.
"If me coming out and saying what I did will help even one person then it has worked. You would not believe the number of people who have come up to me since then looking for advice. People you would not expect either. It really is good to talk, no matter what comes out of your mouth".
If you are suffering from depression or want to talk about your mental health, call Racing Welfare on 0800 6300 443 or or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.
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