When a teenaged Joseph Kevin Fanning rode his first winner in 1990 at Great Yarmouth, the late Pat Eddery was Champion Jockey, Quest For Fame had just won the Derby and racing on sand at Lingfield Park and Southwell had taken place for the first time only eight months earlier.
Almost three decades later, the softy spoken Irishman is reflecting on a year that has brought him his 2,500th career winner – a feat bettered by only 12 jockeys in the history of the sport, including the legendary Sir Gordon Richards, Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, Frankie Dettori and Eddery himself.
All-Weather Championships Season 7 begins at Newcastle live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Tuesday 22nd October.
Despite being sidelined in mid-summer by a crashing fall at Ripon, Fanning has also gone on to register his 11th consecutive century of winners and, despite celebrating his 49th birthday in September, has no plans to step off the accelerator.
In fact, the affable Dubliner drives around 70,000 miles a year in his quest for winners and apart from rewarding himself with a short break in Barbados in December, intends to be as busy as ever on the All-Weather through the winter.
“I will be riding all through the winter again, apart from taking a short holiday before Christmas,” he tells me. “Mark (Johnston) will have a lot of well-bred young horses to run, as well as targeting those Championship races, so it’s going to be a busy time.
“I thrive on keeping busy and I’m still enjoying every minute of it,” he adds. “I can eat what I like, my weight is stable at around 8st 2lb and riding all year keeps me fit, so as long as I’m enjoying it I’ll just keep going.
“I think that is why I’ve been able to carry on for so long. If I had to sweat everyday like some of the bigger lads, I'd be coming to the end of the road.
“The hardest part is the driving, which I do myself. Some of the boys have people who drive for them but I’d rather be behind the wheel myself. It’s easier when I stay overnight in the south, which I often do.
Racing on sand has been kind to Johnston’s ever-reliable stable jockey. He has twice been champion, in 2010 and 2012, and stole the headlines on Finals Day back in April when he won the Easter Classic on Matterhorn and the Marathon Final on Watersmeet – both for his boss.
Fanning has ridden more winners around Wolverhampton than at any other track in the country (over 300) and is the leading rider in Southwell’s 30-year history with over 230 more. Only PJ McDonald has ridden more on the relatively new Tapeta surface at Newcastle.
Fanning has never been crowned leading rider since the All-Weather Championships were launched in 2013 but has finished within 20 of top rider Adam Kirby in two of the last three seasons and aims to be high up the leaderboard once again.
“I’ll be kicking on as usual with Mark’s horses but it’s difficult to know which ones he’ll be keeping back for the All-Weather at this stage,” he adds. “A lot of them will be moved on at the sales but he usually starts to introduce some of the backward young horses in January.”
He also plans to ride regularly for Scotland-based Keith Dalgleish, a former weighing room colleague and Johnston jockey who provided him with his landmark 2,500th winner in August: Universal Gleam in a Redcar handicap.
“I’ve ridden a lot for Keith on the All-Weather so I’ll be linking up with him again. He places his horses very well and usually has a few that are well handicapped for the winter,” adds Fanning, who has partnered more than 40 sand winners for the Carluke handler at a respectable strike rate of 17 per cent.
Fanning acknowledges the quality and diversity of England’s All-Weather tracks. “We’re very lucky to have so many good tracks which all offer something different, he adds.
“Southwell is a grand track. It always rides well and suits those big galloping horses. Wolverhampton’s sharp bends can teach a young horse plenty but you can get caught behind the deadwood round there.
“Newcastle is much better. They do tend to go steady there on the round track but it’s very fair and suits those young horses with middle-distance pedigrees. That’s why John Gosden has done so well there.
“I’d like to see Finals Day at Newcastle because the best horse generally wins around there. Lingfield can be tricky if you don’t have the best draw or if you don’t jump well, so you can be a hostage to fortune.”
Fanning enjoyed a red-letter day at the Surrey track on Good Friday, however, lowering the colours of hot Easter Classic favourite Wissahickon on the prolific Matterhorn and galvanising that gallant old grey Watersmeet to the stayers’ crown.
“To be honest I didn’t go into the Classic thinking I could beat the favourite but the race worked out well. My horse was a bit keen but Rab (Havlin) was making the pace for Wissahickon and it helped me to settle. In the end he did it very easily.
“I’m not sure if Mark is planning to run Matterhorn in those Championship races again. He’s been on the go all year and will need a break at some point but he’s typical of ours because he takes his racing so well.
“Watersmeet has been given a holiday but is back in the yard. He comes alive on the All-Weather and I was really happy to win the Marathon Final. The race didn’t exactly go to plan because I was late getting the blindfold off and missed it. I hadn’t planned to drop in and ended up further back than I wanted to be but he picked up really well off the home bend.
“He’s an old favourite of mine so I’m looking forward to those Fast-Track Qualifiers again, en route back to Lingfield. It would be great to think he could win it again.”
Like Fanning, Watersmeet may be at the veteran stage but the fact he races with such flair, reliability and enthusiasm makes them a perfect combination.
JOE FANNING FACTFILE:
Main stable: Mark Johnston, Middleham.
All-Weather Champion Jockey: 2009/10, 2011/12.
Major All-Weather Winners: 2018/19 – Matterhorn (Easter Classic), Watersmeet (Marathon); 2016 – Mister Universe (Lady Wulfruna Stakes); 2015 – Sovereign Debt (Lady Wulfruna Stakes). 2014 – Bow Creek (International Stakes).