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Jessie Harrington – Queen of the Turf

Jessie Harrington was named The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year for 2017 after a remarkable year in which she trained Sizing John to win the Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups, the first horse to win all three in the same season. She also won the Irish National with Our Duke and enjoyed her best ever year on the Flat. In 2022 she won theIrish Oaks with Magical Lagoon. Photo: James Fennell.

In the spring of 1191, a fleet of one hundred ships, carrying 8,000 soldiers of Christ, arrived on the Mediterranean coast north of Jerusalem and laid siege to the Muslim port of Acre. Amongst those assembled warriors was Robert Fowler of Foxley, Buckinghamshire, who rode at the head of a troop of highly skilled archers. When his bowmen successfully repelled an ambush by the infidels, Robert was knighted by Richard the Lionheart, King of England.

In 1991, precisely nine hundred years later, Sir Robert’s direct descendent Jessie Harrington (née Fowler) began to take on infidels of a somewhat tweedier nature when she opened her account as a National Hunt trainer.

Over the ensuing thirty years, Jessie has established herself as the leading woman trainer in Ireland. Her stables at Commonstown Stud, Moone, Co. Kildare, are responsible for several iconic horses, headed up by the inestimable Moscow Flyer, winner of the Arkle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase at successive Cheltenham Festivals, as well as such high-class performers as Space Trucker, Dance Beat, Spirit Leader and Mac’s Joy.

The Fowler family, descendants of the crusading archer, are believed to have arrived in Ireland in the 14th century and made their mark as Churchmen. Robert Fowler, a private chaplain to George II, became Archbishop of Dublin and was elected first president of the Order of St Patrick.

By the late 18th century, they were living at Rahinston, near Summerhill, Co Meath, where they became stalwarts of the Meath Hunt, the smartest pack in Ireland. They were breeding horses on their 850-acre farm by the time Empress Sisi of the Austro-Hungarian Empire visited Ireland in 1879. Sisi apparently took a liking to a horse belonging to Jessie’s great-aunt Louisa Fowler. But when Louisa’s father George Hurst Fowler – agent for the Headfort estate got wind of her interest – he snorted, ‘I’m not going to have any damned Empress buying my daughter’s horse’. [1]

Jessie’s father was Bryan Fowler, MC (1918), DSO (1945). Known as ‘The Brig’,  this decorated army officer was Master of the Meath foxhounds and a member of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. The Brig was also on the British polo team who won silver at the 1936 Olympics and, in 1944, he married Mary Nickalls, the widowed daughter of another great English polo champion Colonel Cecil Nickalls. [2]

Under the Brig’s careful tuition, their two children, John and Jessie, effectively grew up in the saddle and were perpetually out riding, eventing, hunting and trotting about at pony clubs, Mosney gymkhanas and the Navan Agricultural Show.

In 1957, the family relocated to Rahinston when The Brig succeeded to the farm upon the death of a centenarian uncle, Captain Robert Fowler. During his tenure, the estate was the venue every April for the Meath Hunt and Tara Harriers Point-to-Point.

In April 1958, 11-year-old Jessie Fowler was on the victorious team when the Meath Hunt won the All Ireland Pony Club Championships at Castletown House in Celbridge. Three years later, the fourteen-year-old won the Under 17s title at the Pony Club championships in Burley-on-the–Hill in Oakham, England.

In 1966, the willowy beauty from Co. Meath was selected as one of five Irish riders to compete at the international three-day event at Badminton in England. She was due to ride her father’s 9-year-old gelding, Gold Buck. The Irish press considered them ‘a very steady and capable combination’, but unfortunately the event was cancelled due to bad weather.

In 1967, Jessie and John became the first brother and sister to be on the same team when they represented Ireland at the European Eventing Championships in Punchestown. The following year John represented Ireland at the Mexico Olympics.

Jessie returned to the Badminton trials in 1967 and 1968, and again every year from 1980 to 1983. She rates her third place in 1983 (on Amoy, who was bred by her father) as the most memorable moment of her eventing career. She also represented Ireland at the European Championships in 1967, 1981 and 1983, the Substitute Olympics at Foutainbleu in 1980, the World Championships in Luhmühlen in 1982, and the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

In August 1968 Jessie married David Lloyd, with whom she had a son, James, and daughter, Tara. The couple subsequently divorced and in 1976, she married bloodstock agent Johnny Harrington with whom she has two daughters, Emma and Kate. Johnny passed away in April 2014. I was very fond of Johnny; he used to refer to me as the Intellectual Chimney Sweep.

By the late 1980s, Jessie’s interest in riding horses had extended to training them. She obtained her trainer’s licence in 1991 and saddled her first winner in Leopardstown later that year. In 1994, she sent Oh So Grumpy stomping home to victory in the keenly contested Galway Hurdle. The horse was named for her friend, the late David ‘Grumpy’ Grenfell. It was the first time a woman trainer had won the race and the victory brought considerable attention to the 100-acre yard at Commonstown as owners began to consider the hitherto undreamed of possibility of a successful women trainer. But even then, when prospective owners phoned the Harringtons, they would often automatically ask to speak to Johnny.

The calls began to come through for Jessie herself when the home-bred Space Trucker, another of her early stars, ended up being more successful than the Hollywood movie for which he was named. He recorded fifteen wins between 1995 and 2002, including the 1999 Grand Annual Handicap Chase at Cheltenham. ‘A win anywhere is good’, says Jessie, ‘but a win at Cheltenham, with a horse you’ve bred and trained from scratch is very special indeed’. [3]

Other stars include Spirit Leader, who completed a notable treble of big handicap hurdle successes during the 2002/3 season and the much loved Macs Joy, the 2005 AIG Champion Hurdler of Ireland who tragically broke a leg at Cheltenham in 2007 and had to be destroyed. Cork All Star‘s victory in the Festival Bumper in 2007 provided Jessie with her seventh Cheltenham win. On 17 March 2017 she won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Sizing John. Exactly one month later she won the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse racecourse with Our Duke. It was a first win, in both races, for both Harrington and local rider Robbie Power.

However, the horse with which Jessie will forever be associated is Moscow Flyer, a steed so popular that a book Jessie wrote about him became a bestseller. His wins include the Arkle Chase at the 2002 Cheltenham Festival and his seven length victory in the 2003 Queen Mother Champion Chase. Two years later, ‘The Flyer’ regained the Champion Chase in style, before adding the Melling Chase at Aintree to his scalp collection. By the time the flamboyant gelding retired in 2006, he had won 26 of his 44 starts, including 13 wins at Grade 1 level, and brought in just under €1,750,000 in prize money. At the 2007 Punchestown Festival, Jessie’s daughter Kate Harrington managed to gallop the old warrior to a spine-tingling triumph in the annual charity race.

Tragedy struck in December 2008 when Jessie’s brother John Fowler was killed in a freak accident at Rahinston. He had been one of the leading amateur riders of his generation, partnering 243 winners under rules and over 200 in point-to points, including back-to-back wins in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. As a trainer, he won the 1989 Irish Grand National with Maid of Money and the 1997 Melling Chase with Opera Hat. The annual John and Chich Fowler Memorial Mares Chase at Fairyhouse is run in memory of John and his late wife.

A famously hard worker, Jessie conducts a busy yard with, at the time of my 2011 interview, eighty horses and thirty employees.

Jessie Harrington has trained over 100 winners at Naas since taking out her licence in 1987. Among them was Alpha Centauri, winner of the 2017 Coolmore Stud Irish EBF Fillies’ Sprint Stakes (Listed), who went on to win four consecutive Group 1 races, namely the Irish 1,000 Guineas, the Coronation Stakes, the Falmouth Stakes and the Prix Jacques Le Marois.

She also continues to show her prowess on the flat, winning the the 2022 Irish Oaks with Magical Lagoon and the Coronation Stakes, a Group 1 flat race at Ascot twice, with Alpha Centauri in 2018 and with Alpine Star in 2020.


Initially published in ‘Sporting Legends of Ireland’ (Mainstream, 2010) by Turtle Bunbury, with photographs by James Fennell. The book was nominated for the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year Award 2010.




[1] In 1910, 10,000 people at Lord’s watched another ancestor Bob Fowler, bowling for Eton, take eight wickets for 23 runs in their annual match against Harrow.

[2] On 17 April 1925, Colonel Patterson Nickalls shot himself at their home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Mary’s first husband, Col Hugh Carr ‘Chicken’ Walford, an officer in the Lancers, was killed in an airplane crash in Norfolk in 1941.

[3] Space Trucker also finished third in the 1997 Champion Hurdle.



Badminton Trials
1966, 1967, 1968, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983.

European Championships
1967, 1981, 1983

Substitute Olympics (Fontainebleau)

World Championships (Luhmühlen)

Los Angeles Olympics


1 x Cheltenham Gold Cup 2017 (Sizing John)
.2 x Queen Mother Champion Chase (Moscow Flyer, 2003, 2005)
1 x RSA Chase 2011 (Boston’s Angel)
1 x Champion Bumper (Cork All Star, 2007)
1 x Arkle Challenge Trophy (Moscow Flyer, 2002)
1 x County Hurdle (Spirit Leader, 2003)
1 x Grand Annual Handicap (Space Trucker, 1999)


2 x Melling Chase (Moscow Flyer, 2004, 2005)

2 x Champion Hurdle (Moscow Flyer, 2001; Mac’s Joy, 2006)
1 x Champion Chase (Moscow Flyer, 2004)
2 x Novice Chase (Oh So Grumpy, 1994; Moscow Flyer, 2002).
3 x Champion Novices’ Hurdle (Dance Beat, 1996; Moscow Flyer, 2000; Jezki, 2013 ).
2 x Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase (Moscow Flyer, 2002, 2003)
1 x Morgiana Hurdle (Moscow Flyer, 2000)
1 x Motivate Novice Handicap Chase (Chasing Cars 2010)
1 x INH Flat Race (Auspicious Outlook, 2010, at 33-1)

1 x Irish Grand National 2017 (Our Duke)
2 x December Festival Hurdle (Moscow Flyer, 2000; Mac’s Joy, 2004)
2 x MCR Hurdle (Dance Beat, 1996; Studmaster, 2006).
2 x Irish Arkle Trophy (Bust Out, 2003; Ulaan Baatar, 2005)
3 x Novice Hurdle (Moscow Flyer, 1999; Hide the Evidence, 2006; Jezki, 2012 )
1 x Handicap Hurdle (Macs Joy, 2004)

1 x Future Champions Novice Hurdle (Jezki, 2012)
1 x Champion Hurdle (Macs Joy, 2005)
2 x Novice Hurdle 2011 (Oscar’s Well), 2010 (Boston’s Angel)
1 x Handicap Chase (Gemini Lucy 2007)
2 x Novice Chase (Carrigeen Victor, 2005; Boston’s Angel, 2011)
2 x Novice Hurdle (Roberto Goldback, 2009 Coole River 2010)
1 x Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Personal Column, 2008)
2 x Pierse Hurdle (Dance Beat 1996; Studmaster, 2006)

Coronation Stakes (2018 (Alpha Centauri, 2018; Alpine Star, 2020).

Galway Hurdle (Oh So Grumpy, 1994)

3 x Champion Chase (Ferbet Junior, 1999; Slaney Native, 2000; Knight Legend, 2008)
1 x Trial Hurdle (Macs Joy, 2006)

Irish Oaks 2022 (Magical Lagoon)
1 x Vincent O’Brien National Stakes 2010 (Pathfork)
2 x Solonaway Stakes (Jumbajukiba, 2007, 2008)
1 x C. L. Weld Park Stakes (Jazz Princess, 2004)
1 x Beresford Stakes (Curtain Call 2007)
1 x Gladness Stakes (Jumbajukiba 2008)
1 x Ballygallon Stakes (Long Lashes 2009)

1 x Tingle Creek Chase (Moscow Flyer, 2003, 2004).
1 x William Hill Handicap Hurdle (Spirit Leader, 2002)

Ulster Derby (Fantouche, 2008).

2 x Midlands Grand National (Intelligent 2003; Miss Orchestra, 1998).

1 x Tote Gold Trophy (Spirit Leader, 2003)




A Tribute to the Fowlers by Alan Sweetman (2024)


Fairyhouse is a fitting venue for the John & Chich Fowler Memorial Mares’ Chase since John Fowler enjoyed the most important win of his training career when Maid Of Money captured the 1988 Irish Grand National at the track.
John, who was tragically killed in a farm accident in 2008, served as a director of Fairyhouse Racecourse at a crucial time in its history. To that role, he brought qualities of integrity, intelligence, diplomacy, and a common-sense attitude derived from his understanding of the many facets of the racing industry.
A talented and stylish amateur rider, John won the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham twice, on Gay Tie in 1978 and the following year on Arctic Ale whom he also partnered to victory in the Topham Trophy. As a trainer, he was well known for his skilled handling of mares, including Opera Hat, winner of 15 races, including the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree.
Throughout his training career, John was ably and enthusiastically supported by his wife, universally known in the racing world as “Chich”, derived from her maiden name, Lady Jennifer Chichester.
With a background in hunting and eventing, Chich was attuned to the individual characteristics of horses in the yard. She had a warm and natural manner with owners, who were often close personal friends or became such through the enjoyment of having a horse in the stable.
After John’s death, Chich showed great fortitude in maintaining the Rahinstown stable until she lost a hard-fought battle with serious illness in 2013, whereupon her daughter-in-law Lorna took over the licence.
Chich was a pillar of the Irish Pony Club and the Meath branch in particular. She was encouraging to young riders and a source of sound practical advice, dispensed firmly but kindly. John and Chich Fowler are remembered with affection and respect throughout the Irish equestrian world. [AS]