Farming helps keep me grounded for racing's highs and lows
Published 04/11/2011 | 05:00
Training horses is a tough business to be in these days. More than anything, I pity any young fellow starting out, because the foundation of owners that were there when people such as myself were starting out in the 1970s are long gone. If racing was once the 'Sport of Kings', over the last 10 or 15 years, it became the sport of anybody.
At the time, that was great too, but it hasn't done any good in the long term. Syndicate owners and the like had no real bond with horses. I remember when I began, you might get a horse from the farmer next door to break in, one he probably bred himself. By the time you'd have it riding, you'd have talked him into leaving it with you, and that's how relationships grew.
Nowadays, it's just a case of survival of the fittest. I'm lucky I have a farm and cattle as well as the horses -- I've always been a bit of a wheeler-dealer. Because my father was a cattle dealer, I would have always kept some dry stock, as it was in my blood. Right now, though, I have more than I would have ever had before.
Whereas once I'd have had 100 horses, now I have only 50-odd. I love to keep busy, so I expanded the cattle side of it when the horse business wasn't there. I like to think of myself as a farmer as well as a trainer -- they are my passions.
The farming is great to help you unwind. I love going to the marts and buying stock, and they tell me I'm a good judge. Whether I am or not, I make a few euro out of it anyway, and I'm busier now than I was with 100 horses 10 years ago.
It's probably five years since I bought a large batch of yearling horses. Traditionally, that's what I would have done, breaking them in as two-year-olds and then bringing them on bit by bit, gradually getting them ready for point-to-points.
That said, because of the farming, my head wouldn't be as bothered either, so I am enjoying life. On Monday, I drove the box across to Wexford on my own.
We have fewer staff these days and my daughter Laura had to take a few horses to the boat for the sales in Ascot on Monday evening, so it was left to me to bring Best Served Cold to the track. I didn't mind, even less so after he won.
We have been short of a very good horse since Beef Or Salmon retired, but Best Served Cold is the type to keep your dreams alive, an exciting chaser in the making.
Our good run continued at Thurles yesterday, when Hans Crescent ran out an easy winner. It's only now that things will really get going, but the horses are well, and I'm confident we are in a better place than we were 12 months ago.
Today, Awkward Moment, a horse I've always liked, makes his chasing debut at Down Royal, and I hope fences will help him to fulfil his potential. Tomorrow, I run Lend A Hand Son in a handicap hurdle that I'd expect him to go close in.
One of the horses Laura took to Ascot was old Church Island, a brilliant servant for us over the years. He is nearly 13 now, but apparently a man of about 80 years of age bought him to ride himself, so that was nice to hear.
Adrian Heskin travelled across as well. He is a super fellow, but hasn't ridden since damaging his cruciate ligament in May. He is due back in the saddle tomorrow, so he said to me a couple of weeks ago it might be a good idea to have a session in England with Yogi Breisner, the well-known jumping guru.
That's the kind of youngster he is. Plenty other lads wouldn't bother going to see a man like that -- they'd know too much already -- but it was the right thing for Adrian to do to help him get his eye in again.
Race riding is an art form, one that has come forward so much in the last 20 years. The best riders these days are so tidy and professional, which makes the whole mess over the whip in Britain such a sorry shame.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie