Springbank latest stage in Deegan's meteoric rise
Published 22/05/2010 | 05:00
Paul Deegan is sitting in a little prefabricated cabin that is his office, having taken leave of the media scrum that has descended on Clifton Lodge Stables for a midweek launch of the Abu Dhabi Irish Guineas Festival.
The 31-year-old is glancing through the weekend entries, searching for something that he hasn't had all morning. A bit of peace, a chance to draw breath.
As you stroll by the window and signal your intention to have a word, you half expect him to have made for the back door by the time you get in. For the past few hours, Deegan has been the object of everyone's attention.
He sucks the life out of another cigarette, no doubt glad it's all over. Except it isn't. It's really only just beginning.
"I'm maybe starting to get a bit edgy now all right," he admits when asked if he is fazed by the task ahead. "I had been very good up to now, or at least I thought I had, but I suppose all this isn't helping!"
All this, though, is exactly what he signed up for. Tomorrow, Deegan will saddle Lady Springbank in the Etihad Airways Irish 1,000 Guineas, his first Group One runner. As much as he might be starting to get tense, he isn't getting carried away either.
"You have to be realistic about it," he reasons, "she's 16/1, and she'll probably be bigger on the day. She deserves to take her chance though -- she's a dual Group Three winner. I'd say if you were going there with a 2/1 shot you'd be even more nervous, but I am thrilled that my first runner in a Guineas race is not something that's there just making up the numbers."
That Lady Springbank has earned her place in Classic company is testament to Deegan's skills. Owned and bred by the Gittens family, the daughter of Choisir had just a maiden win to her name from four starts while in the care of Karl Burke in England last summer.
She was transferred to Deegan in the hope that the softer Irish ground would help her, and provided the Curragh-based operator with his first Group race success in the CL Weld Park Stakes on her debut for him last September. On her reappearance in March, the grey filly scooted home in Leopardstown's 1,000 Guineas Trial.
Two runs, two wins, not a moment wasted. Such prowess is exactly what Deegan has become known for.
The latest addition to a new crop of exciting young Irish trainers, the speed with which he has progressed to this point has been striking. It is less than four years since he sent out his first runner, less than three since his first winner. His career tally now stands as 36, and he is already halfway towards matching last year's total of 14. By any standards, that is an impressive start.
The son of a Wicklow dairy farmer, the young Deegan got his first taste of life in a racing yard at the old National Hunt institution that was Victor Bowens' nearby Colbinstown stable. Deegan recalls: "My dad used to go hunting and point-to-pointing, so that's where I got it the interest. I started with Victor when I was 12, every weekend and school holiday up until I was 16 or 17. I'd be so tired, I remember throwing the bike over the wall every Saturday on the way home and going for a sleep. I loved it though. I had no interest in school and always wanted to be a jockey, but just wasn't good enough."
Having reverted to the books to complete a two-year course in Equine Studies at Writtle College in Essex before spending time in America, Deegan briefly returned home. As the millennium began, Mick Channon advertised a pupil assistant's position. Deegan got the gig. A couple of years later, Mark Wallace vacated the assistant's post, and Deegan got promoted.
"Mick is a brilliant trainer," he asserts now, "he's very straightforward and he speaks his mind. When I was starting out myself, having worked in a place like that, seeing so many horses and how they develop, my time with him gave me the confidence to make my own decisions. That was crucial."
The irony, of course, is that Deegan will have to mastermind the downfall of Channon's Music Show, the Guineas favourite, if Lady Springbank is to collect. More than that, he will have to scupper the hopes of his leading patron, Jaber Abdullah.
One of Channon's longest-standing owners, Abdullah wasted little time in supporting Deegan once he got up and running. He is now the handler's biggest owner. And while Lady Springbank was bound for these shores anyway, Deegan benefited greatly when Karl Burke was stripped of his licence in July, as Mark Gittens dispersed his team between the fledgling operator and Henry Cecil.
On the first day of the turf season, Gittens' Big Robert won the Irish Lincolnshire to kick-start the new campaign for Deegan. Should Lady Springbank score tomorrow, it would further confirm Deegan's fast-growing status, though it still may not be the most improbable element in this story.
That is surely the fact that his name appears on a licence at all. After six years at Channon's, Deegan assumed the role of a private trainer for a couple of businessmen on the Curragh. Less than four months into the job, the venture floundered. Deegan picks up the story: "They came in to me one Wednesday and said, 'that's it, we're pulling the plug'. My wife Kate had just given birth to our first son Jack and, all of a sudden, we'd nothing.
"We thought about going abroad again, but then we got into the car one day and drove around the Curragh. We drove into a little yard in Pollardstown, asked them if they would be interested in renting, and they were.
"It was a 25-box yard and we had four horses starting off. I don't think I could ever do my first season again -- I think I'd soon be single if I did. There was a lot of pressure, and the economics of a racing yard don't really make much sense at the best of times, nevermind when a recession is taking hold."
Yet, somehow, Deegan is making it all work. So much so that, by January of last year, he had outgrown Pollardstown, prompting the move to Clifton Lodge, which Frances Crowley had vacated just a couple of months previously.
Lest we forget, it was from there that Saoire bagged Crowley a famous triumph in the 1,000 Guineas five years ago. Maybe there's something in the water.