'Time' just right for Lynch revival
Scan through the card for today's Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National and you will do well to find a more engaging story than that of Martin Lynch.
A respected former jockey whose riding career was as notable for some near misses as for any glorious achievement, Lynch sends Oscar Time to the prestigious Fairyhouse highlight from his base in Co Westmeath.
The nine-year-old is one of only two horses that he has run this season, yet landed a sweet touch (20/1 into 10/1) in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown and isn't without a chance of securing a famous double. Victory would amount to a bit more than just another unlikely big-race triumph for a small stable. It would also confirm, on the grandest of stages, that Martin Lynch is back in the hunt.
Having established himself as an able and hard-working jockey in Ireland for over 10 years to the late 1980s, Lynch set his sights on pastures new. He relocated to England, where he rode chiefly for John Webber, and became a popular go-to man for many of the big stables.
After six largely successful years, during which time he subbed on the likes of Cool Ground and Mr Frisk, he returned home to initiate a training career. While in England, Lynch had befriended the late John Durkan of Istabraq fame, who suggested that he utilise the facilities at his father Bill's yard in Dublin. It was a good offer that he was quick to accept.
A couple of years later, the fledgling trainer and his wife Suzanne moved on. They migrated to Middleton Park in Castletown Geoghegan, an idyllic estate that had hit the headlines in 1984 when Barney Curley generated a sale price of over £1m for it by selling 9,000 raffle tickets.
The lands had been divided up in the meantime, Lynch's lot comprising an old stone coach yard that includes nearly 30 stables. All told, the future looked bright.
"I rented the yard off Bill Durkan," Lynch says now, "and when I had put my team together, we set out to find a place of our own. Middleton Park was the first place we drove into. We knew straight away it was where we wanted to make our living."
Progress was slow, however. Lynch refused to be drawn into the numbers game, preferring to spend his time trying to find good calibre horses. He knew what he wanted, but sourcing quality National Hunt stock, not least in those pre-Celtic Tiger days, is a task that has broken many a good man.
Still, he produced a handful of winners each season. Eventually, he struck gold -- or so it seemed. Colonel Yeager, a horse that he had bought as an unbroken three-year-old for Cathal Ryan, another man who died before his time, burst onto the scene in 1998 with two wide-margin bumper wins under a young amateur called Ruby Walsh.
After finishing second in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown, Colonel Yeager continued to progress, highlighted by his fourth in the following year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham. Then he got a leg injury.
Just when Lynch's years of patient and meticulous building looked on the verge of paying off, the carpet was pulled out from under him. By the time Colonel Yeager returned to the track two years later -- to beat Moscow Flyer at Gowran Park -- the Co Meath native had relinquished his licence.
"The injury to Colonel Yeager wasn't the main reason I stopped training," he explains. "I had two young children and it was a combination of factors. Trying to get the right horses and the right staff was never easy, and it was all just too much really -- too much hardship. Okay, if Colonel Yeager had stayed sound it would have been very difficult to hand my licence in, but there was more to it."
Thus, weary from the demands of the job, Lynch disappeared off the grid. Fast forward nearly 10 years and the sensor is detecting him once again. After stepping back from the limelight, he filled various consultant and bloodstock roles in the industry, but the thirst for battle would not be sated.
He had his first runner back at the Punchestown Festival less than four years ago. While his training philosophy of seeking quality over quantity remains, he simply needed that space to breathe.
As cordial and humble a being as you could hope to meet, Lynch details his renewed motivation: "I missed the frontline action. I love the game and I love training good horses, but I have no ambition to be out chasing owners for money. That is not my forte. Training a yard full of moderate horses wouldn't excite me, but I have the ambition to give it a go again.
"I think you can jump very quickly from riding into training too, and they are two totally different businesses, you know? It was no harm to take the break when I did, and I've come back into it a wiser man. I know where I want to head. My son Mark is also starting out on a riding career, so it would be nice to be able to give him a bit of assistance. That was another factor."
And so here Martin Lynch is with Oscar Time, a horse that he bought whilst still in exile. Purchased for €37,000 in 2004 with the intention of being resold, the bay gelding was bought back a year later when set to realise less than €3,000 of a profit. By landing the gamble at Christmas, his fourth victory, he collected nearly €107,000 in prize money. In all, there's €250,000 up for grabs today.
"We decided to take a chance on him ourselves when he wasn't selling well," Lynch says, "and it has worked out nicely. This season, we said we'd target one of the big handicaps, and the Paddy Power suited him best. After that, with a big prize in the bag, we decided to set him aside for the Irish Grand National. We've been very happy with him, though obviously we are going into unknown territory over the distance."
Since winning at Leopardstown, the handicapper has increased Oscar Time's mark on three separate occasions. Oscar Time, for his part, had a nice blowout when fifth under top-weight in a hot handicap hurdle at Gowran Park in February.
Today, he will line out under Robbie Power, as Lynch chases the solid gold moment that eluded him as a jockey. He did win Leopardstown's Vincent O'Brien Gold Cup, now the Hennessy, when toppling Carvill's Hill on Nick The Brief in 1990, and rode a Cheltenham Festival winner in 1992, but his record in today's showpiece reflects the broader picture of his time in the saddle.
In 1984, he led over the second-last on Paddy Mullins's Lantern Lodge, only for the partnership to come to grief, the rider breaking both arms in the process. The following year, Lynch finished second to Rhyme 'N' Reason on Seskin Bridge.
That was as close as he came to glory in a race that best epitomises all the history and tradition of the Irish jumping game. Twenty-five years on, few would begrudge him going one better.