Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Farmer targeting Galway festival glory with horse used to herd cattle


The Black Russian on his way to winning to winning at Ballinrobe with Rachel Blackmore up. Photo:
The Black Russian on his way to winning to winning at Ballinrobe with Rachel Blackmore up. Photo:

Siobhán English

From herding cattle to the winner's enclosure, The Black Russian has brought Fergus Hanley much joy as a small-time trainer.

Local trainer and farmer Fergus has great memories of the Galway Races as a child, but surprisingly it had little to do with horses. The bumper cars at the track were more his thing back then.

It was only when he got out of riding ponies and started training a few point-to-pointers with his late father Eddie that the racing bug finally kicked in.

Now the 42-year-old is living the dream as a small-time trainer and hopes that his sole charge, The Black Russian, can bring him further glory in a fortnight's time.

"I did all the usual stuff, jumping at the RDS on ponies, but I never had a great interest in racing until Dad got a few thoroughbreds," he remembers.

Eddie Hanley was well-known in horse circles throughout his life, his Carnmore Stud often standing stallions over the years, as well as producing several winners in the show rings.

"He also owned the show jumper Lydican, a winner with Francie Kerins before being sold to Italy," Fergus remembers.

One stallion of note that stood at Carnmore Stud was Uncle Walter. "I remember watching him compete for the Croker Cup at the RDS."

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When Eddie Hanley picked up a few point-to-point horses in the 1990s, Fergus was immediately drawn to the sport. Over the next number of years he also enjoyed a stint race-riding, picking up some 30 rides in total.

"Dad always had a few horses here and there, but it was only in 2010 that I took out my own licence to train."

Over the years, horses came and went, and at one point they had 13 in the yard. "It just got so difficult paying staff and looking after owners," Fergus says. "I might get back into it again but right now I am happy with just the one racehorse. I also have a few show horses with Tazmin Murray.

"On top of that I work at home on the farm and look after my mother, Mary. There's no point being a busy fool in this racing game," he adds.

Fergus Hanley is living the dream as a small-time trainer
Fergus Hanley is living the dream as a small-time trainer

Some would wonder how you could justify having a licence for such a small number, but The Black Russian is not your average thoroughbred.

Picked up as a four-year-old from his breeder Albert Conneally of Moorpark Stud, the son of One Cool Cat had a less than impressive start to his racing career, having refused to load into the starting stalls on more than one occasion.

However, he has since given the Hanleys so much fun and enjoyment with five wins to date, he is now very much part of the family.

"He had been placed once on the Flat before I got him but he was a difficult horse, to say the least," says Fergus of his history. "I really felt he needed to be sweetened up a bit so I used to herd the cattle at home with him. We have a small suckler herd here on 100 acres, so it was ideal."

It seems the change of scenery worked a treat and over the next three years, The Black Russian continued to improve for his owner/trainer, with his first win coming in a Maiden Hurdle in Kilbeggan in August 2013.

Three days later he was back in the winner's enclosure, again under Andrew Lynch but this time in a Handicap Hurdle over two miles.

It would be another 12 months before The Black Russian would strike again at Kilbeggan under Barry Geraghty, and remarkably he won on his chasing debut that September in Ballinrobe, with Lynch in the saddle once again.

By now he had shown true form, but the best was yet to come when the team returned to Ballinrobe last September for the John Mulhern Handicap Hurdle, where he cruised in at 7/1 under up-and-coming professional Rachel Blackmore to bring his winnings to well over €50,000.

"That was a very special day for us all," Fergus recalls. "My father had died only five weeks earlier so it really meant a lot."

Since then The Black Russian has been placed twice, including in a chase at Galway last October, and Fergus Hanley is hoping that his sole charge might now actually make it into the winner's enclosure there in a fortnight's time.

"He was placed second during the Festival a few years ago so we would love to see him win on home ground. There are so many options for him there," he adds.

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