Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Horses: On track for racing glory

Trainer's brave business venture galloping ahead

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Starting up your own business would be a major challenge in any year, but starting up a business in the racing industry this year is surely more challenging than many people would like. However, that is exactly what 32-year-old Martina Doran from Duncormick, Co Wexford, is determined to do.

The young racehorse trainer has set up a complete equine facility at her premises, the Railway Yard Gallops, Ballyfrory, where all of the services are available on hire to fellow trainers and owners.

"I have been training out of this yard for the past seven years, with both family horses and clients' horses," Martina says. "But it was always my intention to build the business up into a top-class facility for other trainers."

The completed gallops are the culmination of several years of determined saving and hard work to achieve the exact combination of services that Martina feels trainers need.


Training horses for both National Hunt and Flat racing, she knew that the majority of trainers with flat horses faced the arduous task of travelling up to the Curragh to train their animals.

"When I first started training flat horses, I really needed a grass gallop because I felt my horses were lacking the experience on grass, after working on sand at home," Martina says.

" I used to have to go up to the Curragh and ask some of the trainers there if I could join them to work my horses on the grass gallop. We would also travel up to use the starting stalls."

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Now, however, the Wexford trainer has her own seven-furlong grass gallop and starting stalls so she can train her flat horses at home.

Designed by Mike Harbridge, who also designed the new Tramore Racecourse track, the grass gallop is used by other trainers to teach young horses how to gallop on grass in preparation for competing in races.

Enclosed with race railings and maintained to the highest standards, the gallop has three furlongs on a circle and four furlongs on a straight.

Martina is also keen to provide facilities for both her own National Hunt horses and those of other trainers.

To this end, the most recent development at the Railway Yard Gallops is a new seven-furlong Ecotrack all-weather surface.

Maintained daily to keep the surface level and consistent, the all-weather gallop is designed to provide a safe and forgiving surface for horses to work on all year round.

The track, though, has been tested by the elements during the past winter.

"To date, the gallop has handled flash floods and heavy frost," laughs Martina.

The trainer is quick to highlight the advantages of the all-weather track.

"I have a Gallop Master harrow, which means I can tailor the track surface according to the trainer's preference," she says.

"We can change it from good going to soft, yielding basically whatever going the trainer wants to test his or her horse."

The all-weather gallop is also railed off with race barriers on both sides to encourage even the shy horses to work.

Each of the three gallops -- grass, sand and all-weather -- are laid out close to each other and overlooked by a viewing stand located at the centre of the gallops, which allows trainers to assess their horses.

"From the stand, the trainer can see everything, instead of just seeing a portion of the track," Martina says.

"We also have training hurdles and schooling fences at the centre of the tracks for point-to-point and National Hunt horses," she adds.

The gallops are open all year round and used not only by racehorse trainers but also by eventers and showjumpers to get horses fit and exercised.

However, the facilities do not end with just gallops. Railway Yard has extensive stabling that trainers can use.

"It means they don't have to struggle with saddling horses in a horsebox or lorry. Instead, they can unload and saddle up their horses in a stable," says Martina.

As well as the stables, the trainer has installed an aqua-spa for treating horses that are recovering from injury.

The aqua spa is filled with natural seawater, a favourite of older trainers because of its healing properties.

The spa is used for horses suffering from lower leg injuries, such as tendon and ligament injuries. It is also used where horses have suffered bone damage, such as sore shins, fractures and splints, and flare-up concussion, lacerations and lower-limb infections.

The water type prevents post-operative complications, and promotes the healing of wounds and increased hoof growth, and prevents soft tissue damage.

"We are right beside the sea here and the salt water is a drug and chemical-free therapy that older trainers swear by," says Martina.

"It's becoming popular again with younger trainers."

Turnout on a grass or sand paddock is available, while the horse's weight can be monitored with the yard's equine scales. The Wexford woman has recently been certified in equine neuromuscular therapy by the College of Complementary Medical Education, so she can treat horses in training and post-surgery.

"The benefits of neuromuscular therapy are relaxation and relief from muscle pain, but it also prepares healthy muscles for strenuous exercise and helps the horse's body recover from injuries," she says.

The trainer also uses Niagra Equisage Therapy, involving the application of a back pad and tendon boot to improve blood flow and circulation.


Although the Railway Yard Gallops are still relatively new, several winners on the point-to-point and National Hunt circuits have already been trained there.

Paul Nolan has trained several winners on the gallops, while other trainers to use the facility include Colm Murphy, Michael Cullen, Liz Doyle and David O'Connor.

Martina recently trained the four-year-old Ned of the Hill to take the opening maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse on February 10.

Having beaten the two market leaders at Fairyhouse by four and three lengths respectively, the syndicate-owned Ned of the Hill is now expected to line up for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham on St Patrick's Day (March 17).

With a successful ambassador like that in her stables, Martina is determined to match Ned of the Hill's success by building Railway Yard Gallops into a thriving business.

However, she is acutely aware of the challenges all racing businesses face this year.

"I'm sure that if I had opened two or three years ago, I would be chock-a-block with horses, but opening now means business could be slower at the beginning," she admits. "Horse numbers are down and owners are more careful about what they pay in training fees.

"But hopefully things will come good again, and if trainers use Railway Yard for one horse now, they might be back with more horses in the future," she adds.

"Ideally, I would like a busy day at the gallops every day."

Laying the ground for those days has already begun, with the savvy businesswoman offering a two-for-one deal for new users of the facilities and taking young horses for breaking, pre-training and sales preparation.

For more information on the Railway Yard Gallops, visit

Irish Independent