Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

The quiet man of Irish racing

With up to 100 horses in training, Michael Halford has come a long way in his 30-year career in the flat racing game

Haraz (nearest camera with Sean Corby on board) and Dawenkour (Shane Foley) exercising on the grass gallops at Copper Beech Stables
Haraz (nearest camera with Sean Corby on board) and Dawenkour (Shane Foley) exercising on the grass gallops at Copper Beech Stables

Siobhán English

It's 7.30am and there's hardly a parking space to be found at Copper Beech Stables. The first lot are due on the gallops in 10 minutes and trainer Michael Halford is gearing up for yet another busy morning at his glorious base at Doneaney on the edge of Kildare town.

With close to 100 horses in training, and a team of staff which includes up to 30 exercise riders, it's obvious that there's little time for chit-chat in the height of the flat racing season.

It could be seen as the equine equivalent to New York's Central Station. Everyone is going in different directions, but there's always one man with his finger on the pulse.

Michael Halford may be known as one of the quiet men in flat racing, but there's certainly nothing modest about his success as a trainer which has spanned some 30 years.


Having cut his teeth in racing as assistant trainer with Noel Meade while also enjoying a stint as an amateur jockey, Halford was one of the youngest of his time when taking out a licence at the age of 21.

One of his first ever successes came with Cockney Lass, winner of a maiden at the Curragh in 1985, while a few lean years were followed with high-profile wins on the flat from Invincible Ash, Miss Emma, Snaefell, Miss Sally and Deauville Vision. Golden Cross also flew the Halford flag under National Hunt Rules when winning the Grade 1 Bewleys Hotels December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown in 2003.

Having spent the early days at Birdcatcher Stables in Maddenstown, before moving to Pollardstown, in 2006 Halford made the decision to purpose-build his own facility.

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This was completed two years later.

"We started with a green field," he said of the 55-acre farm which now boasts 100 boxes, five walkers, a spa, swimming pool and three gallops.

"We're very lucky here I suppose that we are self-contained with a three-and-a-half furlong circular gallop on sand and fibre, as well as a six-and-a-half furlong woodchip and five furlongs on grass."

The facilities are so adequate that the need for horses to work on the nearby Curragh gallops are rare, and on those occasions, or when Halford is attending a race meeting, assistant trainer Fabian Burke is always on hand to keep an eye on the operation.

While Halford can honestly reflect on a career of many highs and lows, he will always remember Casamento as the one who provided him with his first ever Group 1 success when landing the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in 2010.

The son of Shamardal was one of only two juveniles that Halford had been sent at the time by HRH Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, but it is a partnership that has remained ever since, with Al Qahwa, Vitello, Protocol, and Tonkinese among the current residents running under the Goldolphin banner.

Not surprisingly the Racing Post Trophy was to be the first of many Group wins in the latter years, and Certerach then added his name to that roll of honour when romping home in the Group 2 Dubai World Cup in the spring of 2014.

By his own admission at the time this win was seen as 'beyond his wildest dreams' but one which had given the trainer a timely boost for the Irish season which lay ahead.

While Casamento has long retired to fulfil stud duties, Certerach is still very much part of the team at Copper Beech Stables and Halford is hopeful that the seven-year-old will sparkle over the Irish Champions Weekend, having failed to impress on his last two runs at Leopardstown after a long lay-off since last summer through injury.

"He was due to run at the Curragh last week but he was withdrawn due to the soft ground.

"He's now entered for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF 'Petingo' Handicap at Leopardstown and also the Irish St Leger, but again all will depend on the ground," Halford said of the Paul Rooney-owned gelding which is among 17 horses so far being aimed at the Leopardstown and Curragh racing spectacular.

"We also have Toscanini for the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes and Vitello is entered for the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes. She was very impressive in her last run when winning at Fairyhouse in June," he said of the daughter of Raven's Pass.

"Raydara (HH Aga Khan) is entered for the Group 1 Matron Stakes at Leopardstown on Saturday. She is a Group 2 wining two-year-old and ran a very encouraging race last time out to be second in a Group 3 race also at Leopardstown. While she has a preference for fast ground we are really looking forward to running her as she has come forward in her homework.

"Among the big handicaps, we should be well represented by Portage (Godolphin), Hasanour (Richard McNally), Eastern Rules (Simon Hales, previous winner in Dubai), Russian Soul (Mrs Antoinette Kavanagh, previous winner in Dubai), and Shadagann (Paul Rooney) to mention but a few.

"It is such a wonderful showcase of Irish racing," Halford said of the upcoming two-day festival. "To have five Group 1 races in one weekend is quite special, and something that was needed here.

"Irish racing is very healthy right now though, and it is encouraging to see so much support coming from the Irish Government."

ASTUTE: Trainer Michael Halford

Indo Farming