What recession? Developers' Cheltenham party

Niall O'Connor and Cormac Byrne

BUILDERS may be having a tough time right now but that didn't stop these two developers celebrating a Cheltenham winner.

The developer pair were cock-a-hoop when their horse romped home to secure Ireland's first and only win on the festival's opening day.

They call themselves 'The Hammer' and 'The Trowel' but all of Cheltenham was asking today: 'How do they do it?'

But as Ger O'Brien and Sean Deane lived it up in the parade ring, one half of the so-called 'simple builders' was facing an uncertain future.

O'Brien, half of the Quevega partnership and his company owes creditors €12.7 million.

While the recession has hit the building industry pretty hard, eyebrows were raised by many who knew O'Brien about his presence in the owner's enclosure.

"It seems a little strange that this guy's company owes all this money and he is still allowed to live it up over here," said an insider.


It is the fourth time Quevega has come home in front at the festival -- with yesterday's stunning victory netting her owners a cool €47,000.

The horse was bought by O'Brien and Deane in 2007, having begun her early career in France.

The property developers formed The Hammer and Trowel syndicate in the early 2000s, with O'Brien dubbing himself The Hammer.

O'Brien, a carpenter from Clane in co Kildare and his partner Sean Deane, a blocklayer originally from co Leitrim formed the syndicate when the property sector was booming.

However their construction companies have fallen on hard times in recent years as a result of the recession and the bursting of the property bubble.

The pair refused to speak to any media last week -- refusing to give interviews on the success of their most precious asset.

O'Brien in particular has been hit by the crash and faces a tough battle to keep his Kildare-based construction company afloat. The latest accounts filed by Willowbridge Development ltd shows that it owes its creditors €12.7m.

It has reported major losses in recent years, with its latest accounts showing losses of over €600,000.

The Hammer and The Trowel syndicate will be represented in tomorrow's World Hurdle by Thousand Stars, a previous festival winner, who takes on the mighty Big Bucks.

The duo's first foray into ownership came in 2005 when they formed their syndicate and bought Paris Prince, trained by Noel Meade.

The King's Theatre gelding had little success on the track and was switched to point-to-points, where he performed indifferently and was retired without a single win.

O'Brien's hometown of Clane was also home to Clongowes Wood College, where Patrick Mullins attended, and Willie Mullins' frequent visits to the vicinity resulted in a chance meeting with O'Brien and Dean and their affiliation was formed.

In December 2007, the syndicate acquired Quevega on Mullins' advice and she delivered immediately for her new owners twice on the bounce in early 2008.

Between the syndicate's three horses Quevega, Thousand Stars and J'y Vole, they have netted their owners almost 700,000 euro in prizemoney.