Wednesday 13 December 2017

From unlikely buy to a Cheltenham champ

Incredible rise of Sublimity a fitting triumph for late owner

Simenon, under David Mullins, jumps the fallen last flight in yesterday’s Morgiana Hurdle. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Simenon, under David Mullins, jumps the fallen last flight in yesterday’s Morgiana Hurdle. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

John Carr and Robbie Hennessy were at Newmarket Sales in October 2004, Robbie having listed around 20 horses he was potentially interested in.

In walked Sublimity and out walked Carr - or at least he tried. Robbie told him to wait around, that this was a proper horse; and that was exactly why Carr had no interest. "We've no chance of getting him," the trainer reasonably imparted.

Carr's bid of 32,000 guineas later and he was theirs. It had to be too good to be true: the horse had won a Listed race only a few months later and had been rated 110.

They had him wind-tested and the vets were not satisfied. Aha! That evening, Robbie told trainer Shane Donohoe over a drink that they would gallop him the following morning and test his wind again. If he failed, they could give him back. "You'd better hope he fails," said Shane. "His pelvis pops out and he has loads of other problems."

Bill Hennessy, owner of Sublimity and Robbie's dad, passed away over the weekend at the age of 79. A bar owner in Artane, the kick he got out of the former Michael Stoute-trained horse was probably something he recalled to help his waning spirits as he struggled with illness for several of his later years.

It was, and still is, a fairytale story, befitting Bill's life in general. A native of north Dublin, Bill made his money in a hearing-aid shop Bonovox, which gave the lead singer of U2 his name.

In the '60s, he went along to see Manchester United playing and, taken by the colours of their rivals on the day, West Ham, he would later embrace them as his own.

He got into horse ownership as Robbie went down the road of becoming a jockey and his primary aspiration was to have a runner at Cheltenham.

In Carr, who once described himself as "the last dairy farmer left near Dublin", he had a gentleman trainer of a bygone era. The Carberry who would ride Sublimity to Cheltenham immortality in 2007 was not the legendary Paul but journeyman brother Philip, who otherwise might only dream of riding in a Grade One - whatever about a contender in a Champion Hurdle.

Jumps racing still gives the lesser light a chance and Coneygree's return on Saturday, when second to Cue Card, recalled his spectacular exhibition en route to the Gold Cup in 2015.

While it seems improbable that either of these will win come March, Mark Bradstock and Colin Tizzard will know that the dream is very much realistic.

Bradstock and John Carr have something in common: neither has reached double figures in terms of winners in a season. Neither Sublimity nor the late Bill Hennessy will be at Leopardstown come Christmas but there is talk Coneygree might.

It was at Leopardstown in 2008 where Sublimity had his only Grade One victory under Robbie's care - probably Bill's proudest day of them all. The reception for the little horse that day will be rivalled if Coneygree wins in Foxrock next month and only jumps racing can do that to us.

The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association meets on Wednesday and trainers have no shortage of discussion points. Though the main media interest ahead of the AGM has been about the Irish Stable Staff Association's demand for increased wages, trainers may feel that they have greater priorities.

Bill Hennessy once said that he saw no drawback in being a racehorse owner. "I enjoy every minute of it," he enthused - but that is far from the reality for the vast bulk of owners and trainers can attest to the same.

That Charlie Swan and Colm Murphy have gone by the wayside is remarkable but what is more remarkable is that more high-profile names have not followed. Upwards on 90 per cent of trainers are just about surviving, those within the profession will tell you, and demands for increased wages for staff are hardly going to help.

That said, the ISSA has every right to pursue improved conditions for its representatives and Bernard Caldwell, its chairman, is to be lauded for being vocal about the issue. The ISSA has just recently achieved an earlier finish to the controversial December 23 meet at Dundalk - not enough but at least it is something.

The lot of staff and smaller trainers' hopes of getting more races to cater for them will likely be among the many things discussed on Wednesday. The debate will be vigorous.


Ruby Walsh excelled on Miss Me Now, 100/30, at Clonmel on Thursday. She seemed to be given plenty to do but Walsh got it spot on, allowing those in front to take each other on while saving the mare for a late winning run.


"I don't understand how he doesn't have 100 horses: he's a master trainer."

Charles Byrnes gets the praise of old ally Davy Russell after Sea Light won for the pair at Clonmel. Byrnes had 166 runners in one season at his peak, 140 in 2013/'14 but just 93 last term.


Many thanks to Peter Roe the manager @Fairyhouse who has given stable staff food vouchers for today, many thanks from all the stable staff

Camilla Sharples (@camsharples), an English native is Gordon Elliott's travelling head lass. She has seen the best and worst of how stable staff are looked after in Ireland. Kudos to Fairyhouse on Monday.


The Madeleine Tylicki-trained First To Boogie, which danced home in yesterday's fog at 6/4, was around 4/1 on Saturday. It warmed racegoers on a bitterly cold day.

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