Tuesday 21 November 2017

Attracting major owners my No 1 priority

I've been training horses since 1984, and there's still no feeling to compare with the one that you experience when one of your's crosses the line in front. If only you could bottle it. For most people doing this job it's what sustains you, because we'd all be out of business long ago if we were in it for the money.

Back in December, I remember thinking that I might be lucky to have 10 or 12 horses in training for the year. You didn't know what owners were going to drop out and things looked bleak, though maybe it was a state of mind as much as anything.

Thankfully, my fears weren't realised. I have 25 horses in, and have far exceeded my target of merely surviving another year in the hope that things would improve.

As a rule, I'd make my living between April and September, with a good year comprising 14 or 15 winners in that time. Incredibly, we are now at 16 since April.

I can't put the turnaround in fortunes down to any one thing. The horses are simply on great terms with themselves, and plenty of them -- unusually for me -- like soft ground.

Brendan Murphy, a former owner who loved a bet, used to get bogged down in the racing jargon when he first got involved. One day, he said to me: "Look, I just want a number between one and 10 -- one if the horse has no chance, 10 if it will win."

He also reckoned that the more I fancied one, the better I tended to dress. Well, his horse Breffni Flyer won at Wexford once when it was a '10', and he commissioned a wonderful caricature of us all in the winner's enclosure, with me holding the No 10 aloft, dressed in a sharp tuxedo and all the bookies sobbing in the background.

I haven't quite stretched to a tux just yet, but it is possible that I am sporting a better brand of threads at the races right now! In the past, any time I would have a good run of results I used to be surprised that it wasn't something that attracted new owners.

For whatever reason, I have never enjoyed the patronage of the game's major owners, but that is something I am determined to change. I have a different philosophy now.

In Paul Nicholls' autobiography, he talks about how writing one letter to Paul Barber affected his whole life, and that proactive approach is maybe something I have lacked.

A better quality of horse is what I want. On the basis that you have to reach out and take it, I am going to actively pursue some of the game's more prominent names.

Pat Coffey, who developed the wonderful Newrath Stud facility that I train at in Slane in 2007, has transformed what were supposed to be apartments for non-national yard staff into luxury rental accommodation. The landscape changed and Pat adjusted his plans accordingly, so now we have exquisite living quarters that prospective owners can come and stay in and amble around the yard to see what we are all about.

Of course, winners don't do any harm, and from that point of view Galway next week will be important. I don't target the Festival specifically, simply because it is so competitive, but Our Nana Rose, California Rose and Footprint will all go there with chances. If there is a '10' amongst them, it may be Our Nana Rose on Sunday week. I will never forget how the man who owned Bavamour, one of the favourites for the 1987 Galway Plate, reacted when the horse fell in front with a circuit to go. Bavamour had been tanking along, but this guy turned to me when he fell and said: "Thank God for that. I don't think I'd have lasted another circuit -- my heart was pounding!"

I don't think he owned another horse after -- he clearly wasn't cut out for the excitement of the game. Like I say, if only you could bottle it.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie and for details of Sunday's Jog for Jockeys 5k fun runs at Limerick, Leopardstown and the Curragh visit www.jogforjockeys.ie

Irish Independent

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