Wednesday 13 November 2019

I wouldn't miss Farrells' run at Festival – even for Cork

In the stables with Conor Counihan

Conor Counihan
Conor Counihan

AFTER Farrells Fancy won the Leopardstown Chase last month, I was quoted as saying that it was every bit as good as winning an All-Ireland with Cork.

I was only half joking. Racing is something I have been passionate about for years, so to win a valuable prize like that was a huge thrill. Cheltenham is on the agenda now.

According to our trainer Terence O'Brien, the novices' handicap chase on the Tuesday is the target. Farrells probably needs to get a few extra pounds off the English handicapper to get in – the hope is that he'll get just enough and no more.

Not that we'll travel in any great expectation. He has been a fantastic horse for us all in the Beir Bua Syndicate, and his win the last day keeps the ship afloat nicely.

It is a real mixum-gatherum syndicate. Gerry Crowley, who is local to me in Aghada, signed me up and his brother, who is the parish priest in Clonmel, is also involved.

I knew none of the other shareholders before, but there is a farmer and a publican from Ring in Co Waterford involved, as well as a builder from Cork and a Dub.

Because it clashes with the National Football League, I haven't been to the Festival since I took on the job as Cork manager in 2008 – I go in November instead. The buzz in March is unreal and I never dreamt I'd have a horse good enough to go. Of course, the timing isn't the best as usual, but I'd find it hard not to put in an appearance if Farrells does.

Racing is a science all of its own that fascinates me. I remember backing Specify at 28/1 when he won the Grand National in 1971 and then backing Dim Wit to win the Irish National for Paddy Mullins in 1972. Maybe I naively thought it would be an easy way to make money, but I've been hooked since.

Aside from Terence, who is based in Carrigtwohill, we have the likes of James Motherway in Cloyne and Jimmy Mangan in Conna, so there is a massive interest in racing in east Cork.

I wouldn't be a big punter or anything, but I am just intrigued by the nuances of the game and the characters. Every fella has a different angle.

When Derek O'Connor won a point-to-point on Farrells in 2010, he must have been 25 lengths down with four to jump. Yet he still won – what skill that timing requires.

And I'm always amazed how lads who you know probably weren't the strongest academics at school will tot up a Lucky 31 combination for you in the blink of an eye. It just goes to show how everyone can be motivated by something.


People's knowledge about the game astounds me, too. I often go up to Terence's yard, and I'd have a fierce interest in what they do. He is a fountain of information – notwithstanding that I heard nothing about either of his well-backed winners Carhue or Viaduct Joey yesterday!

I was lucky enough to spend a morning at Willie Mullins' stable once as well. Football coaching and horse training are very different disciplines, but you can learn lessons in life off anyone. I couldn't get over the attention to detail that Willie had, which is applicable to any sport, really. The small things matter.

Football is obviously a huge part of my daily routine and right now we have to focus on retaining Cork's Division 1 status for next year, but I find racing a brilliant distraction.

When you go to a GAA match, there is inevitably an 'us-against-them' mentality, so a day at the races is something completely different and relaxing. The only 'us-and-them' aspect is that everyone is out to beat the bookies!

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend, check out

Irish Independent

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