Tuesday 13 November 2018

'I'll be 71 at Christmas and I never worked a day in my life... it's not work if you enjoy it'

 

Veteran trainer Michael Hourigan continues to send out the winners from his base just outside Patrickswell, Co Limerick, and his enthusiasm shows no sign of relenting. Photo: Sportsfile
Veteran trainer Michael Hourigan continues to send out the winners from his base just outside Patrickswell, Co Limerick, and his enthusiasm shows no sign of relenting. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Much has changed since Michael Hourigan began his training career with a handful of horses at the back of the family pub in Rathkeale, but his love of the game remains.

Having wound up with 22 horses in his care at his primitive base, "there wasn't room to swing a cat" with neighbours regularly having stern words about him trespassing on their land for training purposes as he had "no gallop, no nothing".

Success softened the blow, however, and Hourigan will never forget the first time he visited the winners' enclosure. "1979, ten minutes passed two, Ramrajah. The top of my head went cold when he passed the winning post," Hourigan chuckles.

Renowned for his prowess with celebrated jumpers like Dorans Pride and Beef Or Salmon, that humble victory at his home track in Limerick is still as sweet as any other.

Rarely does a Limerick race meeting pass without Hourigan being among the winners - although he never rode a winner there as a jockey - and he kept up that tradition last Sunday as The Gatechecker scored in a handicap hurdle.

His state-of-the-art Lisaleen Stables in Patrickswell are a far cry from his humble beginnings but while the winners may not be flowing like his golden spell in the mid-noughties, he considers himself lucky to be still living out his dream.

"Racing has been very good to me. I'll be 71 at Christmas and I never worked a day in my life, it's a way of life and that's it. It might be difficult but it's not work even if it's difficult. It's not work if you enjoy it," he says.

"I'm probably enjoying it a lot better now than I did for years. I'm smaller and have less horses, less headaches, less pressure and I own my own place and am out of depth more or less."

There aren't many trainers who accompany their horses to the racecourse but Hourigan loves nothing more than jumping in the lorry in search of a winner at a far-flung track, it's all he knows and that's the only way he would have it.

"I'd have no problem heading on to Downpatrick or Down Royal or wherever, get into the lorry and feck off. I went to the Curragh when I was 14 years of age (when sent to trainer Charlie Weld). 1962, the 17th day of August. That's over 56 years ago, what else do I know after doing it for all those years?" he says.

His optimism for the upcoming jumps season is renewed as he has "a nice bunch of young horses coming along which I haven't had in a few years" among the 19 in his care.

There are challenges as larger operations like Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott begin to dominate the National Hunt scene more and more, but with the right raw materials in his possession, he feels he will continue to be among the winners while age has never, and will never, come into the equation.

"If I was 35 again, I'd be meeting a different type of clientele. I know lots of young fellas that have a share in a horse but they'd be with someone that will give them the day out.

"I had all those fellas one time and you'd meet them in the pub and spend the day drinking or a night out but I wouldn't be able for that now.

"It's a younger man's game but you have John Kiely, myself, Kevin Prendergast and a few more around that age and we're still enjoying it as much as ever, still shoving out the odd winner from time to time.

"It just goes to show if you have the animal you'll do it, age doesn't come into it."

Irish Independent

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