Saturday 25 May 2019

Lynam's stable stars just reward for lifetime of racing

Pair of aces produce a Royal flush

Horse trainer Eddie Lynam
Horse trainer Eddie Lynam

Aisling Crowe

SIGHTS, sounds and smells, as vivid as the days when they were new. Memories, now, of halcyon days of youth. The pleasures remembered transport him beyond the softly curved blue walls of this room, to the spaces outdoors he remembers well. Some have changed forever and not for better. Some have gone - the Phoenix Park and Baldoyle tracks are no more - and others remain. Each place, each moment holds meaning for the man born on the North Circular Road, furlongs from the Phoenix Park.

In Eddie Lynam's life, he has loved and known racing. The nephew of a trainer, all his mother's side of the family were passionate about the sport.

He remembers the buses lined up at the Halfway House on the Navan Road, waiting to ferry the crowds from horse racing at the Park to the dogs in Shelbourne. The 1500 (now Phoenix) Stakes is one race that fired his imagination. Kevin Prendergast's Areola beating Supernatural. The god that was Vincent O'Brien. Horses which made stallions running in the Rockingham at the Curragh. Trainers, horses, jockeys and races are alive in his memory.

Winners bred by the horses that enthralled his childhood are recalled like the lyrics to a much-loved song. Racing sprinkled his early years with magic and the 51-year-old has been under its spell ever since.

Lynam himself is adept at conjuring and Royal Ascot fell for his magic last month. Royalty applauded as the trainer brought four horses over from his yard outside Dunshaughlin, Co Meath and returned home with three wins - including the stunning sprint double in the Group One King's Stand and Golden Jubilee Stakes with the stars of his stable, Sole Power and Slade Power.

"I think when I dreamt about it we had two winners so it was brilliant. Just on the week, no matter how good your horses are, no matter how well you prepare them, you need everything in that arena, which I believe is the best arena in Europe to race a horse or to win with one. You need everything to go right. Anthem Alexander is Noel O'Callaghan's first horse here. He was offered a lot of money for her before Royal Ascot but had no interest in selling her.

"At the start of the week Slade Power was probably our nap, and we were thinking this is probably expecting a bit much to have three winners. When it happened it was a bit special.

"Only people who breed racehorses would know how special it is. Yeah, buying one and owning it and training it and winning at Royal Ascot is brilliant but breeding one is just that little bit better," he says of the five-year-old horse he owns in partnership with David and Sabena Power of the eponymous bookmaking firm.

Lynam has nurtured Slade Power from before he was born and to bring him to the peak of his powers as a trainer is a rare achievement. Two years older than the Golden Jubilee winner, Sole Power was a bargain buy at the yearling sales but as the Powers' and Lynam's first Group One winner (2010 Nunthorpe Stakes), he occupies a lofty position in his heart. That he has the temperament of an adorable labrador only makes him more loved.

A lifetime loving the sport means he is uniquely placed to comment on the problems that beset racing. Lynam has an affinity with sprinters and milers, the speedsters of the sport. His love of the thrilling rush of pure speed draws him into their orbit but middle-distance horses tend to command a premium when they prance around the auction ring and the aristocratic offspring of Galileo, Montjeu and their ilk are not covered by his bank balance.

His prowess with the quicker animals creates problems for him as Group races for sprinters in Ireland are as rare as a Garth Brooks concert.

He doesn't travel the world with Sole Power and Slade Power to clock up air miles, he flies them all over the globe because Ireland lacks a Group One sprint. Even the third member of this year's Ascot winning trinity, Anthem Alexander, can't run in a five-furlong Group Two (which the Queen Mary Stakes is) in this country because there are no such races here for two-year-olds.

"It seems like people are trying to do something about it now but it really needs somebody with a massive will and thinking outside the box. Not going into this (adopts voice), 'Ah we just follow the way of tradition'.

"Racing needs to up its game as regards programming and our whole system needs a revamp. It's not just about money, it needs forward thinking, the programme needs to be changed."

He illustrates a selection of the problems posed by the programme for trainers: "If you're a commercial trainer in Ireland and you get a horse to train, you assess this horse and you say this horse's level of ability is 65 or 70, which means you can't win a maiden in Ireland. If you try to win a maiden in Ireland you'll end up being rated 75 or 80 and you will win nothing. In my opinion, on the Flat it is a race to the bottom.

"Outside of about a dozen trainers, nobody tries to win a maiden. They get the horses handicapped and the whole system is cluttered with handicappers. We want to start going away from the handicap system and changing it. Good horses that are winning maidens by 15 lengths, there should be more maidens changed to conditions races for them so that they get an opportunity to learn their game rather than stepping straight up to Group level."

The trainer's argument for reform of the current system is made with the passionate conviction of a man who cares deeply yet is frustrated by bureaucracy and adherence to the ways of the past. When he talks of the qualities needed to transform racing and its clannish ways, he could be describing himself.

"I think it needs a very positive racing man with a proper will to succeed. He has got to be really passionate about it and I don't think the team that are there at the moment are creative enough or determined enough to sort the problem out. Maybe not in my lifetime, but I definitely think the handicapping system should, at the very least, be watered down dramatically and probably phased out in the long term.

"I would have thought it will take that long, especially in Ireland. It usually takes that long for anything to happen. I mean we are still waiting on the hospital beds to be sorted."

Last year was a professional triumph but behind the glory lurked personal trauma. His wife Aileen was thrown from a horse while riding out on the morning of April 13. She suffered five broken vertebrae and was absent from Royal Ascot. Although she has made a full recovery and is back working around the yard, now resplendently in bloom, she cannot return to the saddle. There is a poignancy to her presence and the softening voice of her husband as he talks of the accident hints at the pain.

"It was a killer. . . It was bad but Dr McGoldrick (Turf Club senior medical officer) was very good to us and very helpful. Ger Lyons (trainer), who is a buddy of mine, helped out and we picked up no problem. It was hard on her and she missed Ascot so it was great that Sole Power made it up to her this year when she got there. She picked the right one to go to!" he smiles.

But even more health troubles were on the horizon. "In August at Naas, I didn't feel well and I went into the doctor at the track and he told me I was having a heart attack. I told him I had a runner and I'd have to wait and after the horse ran I went to hospital. It turned out I had a heart attack but I'm fine now."

On Saturday, Sole Power and Slade Power will go toe to toe in the July Cup at Newmarket. It is the first time the pair will have clashed but, with only three Group Ones over six furlongs in Europe, opportunities for sprinting's superstars are restricted. With a nod to sportsmanship and competitive values, the Powers and Lynam will let them run. It's sprinting's rumble in the jungle. Eddie's choice?

"I'm just preparing them for the race and I suppose if it got to the stage of who do I want to win? I don't know. I'm proud of both of them and delighted to have them in it. I think it says a lot about us that we are letting them compete in it. If one of them is lucky enough to win, or whatever happens, I'm still very proud of both of them and what happens on Friday won't change a thing. They are two very special horses."

No matter the outcome what these two horses mean in Eddie Lynam's life will never change.

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