Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Making hay while rain pours

Dick Donohoe

As a part-time tillage farmer, July has been a rotten month for harvesting, but there is a flip side to that when you train a mare that loves the mud.

After Happy Anniversary obliged under Joseph O'Brien at Killarney on Monday, she had won three on the spin in just nine days. That takes some doing.

She struggled badly all last year, but the silver lining was that she tumbled down the ratings by 22lb. When the spring came round again, I decided to give her another chance. Then she trailed in 11th of 16 on her Limerick reappearance in June.

I didn't know if it was just another bad run or whether I had left her short of work, so I left the track pretty angry with myself that evening. When she performed better from what you might call lane eight at Ballinrobe next time, she earned a last reprieve.

Happy Anniversary was second at Gowran Park next, and began her winning spree at Bellewstown five days later.

Of course, having had a few bob on her at Limerick and Ballinrobe because I thought she felt great all spring, I didn't have a bean on since.

C'est la vie, I suppose, and I am just glad that she has done so much to compensate for the frustrating harvesting season. I would say we made hay while the sun shone, but it somehow doesn't seem an appropriate metaphor given the tropical weather.

Before Happy Anniversary ran at Gowran, which is just down the road from my stables, I entered her in next Thursday's sales at Goresbridge. She would have been on a one-way ticket if she hadn't done something worthwhile in the meantime but, while the intention is still to let her go, you'd like to think she will sell a lot better now.

I'll be losing a valuable asset, but selling an in-form horse bang in the middle of the season is good business, and these days you have to look at the bottom line. This year I took the decision to revert to just being a restricted licence holder.

For a long time, we'd have had between 20 and 30 horses here, and I spent a lot of time and money developing the place accordingly, but life is very different for smaller trainers in the current climate. I'd have just two or three to run now.

Mt Weather, our old sprinting stalwart, is another that has done us proud, but he ran poorly first time up at Bellewstown. He'll have the latest of his last chances at Naas on the Monday after Galway, and he will need to prove his worth to prolong his stay.

I take liveries and prepare horses for the sales to make up numbers now, but I don't see myself training a big stable of moderate horses again.

That said, I would love to keep it going with the right horses, as racing has been in the family for 50 years.

My uncle Jack started it all. He owned a super mare called Height O'Fashion, the best mare of her generation in the 1960s but unlucky to be around at the same time as Arkle and Flyingbolt, both of which she finished second to in Irish Grand Nationals.

She was one of the first good horses that Paddy Mullins trained, and won a litany of races, including an Irish Cesarewitch and two Gold Cups at Punchestown.

I took over here in the late '90s after my father Michael passed away. Jimmy Barcoe, who has taken up a full-time position with Jim Bolger this year, has helped me out for what seems like an eternity, and still does in his spare time.

Jimmy has got big into running himself, to the point that he does as much work on my sand gallop as any of my horses. He is rocket-fit, and the Jog For Jockeys 5k run at the Curragh on July 29 is his big target.

Word on the street around here is that he clocked an impressive 16min 33secs when fourth over the same trip at Kilmore recently, so the smart money will be on him at the Curragh. No pressure, Jimmy!

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out

Irish Independent

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