Sport Horse Racing

Monday 10 December 2018

Popular Dempsey still defying the odds to make his mark

In the stables

Family affair: Luke and Philip Dempsey after Dinnie’s Vinnie victory in the Porterstown Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse. Photo: Caroline Norris
Family affair: Luke and Philip Dempsey after Dinnie’s Vinnie victory in the Porterstown Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse. Photo: Caroline Norris
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

There was no racing history in Philip Dempsey's family growing up but not even a misbehaving ass which kept sending him into the neighbour's hedge as a child could quench his love for horses.

His late father Des - who passed away in October and was his "best friend, adviser, critic and supporter" - had tried to get the equine bug out of his system but horses always amazed him and an ass which refused to turn wouldn't change that.

He recalls seeing ponies when going home on the school bus and then cycling back to the field with a close friend to ride them around bareback before he was eventually given his own pony to saddle up at home.

Bloodlines and pedigree are at the heart of the racing industry but a lack of family lineage didn't deter Dempsey, who would enjoy plenty of success as an amateur jockey for the likes of Peter McCreery and Mick O'Toole, and was just pipped at the Cheltenham Festival before switching his focus to training.

Much of what he knows today was picked up from John Oxx after serving his apprenticeship under his tutelage during a golden period with the likes of Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sinndar in their pomp at Currabeg.

Dempsey was also trying his hand at breaking horses so the natural progression was to enrol for his trainers' licence, where none other than Gordon Elliott was also taking the first tentative steps of his career.

With Elliott going from strength to strength, being the top trainer at the Cheltenham Festival for the past two years, Dempsey admits they've gone in different directions but he's holding his own in good company.

"Gordon is gone a majorly different route altogether but sure we'll hang on to the coat-tails," Dempsey smiles when comparing his 25-strong yard to the superpower which Elliott has developed in the past decade.

"It's great to be competitive and be at the big meetings rather than being stuck in a mucky field with seven-year-olds and upwards maiden like I was for years."

Having also excelled at point-to-points, the Kildare trainer has come a long way since Kevin Coleman steered Rossdee Lad home for his first winner at Thurles on a January afternoon in 2006 and boasts a modern set-up on a 200-acre site at Kilkeaskin House in Carbury.

Much of that is down to Jacksonslady - an eight-time winner which kickstarted his successful association with powerful owner JP McManus - and Dempsey was in the headlines again at the weekend.

There were few more popular winners on a star-studded Sunday at Fairyhouse than Dinnie's Vinnie as his son Luke guided the loveable 10-year-old to success in the Porterstown Handicap Chase.

Everyone from Ted Walsh to Elliott to Tracy Piggott offered their congratulations and while many punters didn't avail of the 16/1 on offer, the winners' enclosure was awash with delight.

"It's not easy to get owners so you're hoping things like this help and the door is always open. You just have to stay going in tough times, no one will feel sorry for you in this game," Dempsey says before lauding his regular pilot.

"Luke's a good lad, he had success early and he probably went a bit quiet and got a bit wild in himself but he's settled down again. He's with me all the time and he knows what each of our horses needs."

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