In some ways, the back end of the year can be a difficult time during which to find writing material. Particularly in a sporting context. Which is why, you might say, this corner has ventured down the book-writing road. There was, however, one GAA related story lately which not only caught the eye but struck an emotional chord here too. Now read on…
The said time of year is, of course, peak season for all sorts of club and group presentation nights. Your columnist has been very fortunate on a few occasions to be honoured at such functions. Be that as it may, the story to which is being referred is that of young Tom Lynch from the Ballinlough club in north Meath.
Tom’s story seems to be very similar to what my own used to be like. In that he attended all the games and training sessions of the red and white brigade’s U-14 team. That the team manager, Declan Lynch, honoured Tom is absolutely no surprise given that it was the former Meath midfielder and his family business that delivered the first break in this direction in terms of writing professionally. Fair play to Declan and the Ballinlough club. Hopefully the story of their 16th man will inspire more disabled youngsters to get involved in GAA.
Now, while my connection to and involvement in GAA needs absolutely no further elaboration, my racing story is slightly different. Yes, the Noel Meade interview part of it is well known at this stage. However, what wouldn’t have got out as widely was the tale of my attempts to actually get into racehorse ownership myself.
From the evening we met in the County Club, the Tu Va handler and I have remained in touch. Indeed, there’s now a familiarity with a few of his staff now as well. In the immediate aftermath of that Friday night rendezvous in the famed Dunshaughlin eatery, the only dream consuming the mind here was to own a racehorse.
At the outset, it became clear that having one in my own right was a non-runner due to the costs involved. Best advice from the multiple times Champion Trainer was to form a syndicate of about four people. With the budget that was in mind at the time, that would have been entirely doable. Unfortunately, however, no willing accomplices could be coerced to come aboard.
There was, mind you, another opportunity some years later. Da had been friends with retired undertaker Ollie Cunningham for many years. Ollie was as big a racing addict as I am a farming one. At the time, he had a couple of horses in training with Tom Taaffe. Thus, this corner sort of became his Racing Manager. In other words, taking and making calls to Tom for him and relaying the pre and post-race debriefs.
When Ollie passed away suddenly in May of 2013, for a brief period there was a possibility of me buying one of the horses. Until, that is, the full extent of the expenses associated with keeping a horse in training. Thankfully, as it turned out, I was dissuaded from going down that road and reviving beef farming in the family instead.
Over the ensuing years, it has proven to be the best decision ever made in this seat. Not only because, outside of sport, farming has always been my first love. More pointedly, however, the landscape of Irish racing altered seismically as a result of the economic downturn. As best evidenced most recently by the decision of talented – and Classic winning – trainer Adrian Keatley to relocate his entire training operation to the north of England as he felt it no longer viable to continue here.
Apart from the fact that the interview with Noel was my first real ‘break’ into horse racing, gut feeling always was that the National Hunt fare was more accessible to ordinary folk as the Flat scene has always given the impression of being dominated by the likes of the Coolmore ‘syndicate’ and a few Arab owners.
Sadly it appears – or at least it did for a while – as if the jump racing arena was headed in a similar direction whereby a few wealthy owners – namely Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, JP McManus and Rich Ricci had the stage, or at the very least the top races, to themselves.
However, things appear to be changing again. While it may be a case of the rich getting richer and the majority being left behind, whatever morsels of economic recovery there have been can be seen to have manifested themselves in a racing context by the return of people like Sean and Bernadine Mulryan to the ranks of owners while, encouragingly, there’s been a proliferation of syndicates returning to the fold also.
Which is why, against such a backdrop, the Ryanair boss’s decision to wind down his equine operation – albeit over a staggered five-year period – came as such a bombshell. That said, after the bountiful Christmas period the Delvin-based business has just enjoyed, amassing 19 winners, they mightn’t go away just yet you know!
The line being peddled is that they have no Point to Point horses this year. Those which were the basis of their system from the start. My sources close to the action between the flags, on the other hand, suggest Eddie O’Leary – Michael’s brother and racing manager – has been as busy as ever acquiring store horses. In other words, young stock that won’t be ready to run for a while yet.
Officially, the explanation is that they intended running the purchases in ‘Points’ and then selling them on, should they be deemed good enough. Adding plausibility to such theories is the fact that Eddie already runs a successful bloodstock operation from his Lynn Lodge Stud base.
For all that, given how much the O’Leary’s like winning, not to mention the amount of very talented young stock they currently have on their roster which should see them remain major players in the industry for the next half decade at least, should a really nice prospect emerge, it’d be hard to see them letting anybody else have the best of it.