How did you get into racehorse ownership?

We are owner-breeders. We have always bred horses here – for over 40 years. We live in Rathvilly, Co Carlow and Peter has a veterinary practice in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.

Over the years have been lucky to breed some very good horses that went on to win for their owners. Our best mare, Village Queen, bred three winners from her first three foals, Shantou Village, Bun Doran, and Portrush Ted, all by Shantou. Ironically, Village Queen arrived at the farm by mistake instead of a filly we had bred some years previously who was returning back to us as the owner was dispersing stock. When we realised the mistake, we liked Village Queen so much that we retained her for €800.

When her fourth foal, Il Courra, was born, he needed an operation on his leg, and it was going to be a struggle to sell him for the kind of price we thought he was worth. So, we decided to keep him and race him. We put him in training with Cormac Farrell and he has been very lucky for us. He has a great strike-rate and has won his bumper, his maiden hurdle and, most recently, a beginners’ chase at Limerick.

What was your best day at the races and why?

Without a doubt last September 3rd, in Kilbeggan. This was our first day back at a racecourse after all the Covid lockdowns, and it was one of our first days out of any kind. Although the races were still not open to the general public, it seemed like a crowd to us, given that we had been sheltering for the best part of the previous 18 months.

There is a lovely country racing atmosphere in Kilbeggan, full of real racing people. It was one of those lovely early September days when the sun shone, and people were in great spirits.

Il Courra was given a brilliant ride by a terrific young jockey, Adam Short, and he won the Pat Doyle Maiden Hurdle. Our son Peter was over from England and was able to share this special moment with us. Everyone in Kilbeggan was so nice to us and made us so welcome.

What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?

If you are in the jumps game, your heart is in your mouth whenever your horses are racing. More important than anything else is the fact that horse and jockey get home safe and sound to ride another day.

In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?

On the whole, every racecourse nowadays has to offer something special not only to owners but to everyone who walks through their gates. There is a lot of demand on people’s money and now there is a lot of ways that people can follow the races off-track. I think it is too hard to pick one racecourse out of all the fabulous options we have in Ireland.

Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer?

This is really a bit of a trick question. We are lovers of horse racing, and one of the lovely things about it is the evolution of the different races through the different seasons. It is hard to think of spring without Cheltenham and Punchestown. But it is equally hard to think of summer without the Curragh, or Epsom. Then you have the crescendo of the end of the flat season, just as the jumps are taking off again. It’s such an amalgam that you would be hard pressed to choose. But if I had to only have one, it would have to be the jumps.

What qualities do you look for in a trainer?

We are so lucky to have a wonderful trainer in Cormac Farrell from Bunclody. He is terrific. First and foremost, you need the technical expertise. You are entrusting your horse to somebody else and you want to be reassured that they will get the best out of your horse. No matter what that best is.

Cormac has a great yard and were will always be grateful to Simon Kavanagh who rode Il Courra to his first win. The next thing you want is to have the trainer’s full attention. That is easier, of course, when you are with the smaller trainers, but if you are paying the fees, you are entitled to expect the trainer to be very focused on what it best for your horse.

The next thing is availability. We try not to pester our trainer unnecessarily, but we are very lucky that whenever we want to speak to him, he is there for us.

The final thing is the hardest to find; and that is for there to be some kind of connection between the trainer and your horse – think of Nicky Henderson and Altior. We think Cormac Farrell has that with all of his horses and it is very special.

What significance do your colours hold?

Our colours are a red cross of Lorraine on a navy blue background. It was our first choice, and we couldn’t believe when we got it. That was serendipity. Our son Peter and daughter-in-law Starla lived for many years in France and we wanted to have some connection to their time there. The cross of Lorraine is of course French, and red and blue are the colours of Paris, where we spent so many happy days.

We continued the French theme by calling our horse Il Courra, which means “he will race”. Our son Peter translated for us. This was a nod to our great friend Ned Gowing who operated on him as a foal, to correct the issue in his hind leg. When the foal came out of the operation, Ned took Peter aside and told him not to worry: “He’ll race”. When Ned passed away, we named the horse in his honour.

What horses do you currently have in training?

It will shortly be three. We have Il Courra, and he will shortly be joined by a half-brother who is by Mastercraftsman, who we hope to go pointing with early next year.

We also have a half-sister by Mastercraftsman who will go into pre-training in the summer. She is probably more for breeding than racing, but she has a bit of a spark about her in the field at home, so we may give her a chance to prove herself on the track.

What’s next on the agenda?

Il Courra seems to like to nice weather, and he is enjoying his racing, so we will give him a relaxed summer campaign, possibly targeting a run in Galway. He has developed a nice connection with Paddy O’Hanlon, who started riding him in the spring and won on him most recently in Limerick. He is a fine young jockey and we are excited to see what they can do together.

Have you any young horses to look forward to?

Yes. We have the Mastercraftsman three-year-old mentioned above who will go to Cormac Farrell this summer. We also have the Mastercraftsman two-year-old filly who will start pre-training in a few months. We have a couple of lively foals, one by Mastercraftsman and a flat-bred one by Highland Reel that we will probably sell at the end of the year.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?

Don’t hesitate. It is a very rewarding thing to do. You will become part of a bigger story that you can possibly imagine. You will become part of a team – with the breeders, the trainers, the jockeys, the yard staff, and the wider racing fraternity. You will get to know people you never thought possible.

A key bit of advice would be to identify achievable objectives. If you set your goal as having fun and being part of something bigger than yourself, you will doubtless achieve that.

Irish racing is doing so well now, but even the biggest names remain humble and genuine. It is wonderful to be part of it.

Peter Griffin was in conversation with Olivia Hamilton