Michael Ryan has had numerous top quality horses over the years including Al Eile and Finsceal Beo.

How did you get interested in horse racing?

I actually got interested in horses through show jumping and show horses before I got into racing. A friend of mine at home, Tom Power, used to always have show horses. A good few of us from home decided to buy a horse, I think there were 13 of us in it at the time. We bought a horse named Friendly Circle. We put him in training with David Kiely. We brought him to Roscommon first time out and didn’t he end up winning! We got a right few quid out of it. It took us two days to get back to Dungarvan. We stopped in every watering hole along the way! That was my first introduction to horse racing and I have had the bug ever since.

Finsceal Luas finished fourth at the Curragh recently and looks like she could turn into a nice filly.

Yeah, her mother Finsceal Beo was obviously an incredible horse for me. She broke the track record in Longchamp and Newmarket. She still holds the record in Longchamp. She hasn’t bred anything like herself yet but Finsceal Luas is a very nice filly. She is by Camelot and Jim (Bolger) thinks she is a Group 1 filly. He is not a man to get excitable about a horse but he does think very highly of this one. Her run the last day was promising. I think that maiden will be proven to be a very good one. She will go to Paris and that will tell us how good she really is.

Have you had many runners over the years on Irish Champions weekend?

I have. Finsceal Beo ran in the Champion Stakes and completely flopped. It was 2007, the year Dylan Thomas won it and Duke Of Marmalade was second. We also had a mare that we bought in Dubai called Jalwada. She won a very good fillies’ premier handicap on Champions Weekend that same day. That was fantastic. John Queally trained her. Soon after Leopardstown, she was out in the field one day and didn’t Al Eile kick her in the leg and she broke it, unfortunately.

Talk to me about Al Eile, he provided some fantastic days for you while he was racing.

Absolutely. He was super. I brought him to the sales as a youngster and couldn’t get five hundred quid for him. Nobody wanted him. So we decided we would race him. When we gave him to John Queally, he planned to handicap him like he was the worst horse in Ireland. A couple of years later we told that to the late Noel O’Brien (former Irish handicapper) and he got some laugh off it. The first time Al Eile won, he absolutely hacked up in Listowel. I always love Listowel.

I go down there every year. I go down for two Masses, Sunday to Sunday. So to win there was something else. I think we were on the beer for about a week after that one. Then he won the November Handicap at Cheltenham. We had no joy in the Triumph Hurdle. He had shoulder issues, you see, and he couldn’t deal with coming down a hill. Timmy Murphy came off the bridle coming down the Cheltenham hill.

He then went to the four-year-old hurdle in Aintree and hacked up. He absolutely loved Aintree. He would go on to win three Aintree Hurdles. I always thought he never got the praise he deserved. He won over a million in prize money. Just an incredible horse. A once in a lifetime type of horse.

So, you have had great success in National Hunt and flat racing. Is there one that you prefer over the other?

I’m a huge National Hunt fan. Point-to-points are my favourite. The issue with owning and breeding National Hunt horses is the timeframe. If you are breeding to race them, you could have five other foals off the mare before you know if the first lad is any good.

Normally, if the first one is no good, neither are the rest of them. On the flat, you know your fate after two years. It’s probably the same fate but at least it’s quicker!

Is there anything that you think racing can do to improve the sport and get more people involved?

I think, to be honest, they could improve facilities for owners. You go to England and it’s a case of ‘how many tickets do you want?’. Here you get four. The pricing, as well, is a bit mad. Some courses will charge you €35 quid to get in the gate. If a fellah is thinking of going racing and he’s bringing the family, he is spending a fortune just to get in the gate.

They should have more free days, especially for students. You don’t need to have these massive booze-up days for students. Just let them in for free on a normal day and they will get a grá for it. The other thing that might improve racing, and I don’t know how you would do this now, but we need to start giving the smaller trainers more opportunities. Between them, the three O’Briens have enough horses for 15 trainers.

Willie and Gordon have enough for 10 more. I know you could make the case that Aidan is a bit different because he trains for the one entity. But still, there are some fantastic small trainers in this country and they deserve a fair crack at it.

And speaking of trainers, there is one trainer that you’re particularly associated with and that’s Jim Bolger. Tell us about that relationship and how it has built over the years.

We have had a great time together over the years. I like Jim. I think, one-to-one, he is one of the funniest men you will ever meet. He works incredibly hard. He’s as fit as well. He was telling me a story one time, he was out in the yard and a young lad challenged him to a press-ups competition.

Apparently, they had a 50 quid bet between them. So the young lad got down and did about 50 press-ups and thought he had it won. Jim then proceeded to do 100 press-ups and asked the young lad if he wanted him to do more! Jim has done a phenomenal amount for Irish racing. Just look at the jockeys that have passed through his hands. Even the way he runs his yard. He marches the stable staff up to Mass every Sunday morning.

He takes in lads from maybe less affluent areas and really does a great job with them. He gives them that discipline and, you know, brings them on as workers and as good, decent lads. His new spot is top-of-the-range, facilities-wise. He is such a perfectionist. He has fantastic staff and, yeah, just an incredible man.