THE phrase “O’Reillys from Drimoleague” kept cropping up last year in the harness racing reports.

Across all the strands of equestrian sport, Cork natives tend to be to the fore, be it in the hunting field, at a point-to-point or show jumping.

True to form, the O’Reilly brothers yoked horses from the opening meeting at windswept Kilbrittain beach right through until the autumn series in Annaghmore.

‘Have horse will travel’ is the motto of brothers Denis (45) and Chris (42). Their horses are as well done as in any professional yard.

As with so many of the harness racing fraternity, the racing must come second to a full-time business. Denis repairs vehicles while Chris works with fitted furniture.

Denis was happy to talk about his top-class trotter Duc D’Arry while Chris gave the background of four intended runners for the upcoming campaign. The season will open in the north on April 28th.

Chris’ son Fionn is a promising young driver. “I owe a big thank you to my son Fionn (17),” said Chris. “He is in the yard from the moment he gets out of school and quite often by the time I get home he has the whole lot jogged, fed, groomed and mucked out.”

Chris’ highlight of 2023 was the consistent performance of Biggins, who was four at the time. The ex-English pacer clocked up six wins, five seconds and two thirds to be officially runner-up in the Horse Of The Year award.

Duc d’Arry gave Denis a difficult choice for a ‘highlight’ as he kept winning in the best of company. He won three free-for-alls (the top grade) and was runner up for Trotter Of The Year.

We’ll start with a bit of class, Duc D’Arry who has speed and guts to please the most discerning of judges.

Duc D’Arry (FR)

11yo g Quai Bourbon - Queen d’Arry

He’s 11 this time around but he still thinks and feels like a youngster. He will be aimed at all the big races again and there will be plenty of young pretenders that came in late last year. He is a great doer. To start, we do a lot of walking and then he loves his hill climbs to the windmills near our place. He can be a tricky drive; you need to keep him in your hands.

Chris (with the benefit of the dynamic Fionn) has a greater number on the go. He began with the oldest active pacer featured in The Irish Field in recent years.

Rhyds Panache (GB)

15yo g One Night Pan-Bouncie

We’ll give him one more year of racing even though he’s 15. He won six races last year so age is only a number to him. Fionn will be driving again in 2024; they get on well.

Biggins (GB)

5yo g Yankee Lariat - Whispur

He also won six last year. He seems to be in great form. He’s up the handicap a bit but he keeps improving. The more racing he got, the better he liked it.

Ted Lasso (GB)

3yo g A Few Dollars More – Kelsey Camden

The dam is by Pro Bono Best. He’s doing everything right at home but time will tell how good he is. Walter Stewart bred and raced the sire and has great faith in his genes.

Still Game (GB)

3yo f A Few Dollars More – Pardon My Dust

She has a lovely temperament but she is a bit behind the geldings in terms of work done so far. Hopefully, she will make the races in the late season.

Trotting is in the McAteer blood

JIM Mc Ateer is from the opposite end of the country to West Cork, i.e.Randalstown, Co Antrim.

He kept driving horses and cobs for the road for many years but, as he told The Irish Field, “I attended the old Antrim Stadium a lot and also Portmarnock. I was always keen to race at a proper track. My father James, who is 87, always kept a horse so I suppose it’s in the blood.”

Jim and his son Daniel have a training track at their farm outside the picturesque small town. Randalstown holds the distinction of hosting the first proper trot held by the former Northern Ireland Trotting Association at Castle Bawn in 1968.

A plasterer by trade, Jim may be a comparative newcomer to the IHRA circuit but multiple wins by Cool and Cyclone Decouriere show that he can do a horse. Hopefully, these two trotters will be back on the track in the new season while Jim seems genuinely excited by his new pacer Louis Vuitton.

Jim is quick to credit Thomas McBrien. “Thomas really runs things while we are out working. He looks after the horses very well. We bought back the mare Night Skater and she is in foal to Foreclosure.”

Cyclone Decouriere (FR)

12yo g Ludo de Castelle - Filo des Courrieres

What a servant he has been. I’ve lost count of his number of wins. Emma Kane has him flying in the monté races. He gave himself a knock at Vicarstown last year so we lost time with him again. A lovely horse to be around, he loves his time out in our paddock.

Cool (FR)

12yo g Pablo – Pasadiva

The first horse we got a bit of fun with. He has had some issues and has been off for two years which could be the making of him. He has speed to burn if we can keep him right.

Louis Vuitton (GB)

Sweet Lou – L Dee Heavenly Val

Your paper covered how he was bought on a whim. He had bother with ulcers. We were delighted with his win in the autumn, I thought Daniel gave him a great drive. He’ll race away and I’d love to take him to England if his form warrants it.