THIS may be an appropriate time to look back at the life and times of PP Hogan, a legend of the hunting and point-to-point world. Born in 1922, were he alive now he would be celebrating the centenary of his birth this year. PP was born into a family of horse dealers, farmers and huntsmen with the odd Bishop thrown in. His great uncle was the sporting bishop of Limerick who always encouraged his clergy to ride to hounds.

PP was riding almost before he could walk and rode his first race, aged 12, in those days before health and safety reigned supreme, and it was only a matter of months before he made the first of countless visits to the winners’ enclosure. The Hogans were a well-to-do farming family with farms dotted around east Limerick, then as now an area steeped in everything to do with the horse.

From the word go, PP’s talent in the saddle shone like a sentinel whereas his academic career rarely got past the starting stalls. Just as his riding career was taking off, war intervened and while racing continued in Ireland, meetings were curtailed and travel between tracks became problematic in the extreme.

It did not take long before PP was much in demand, and he won his first amateur championship in 1942. It was just the start, and he was declared champion amateur no less than five times. 1946 saw him win two bumpers on the great Cottage Rake for Vincent O’Brien who was still training back home in Clashgannife in the heart of Duhallow country. Cottage Rake went on to win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups with Aubrey Brabazon up.

But while all this was going on, romance intervened and PP married Maureen Gubbins of Kifrush. She came from a family steeped in racing and hunting. Her great uncle had bred no less than two Derby winners, Galteemore and Ard Patrick, as well as hunting the County Limerick Foxhounds. In addition she was the only child and heiress to the rolling acres of Kilfrush and an inveterate foxhunter to boot. His training talent immediately shone and Maureen was declared leading owner that year.

This was the start of an extraordinary odyssey of hunting, racing and particularly point-to-pointing.

Steeped in hunting

Hunting was at least four or five days during the season, Monday and Thursday were reserved for Scarteen, Tuesday for the Tipperary Foxhounds with Evan Williams, Wednesday the Co Limerick in the wall country where horses were normally provided by Toby Daresbury from Clonshire. Friday saw them in the cream of Co Limerick bank country around Athlacca/Bruree.

All the while Kilfrush was run like a five-star hunting hotel for which there was no checkout. Sarah Hogan recalls people coming for dinner after hunting and leaving the following day while their hosts never quite discovered who they were. But along the way they had three daughters: Diana, Susan and Sarah. The three girls, as you might expect, were never short of top-class ponies.

But while they hunted with other packs, it was to Scarteen that they bore allegiance. Thady Ryan spoke of PP saying, ‘no one could catch Pat across country. He and Half Moon would just disappear after hounds. What a horse that was. At one stage the pressure on hounds was becoming too hard and I took the bold step – I asked Pat to be field-master.’

While Half Moon’s origins have been lost in mists of time, his exploits jumping the black ditch in Dromin or work wire pailings have become the stuff of legend. PP himself recalled a day from Emly with hounds flying and he, at least a field in front, came to a pair of farm railway gates, guarding the main Cork-Dublin line. He always carried the keys but before he could reach for them, Half Moon took off, landed, took two strides and was gone over the second gate leaving the field to get through as best they could.

All the visitors to Kilfrush weren’t anonymous freeloaders. Champion jockey Greville Starkey, who rode 2,000 winners and won the Derby on Shirley Heights, used to winter in Kilfrush with his two hunters, Thunder and Lightning. Barry Hill was a regular as was leading amateur and racing journalist Lord Oaksey.

In later years in his autobiography, Lord Oaksey warmly remembered his days (and nights) in Kilfrush to be followed by exciting and sometimes disastrous days attempting to follow PP and the Tans over some of the best bank country God has created. For all that, PP in retirement, speaking to this author, was more than dismissive of the talents of the noble lord.

While he was recalling those halcyon days, I asked PP how good was Oaksey? ‘Well’, he replied after some thought, ‘he wasn’t much good when he came and little better when he left!’ This didn’t stop Oaksey being second on Carrickbeg (20/1) in the 1963 running of the Grand National.

Legendary in the field

It was around this time the mastership of the Avondhu Foxhounds fell vacant on the retirement of Rodney Mole and PP, who was hunting the Hospital beagles, became master and huntsman setting an extraordinary three or four seasons in the history of the Fermoy-based pack. He augmented numbers with a good draft of Old English from his good friend Toby Daresbury in Co Limerick.

With Johnny Rohan (of Roh-Fab fame) as his whipper-in, their opening meet in Fermoy was an uproarious success. He had all the young Turks out including his nephew Edward O’Grady, still a veterinary student, Mouse Morris, Greville Starkey, Barry Hills, Peter Magnier, and of course his older brother John, riding the grey Stalbridge Colonist.

Edward recalls the Magnier brothers as top-class men to cross the country, always on the tail of hounds. At this stage, the future success of Coolmore could only be looked on as the stuff of fantasy. A remarkable run is still spoken of when hounds found a four o’clock fox near Glanworth, finishing in pitch dark on the edges of Kilfinane in far distant Scarteen country with just a handful of horses. After three or four seasons, PP gave up the mastership but of course continued to hunt particularly with the Tans.

While all this was going on, PP had established himself as the uncrowned king of point-to-points and hunter chases and his first champion was Devon Breeze in 1965. He went on to have Fearless Fred, called with some irony, after the field-master of the Co Limerick, not noted as a thruster. Passed on to Fred Rimell, he won a Welsh Grand National.

PP Hogan rode two bumper wins on Cottage Rake for Vincent O'Brien. Aubrey Brabazon on Cottage Rake (pictured) on their way to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1950 \ Richard Brabazon

With a new group of investors entering the bloodstock market, led by pools millionaire Robert Sangster and Coolmore, PP who had an uncanny eye for what made a horse a champion, became their bloodstock adviser which gave PP a level of financial security. By then he had moved back to Rathcannon near Athlacca which had been in the Hogan family for generations. Meanwhile, Maureen had moved to an estate at Rathcormack near Fermoy.

It was in Rathcannon that PP’s point-to-point career really took off with such horses as Under Way and Any Crack who won five La Touches and would have won more were he not so heavily penalised by the handicapper. Under Way had a lifetime record of more than 50 races and in 1985 the stable recorded 45 wins. During the eighties, PP’s stable recorded 265 point-to-point wins.

PP’s jockey list looks like a Who’s Who staring with Bill McLernon, Ted Walsh, Roger Hurley, Peter Greenall, Niall Madden, Tom Costello Jnr, and finishing with the peerless Enda Bolger who came in 1981 from the Willie Mullins yard and completed a perfect round by marrying PP’s youngest daughter, Sarah.

Tough but fair

Enda of course now trains very successfully nearby in Howardstown, the first married home of a young JP and Noreen McManus. He recalls PP as a hard but fair taskmaster, not afraid to give candid comment on the young jockey’s performance. On the schooling gallops in Rathcannon after Enda would pull up on Ah Whisht or Under Way, PP’s favoured comment to the young aspiring (and perspiring) future champion was ‘young fellow, if I had hands like that I’d cut them off!’

In these times it might sound harsh but young Enda took the advice to heart and ended up as one of the great stylists in the saddle.

Speaking of the racing fairytale that is the story of JP McManus, now the most prolific and successful owner the sport of National Hunt racing the world has ever known, PP was his early mentor and supplied him with his early horses such as Jack Of Trumps and Bit Of A Skite, each of whom were trained by PP’s nephew Edward O’Grady.

In addition to the stellar list of “apprentices” who passed through the yard must include Philip Purcell, Brendan Powell and Norman Williamson and that inveterate hunting man, John Gleeson, now looked on as only second to Enda in producing cross-country horses.

Golden era

But perhaps it was his achievements as a spotter for Vincent O’Brien and Robert Sangster that PP Hogan will be best remembered in the world of the turf. It was he who bought Arc winners Rheingold and Detroit.

It was said the great Vincent O’Brien never made any major purchase without consulting PP on the conformation of his proposed buy.

But it was Assert that really set PP up. By Be My Guest, Assert was bought for Sangster by PP in 1980 and went on to win the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) and Irish Derby before being syndicated for a rumoured $26 million.

PP’s share allowed him to keep and run these great horses right through their racing careers like Under Way which, in a commercial yard, would have had to be passed on.

Famous black and tans foxhounds in full cry for the Scarteen meet at Emly \ Catherine Power

Reaching the biblical age of three score and 10, he began to wind down his training and by degrees, Enda took over the reins. He continued to hunt but sadly, Thady Ryan in his memoir, recalls taking a short cut across country after a good day when PP jumped into a bottomless bog.

When the horse was eventually retrieved, Thady asked his oldest hunting friend why he had jumped into the morasse. “Thady,” he replied, “I just didn’t see it”. Thady recalled with sadness that PP’s sight was failing.

I knew PP as a good friend and mentor and while never of the calibre of his great jockeys, most of what I learned was on the gallops in Kilfrush where I was his last “apprentice” before his move to Rathcannon.

In his later years, I continued to visit PP at home in Rathcannon where he was brilliantly looked after by Susan who always proved a generous host.

We would sit and talk about the great hunting days when the country was open and long hunts were the order of the day.

Inevitably, the question had to be asked “and what was your best day?”

He recalled a day from a meet in Athlacca with hounds being hunted by Hugh Robards. The first draw was Howardstown where hounds found and crossed the Morning Star river, seriously in flood after overnight rain.

PP and the young whipper-in Martin Hurley from the Conna Harriers, without hesitation, swam the river while Hugh making an uncharacteristic error, took the field to the nearby bridge. That short hesitation meant PP and young Martin had hounds to themselves for an epic hunt running from the covert in Dromin almost to Fedamore and back without a check.

‘I was on Half Moon and young Martin, riding at no weight at all, so we stayed with hounds and the country was so open we only had to dismount once for a roadside gate.’

Alas that was then and this is now. If there is hunting in Elysian fields, I’ve no doubt PP is leading the field over a cracking bit of country and showing that the impossible looks easy in the hands of a master.