“A ship in harbour is safe - but that is not what ships were built for” – John Augustus Shedd.
THE names of the superstars he spotted, acquired, nurtured and developed trip off the tongue and yet for all the depth to Pat Flynn’s roll of honour as a trainer, the quality and numbers have dwindled in the past decade.
Even through this period however, a forensic analysis of the performance of the contingent emanating from Ballingara, on the Waterford side of Carrick-on-Suir, reveals that the ability to coax the best from the raw material has not waned one iota. It is just that many of his charges are now competing in lower grade handicaps. Very few improve for leaving.
That doesn’t count the future champions he sourced, educated and won with of course, the likes of Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs On Rome. Champion Chase and triple Tingle Creek victor Flagship Uberalles and Group 1 hero Yavana’s Pace.
When he got to keep the talent, the results spoke for themselves. French Ballerina was the only mare in a 30-runner Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and provided John and Sue Magnier with their only Cheltenham Festival success. She bookmarked that triumph with two victories in the Saval Beg Stakes.
Before that Montelado set what was the quickest winning time in the Supreme until Altior bettered the mark, and holds the distinction of being the only horse to win two consecutive races at Cheltenham, having sluiced up in the festival-closing Champion Bumper in ’92 prior to the stunning success in the traditional opener 12 months later.
She’s Our Mark won six stakes races, three of them at group level, while Bahrain Storm added a graded hurdle success to victory in the Galway Hurdle.
In his debut season with a full licence in 1982 – Cheap Display had provided his first winner as a permit holder the previous year – Virginia Deer won four times, including a Group 3 on Irish Oaks Day.
Aries Girl, Baby Blue Eyes, Galistic, Lady Oranswell, Ger’s Royale, Wandering Thoughts, Double On, Cheviot Amble, Salmon Eile, Alalja, Call Me Later and Miss Daisy Dee were others to prevail at a high level.
Few of that ilk represent him now but if material for a Country & Western song is what you are chasing, look somewhere else. Flynn is proud of what he has achieved but they don’t entitle him to anything. There is no moaning about the vicissitudes of racing life, or its fickleness.
In fact what you get is enduring optimism for the future, with his son Stephen increasingly involved and wife Catherine swotting up on pedigrees. His son Mark played a major role in helping to run the business.
An indication of Flynn’s continuing ambition at 62, was the purchase of a half-brother to four-time Grade 1 victor Might Bite and full-brother to dual Grade 1 winner Beat That (Milan out of Knotted Midge/Presenting) for €52,000 at the recent Tattersalls Ireland August National Hunt Sale. It was a wedge Flynn is not accustomed to handing out.
“I liked him but then I said, ‘what is the point in me liking him? I am not going to buy him.’ (I) went in anyway and then he started lingering around €30,000. I said he mightn’t be too bad around €30,000.
“I bid on him and then another one and another one and I said I would go on until around €60,000. Luckily enough he stopped at €52,000.
“Since we brought him home we have him out on the lunge and he’s a fabulous mover. He’s a lovely horse. We love him. We are breaking him now. Some people were saying he might be a bit small but we put a stick on him and he’s just a little bit over 16.1hh, which in my mind is big enough for any horse. Aries Girl won four bumpers and was second in Cheltenham and she was only 15.2hh.
“We are going to treat him like a nice horse. Let him go whenever. Probably September next year but if he is ready to run in April we will run in April. We will see how he progresses along the way. He looks a sharp fella. He has a nice short back. There is an awful lot to like about him.”
Flynn had owners the next day, people that know the game and are excited about the potential. He is also hopeful for the development of a three-year-old Mahler half-brother to Jake Peter, who has won five times for Flynn and owner-breeder Frank McNulty. The dam, Kate Emily prevailed on nine occasions for the duo.
“This one was sent over to us from nice people up the country. He will be a lovely bumper horse next year. I have been buying horses here and there trying to up the thing a little bit. We are going to sales trying to get a nice type and get new owners in if we can. We have the place and the credentials.”
He has always been a dual-purpose trainer and possesses a crop of two-year-olds that will not race until next year now – a few Free Eagles that are coming along nicely, some more by Starspangledbanner. A filly foal by No Nay Never could be anything.
“It has taken a little while for them to come up but we are there waiting for them.”
He has never allowed his own personal desire or need to force buttons to be pressed before a horse is ready.
“You cannot bring the horse on unless they are ready to come on, you just can’t do it. You have to have the numbers as well. If you have 100 horses you are going to get more winners. It’s as simple as that. And you are going to get at least some nice horses. Some horses get pulled muscles. We get minimal injuries anyway. But in a race a horse might get struck into. Then you are back in numbers again.
“We have top-class facilities. We have a nice small yard in a country setting where any horse is guaranteed special care and attention. We have barn-dried hay, everything you could think of. If anyone ever comes in they can see it is immaculate.
“Our gallops are second-to-none – 777 winners have come off them. That doesn’t include the point-to-point winners. We have had 15 or 20 point-to-point winners as well. Our yard is always clean. The Turf Club (IHRB) came down and they said it was one of the top three yards in the country on cleanliness and efficiency, and comfort for the horses.
“And we have very good staff including Danny Grant, Eoghan Norris, they are all good horsemen. Marie Rowley is in the office.
“She’s a sister of Peter Matthews, and a daughter of Peadar Matthews, who rode two Irish classic winners (2000 Guineas and St Leger). They are all with me a long time and are invaluable.”
The recession had its way with Flynn, as it did with most trainers, and some unscrupulous owners left him in the lurch. But again, the lack of even a hint of bitterness is notable.
“We don’t owe anything to anybody. We pay all of our bills. We are well known for that.
“Training is a tough life. You meet people that aren’t honourable and they will stick you and you can’t do anything about it at times. But it happens to everybody, it isn’t only me.
“I have met some wonderful people and made many great friends throughout my years in racing and have many lovely memories. If I could wind the clock back, I would do it all again.
“I have a number of very loyal owners for years supporting the yard and they have some nice, young horses so we’re all dreaming together.
“You are always looking for the next nice horse. I have reared six children and they are all reared and gone off except Stephen, who’s in the business with us now. He has a great interest and is very keen and enthusiastic for the game.”
At the core of Flynn’s knowledge is beef farming. His father had a reputation for feeding his cattle well and Flynn does the same with the horses. Knowing stock is integral. It is instinctive.
“We bought great horses like Aries Girl. She had a phenomenal record. The day I bought her I said, ‘we are actually buying a champion today.’ The day I bought She’s Our Mark, I said to the lads in the yard, ‘this filly is going to be a phenomenal filly.’ All our good horses are bought that way and for handy money. Aries Girl only cost IR£11,500 and She’s Our Mark €12,000. But you have to be able to know your horse or otherwise you’ll get cleaned out.
“The day I bought Designs On Rome, I rang my wife and I said to her, ‘I am after purchasing the best horse I have ever bought in my life. This is going to be an absolute champion, phenomenal horse. I can’t believe it.’
“Of course we didn’t want to sell him. It was unreal. He was bred by Moyglare Stud, (he was) an absolute cracking horse. I will be forever grateful to Moyglare for selling me such a wonderful horse.
“You just know by the way they walk and look, different things about them. I know and see it in all these good horses I have. Designs On Rome had everything I would like in a horse. He had the whole lot. The hair stood on the back of my neck when I saw him.
“I can’t explain it. I just know. Things they do, the way he walked. He just had a presence about him. Some people walk into a room and they could be there all night and you wouldn’t remember them the next day. Another person would say hello to you and you would remember him for 10 years. The same thing for a horse.”
Designs On Rome winning the Longines Hong Kong Cup in 2014 \ Healy Racing
Eventually, the money offered was too significant to reject and Designs On Rome did what Flynn knew he would. The success was an advertisement of Flynn’s skills and he was ecstatic to be in attendance with Mark to see his former charge claim the Hong Kong Derby.
The biggest disappointment was the broken leg suffered by French Ballerina coming out of the stalls in the Gold Cup at Ascot 21 years ago.
“She would have won that race. Seamie (Heffernan) said she felt like a hovercraft going to the start. John Magnier and Sue Magnier were there with me saddling her. They said she was looking fantastic. There were dapples in her skin she was looking so well.
“She had won in Cheltenham. I don’t think anyone realised how serious that was. There were 30 runners and she was the only filly in the field. She spreadeagled them and won by about seven lengths.”
As a director at Tramore Racecourse, Flynn was delighted with the success of last weekend’s festival, albeit that he couldn’t mark it with a customary winner.
“Owen (Byrne) is carrying on the baton from Sue (Phelan) as manager. Sue did a great job. Owen is a very good fella. If the ground stayed good we would have had a winner or two. But when it went soft earlier on in the week that was it for us.”
He isn’t sure what the secret is to attracting crowds, pointing to thronged point-to-points where vision can often be mixed and facilities, by their nature, basic. Meanwhile, the Curragh has anything you’d want and people aren’t interested, as yet.
He is very much in favour of a second all-weather track, if the geography is right.
“The only reason the second all-weather would be very good would be for the trainers down the country. For us, it is a solid three-and-a-half hour trip to get to the races in Dundalk. Then you are running in the last race. It’s scandalous. It is too late.”
Galistic and Danny Grant win the Listed Jockey Club Of Turkey Challenge Stakes for trainer Pat Flynn and owner Micheal Smurfit at Leopardstown \ Healy Racing
Meanwhile, he is 23 winners short of 800, and would love to hit 1000.
“I plan on doing this another 15 years anyway. We did it from just one horse. I started off and there was never any horses around this area ever. A lot of people thought I was mad.
“My first horse was Cheap Display. It belonged to my father. I broke her here and she went to Adrian Maxwell for training where she ran twice and got sore shins. I asked my mother to persuade my father to let me train the horse the following year.
“When she won, a local group asked me to buy a horse for them and I went to the sales and bought one. I came back to them with the horse and they said they were only joking. I was as green as grass. My late mother said she would take him. I was worried then in case he wouldn’t do it for her but he did. The pressure though. Unreal!”
The man who famously said, “I’m Pat Flynn, not Keith Barry” has been making magic with horses ever since. And he’s not done yet.
Montelado (Charlie Swan) set the quickest winning time in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle until Altior bettered the mark \ Healy Racing