IT has been the guts of two years since I last spoke with the Shark Hanlon. Not a long time ago, but certainly in different times, stranger times.

Then, the racing industry was just starting to get going again after lockdown. Shark, like plenty, held firm, did what he could, hoped for the best. Once things got moving, so did he.

He trained 23 winners in Ireland that season, his best tally in 10 years. More significantly he achieved mass and much deserved acclaim for the sourcing and handling of the £600 mare Skyace, whom he sent out to win a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last spring, his first top-level victory.

He had hoped to send out more than 10 winners he has had in Ireland this season but remarkably, he took another marquee contest last weekend when another basement buy, Hewick (at just €850) bolted up in the Bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase, netting his owner a £90,000 first prize.

Of course there was an element of luck in this success, but less so now that he’s done it twice, within two seasons. Fool us twice Shark, shame on us.

It’s an absolutely remarkable achievement in an era of National Hunt racing where six figures is seen as a minimum price to pay for a horse that could be good enough to have any chance of competing at the top level.

But he has continued to sell lots of young horses out of his yard out of necessity. His business isn’t viable without that ploy. He has managed to attract new owners from his success, but the ambition is to find more, to be in a position to keep his good horses and compete, because if you didn’t know it already, the Shark is well able.


Ronan Groome (RG): It would be remiss of me not to start off from where Nick Luck left off. You told him the plans for getting home had changed after Hewick’s win?

Shark Hanlon (SH): (laughs) The celebrations went very well so they did. They’ve only just finished.

RG: You got home anyway?

SH: We got home anyway. We went to our own local yesterday evening, the Lord Bagenal, and we had a few down there. It’s all finished now thanks be to God. I’m worn out. One time I used to be able to drink but I’m not able to drink any more.

RG: I’d say the big winners help?

SH: The big winner helps is right, boy.

RG: It’s a fairly big race, the Whitbread as they used to call it.

SH: It’s gas, I hadn’t thought about it even before we went over. Now, when you have time to think about everything, it’s a huge race. The English people think more of it than we do because it’s over there but it’s some race and some prize money.

RG: Your biggest win?

SH: It probably is. The Kerry National was great and Skyace as well, but the money that this was worth, it’s unreal. For a horse that only cost a few quid as well, it makes it all the better. Like anyone can train horses that cost €300,000 to win those big races but to buy a horse with what I gave for him and go and win this race, it’s unreal. And like, it opens up a lot of opportunities for me with the horse, do you know? He got 12lb for it, which I expected with the way he won. Probably what stands out in my mind now is the Galway Plate and maybe the Kerry National.

RG: You’re right to say it’s unreal to do it with a horse that cost so little, but to do it twice, after Skyace as well, that is some going.

SH: Ah yeah, it’s great. I’ve a few more horses here that didn’t cost fortunes and they’re all after winning races. My problem is that I have nice point-to-point horses but I have to sell them to keep the yard going. I’m selling all the good horses and do you know it’s not easy. And then I’m going back to try and buy a few horses and we don’t have huge money.

RG: Is that half the satisfaction when you win these big races, that you’re showing you can do it, and it raises the potential for an owner, big or small, to ring you up?

SH: That’s what you’re always hoping, that you’ll get someone that will ring you up and say will you take a horse or will you buy me a horse, or they’ll buy a horse from you and leave them in the yard. Now, we’ve lovely syndicates here in the yard and we have great fun with them and our yard is always open, you can come in and out of here as you like. I’ve always said that. But you’re always hoping you’ll get a phone call from someone else to buy a horse, or someone is going to send you a horse. I’ve sold point-to-point horses, Posh Trish and the likes, and I’d love to keep them but I couldn’t afford to keep them. I couldn’t get anyone in the yard to keep them.

RG: Did you see much new business out of Skyace?

SH: Oh definitely. After Skyace last season I got a lot of new owners into the yard. Hopefully now after the other day the same thing will happen.

RG: Yeah, because this is the main thing I took from our last interview, that you really wanted to tip the ratio back towards training from the selling side, that you thought there was an opportunity there. How have you found it over the last two years or so?

SH: We probably have more for the summer than we had this time last year, we probably have 10 to 15 extra horses. My summer horses are only starting to come now. In the next month you’ll see a lot more of me. I’d like to keep more of the pointers and we definitely have a few more of the pointers kept than we did last time last year. The people that I sold pointers to went on and won races with them. I sold seven or eight to England and I think they all won.

I had a horse that was in the Cheltenham Sale in November and I couldn’t get him sold. I ran him in the bumper at Cheltenham that same weekend and he ran a cracker to finish fourth. Chris Gordon bought him off me and he went on and won a month later. The likes of that horse, if I’d have brought him home, he’d have won for me as well but to keep my yard going, when you have to pay bills and staff every week, I have to sell these horses. This game is not getting any cheaper. Like our nuts bill has gone up 60% since this time last year.

It’s tough on trainers and it’s tough on everyone so it is because we all have to raise our training fees you know, and there’s nothing you can do because it’s just the way the thing has gone.

RG: And fuel prices as well?

SH: Fuel prices… every day you go racing now, it’s going to cost €600 between fuel, staffing, entry fees, expenses. It’s tough on the owners and like you have to have winners. If you don’t have winners you’re in trouble.

RG: That is frightening, 600 quid just to get to the races?

SH: Every time that a horse leaves my yard to go racing between entry fees and the whole lot, I guarantee you there’s no penny left out of 600 quid. You go to Ballinrobe from my place here now and it’s going to cost you 150 quid on diesel, which this time last year, it probably cost 80. It’s mad.

RG: And I’m sure a big part of you, the sports person in you, would love to be competing as a trainer a lot more?

SH: I love the kick of training horses and training winners but it’s just so expensive. One time you were doing it and a winner the odd time would do you but now you have to have winners.

RG: The dream is to get that big owner?

SH: That’s exactly your dream. You have a winner for someone in a point-to-point and you’re hoping they leave them with you, which happened this year a couple of times, we got a few new owners into the yard, but you’d love someone to give you or get you to source them that €100k horse. But that’s the way life has gone. You have to take it the way it comes. Smaller trainers are all finding it very hard I’d say.

I’m lucky enough that I have Hewick and I have Skyace. But the people that are going racing and only having three or four winners a year, god it’s very hard on them.

RG: You’d wonder how they keep going?

SH: You’d wonder is right. That smaller yard with five or six horses, and then one of them goes wrong, it’s very hard going, very tough.

RG: Let’s go back to Hewick. Tell me the story of how you found him and what you liked about him?

SH: He was a nice size horse. He was very light the day I bought him but he was a nice size and he was a great-walking horse. I just went down to Goresbridge, which is only five minutes from me here, to see another horse that was supposed to be in the sale but when I landed down he wasn’t there. I was walking up anyway and I saw this horse coming towards me and I hadn’t a clue what number he was and I knew nothing about his sire. I knew nothing about him at all, to be straight.

I went home, got a cup of tea and I said to Rachel (partner), ‘here I’m going back down, I saw a horse maybe he’ll come worth the money and if he did, I’ll buy him.’ I went back down and bought him for €850. We thought a lot of him as a four-year-old, we ran him in three point-to-points and one day a young lad fell off him and he fell himself another day. I let him out in the field and let him strengthen and he just took time so he did. Patience. Now it pays.

RG: You’ve kept him for races in Britain for his last three runs?

SH: He’s a real stayer. I said that the three-mile-five races there would suit him. He was very unlucky in Uttoxeter (Midlands National). I thought going to Uttoxeter that he’d win. Jordan (Gainford) gave him a great ride, he took it up at the third last, went a length or two clear and got wiped out of it by a loose horse. God I’ll never forget, when Jordan came back in he said, ‘Shark I think I would have won, I had plenty left in the tank,’ and I said listen, ‘it’s his first run of the season, we’ll go to Sandown and we’ll win in Sandown.’ That was it.

RG: I love the confidence. It was probably one of the moments of last season for me, you telling everyone Skyace was a certainty at Fairyhouse. Is it ballsy enough to come out with that?

SH: Listen you have to have confidence in yourself and you have to have confidence in your horse. You don’t say it too often. I knew going to Sandown this horse was very well. Like the horse was 33/1 and 25/1 during the week, and I just said if he’d had won or been placed at Uttoxeter, he’d have been 5/1 and nearly favourite. I don’t know what the bookies were looking at. And look, it was great for the owner (TJ McDonald). He bought Skyace off us when we took her to the sales last month and left her here with me. Now with Hewick winning, he has free mare! (laughs)

RG: And what about your young lad Paddy? He played a big role in the whole thing. It sounds fairly likely he’s got his heart set on becoming a jockey.

SH: Nothing else in his mind, only being a jockey. His brain is for horses, horses and horses. He’s only 14 and last year he rode 10 winners in pony racing. He got a great kick out of the win on Saturday. Sean (younger son) was there as well. The whole lot of us were over in Sandown now which was great. We were passing by the statue with all the winners for the winning horse and jockeys and trainers, and Paddy looked at me and he said wouldn’t it be great to be up there next year. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

RG: I’d say you’re looking forward to the day you can leg him up on one of yours?

SH: Everyone has an ambition in life for something and for me that’s what I want to do. He’ll take over from me here when I’m dead and gone. We have the place set up for him now and he has a good head and please God he’ll stay going, and we will for another good while too.