How did you get into ownership?
I am from a dairy farm between Youghal and Killeagh, east Cork and we always kept horses on the farm. We breed to sell on foals and three-year-olds and race the odd one.
My father Tom had horses in training with John Kiely, Pat O’Connor and Liam Burke.
I have sent a few fillies to Ken Budds who trains nearby over the last couple of years. Bombay Sapphire, our recent Gowran Park mares’ bumper winner showed promise from the start. Since she was broken, she clearly had lots of ability. She is a beautiful mare who always caught the eye on the gallop.
Your best day at the races?
Red Mills day at Gowran was fantastic. The day started brilliantly as a horse we had bred, Native Robin out of our mare Homebird, won at Wincanton for Jeremy Scott – the 11th race the horse won. You always like to see a horse you bred do well.
Off to Gowran and it was amazing. The meeting was very well promoted and they had the biggest crowd that has been seen there for a long time. It was a most enjoyable day and then to come out and win the bumper in front of the hot favourite Willie Mullins entry (Walk In The Brise), you couldn’t ask for more.
The biggest drawback for an owner?
Horses are working at 100% during a race and some things can go wrong and do go wrong. You have to be realistic and hope that your horse can come back fit and well to race on. This is where you have to rely especially on your trainer to do his or her level best for your horse. Owners have to be patient.
As dairy farmers we are used to dealing with stock. My wife Catherine and family, Claire, Thomas and James are all into the horses as well and we all understand the challenges.
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
The treatment of owners has improved hugely – they all make a great effort nowadays, whether it’s with extra passes or entertainment. Mallow, our local track is a great venue.
Of course we had a great day at Gowran and were very well looked after.
Flat or jumps, which do you prefer?
We’re steeped in jumps racing. I like to watch good flat racing. We were in New York to see American Pharoah win his Triple Crown – that was some spectacle.
What do you look for in a trainer?
Ken Budds is a neighbour and as I have said, for the last few years I have been sending him horses. He has a fantastic eye and is a superb horseman. He will tell what kind of character different horses have and is able to give that special attention to each individual horse.
He is a good communicator and we can have a bit of fun as well. Being so close to the yard, it’s only 10-15 minutes away, means the family and myself can go up there or go to the gallops and watch the horses working. For me that’s as good as a day at the races. It’s one of the biggest kicks I get out of being an owner.
What improvements would you like to see tracks do for owners?
With huge improvements, the tracks are going the right way. If they can just organise somewhere for owners to sit down and take a breather – we are hyped up with the excitement of the day and just to be able to crash out for 10-15 minutes before the race would be very helpful.
The more tracks can do for owners the better. Any extra attention is welcome.
How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general?
You could feel it at Gowran – people were euphoric to be out. Racing has the chance to capitalise on that positive atmosphere and capture a new generation for the times we are in.
Racing featured heavily on TV during lockdown – there must be opportunities to attract people to live racing with initiatives like local companies sponsoring race meetings.
What can trainers or HRI do to encourage owners to keep horses in training at the moment?
For small owners you only get four passes if you have a runner. HRI could allow more passes on those days and owners could bring along a few guests.
The balloting system can still be a problem if you are trying to get a run into your horse. The programme could include more maiden hurdles to accommodate them.
What significance do your colours hold?
They have been registered for about 20 years. My wife Catherine and I chose them we liked the combination of colours. They have been lucky, we’ve had a few winners.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
Number one and most important, my wife’s permission!
But seriously, when buying fillies, we would look at the pedigree, conformation and all the normal criteria. We buy at the sales and privately and breed.
What horses do you currently have in training?
We have another Shirocco four-year-old filly that we are very excited about. She is working very well and we are all looking forward to her running. Her name is Line In The Sand.
Have you any young horses to look forward to?
We also have a three-year-old half-brother to Bombay Sapphire by Sholokhov. A super gelding who will be going to the Derby or Land Rover.
What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?
The odd mare we keep for breeding or they are retired on the farm.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
It would be a good idea to have a set number of races confined to horses where the trainers have a small number of horses in training.
There are so many young talented trainers out there – they have to be given a chance. If they get a good horse, then give them the opportunity to shine. The small trainers can get smothered by the bigger operators.
They can also be more affordable for new owners – that’s vital when attracting new younger owners into racing
If they win, success breeds success.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
Get in there! Be sure to manage your means so you don’t go in over your head. Syndicates are excellent and affordable.
My son Tom set up a syndicate called Home & Hosed. They got great excitement from their first runner Moving On Swiftly who was third on her debut for Ken in a Mallow bumper last summer.
The syndicate are very excited about seeing her back on the track later this summer. Tom fancies a crack at the Mucklemeg mares’ flat race with her, Gowran is a lucky track for us now of course!
It’s an eye-opener how much fun they can have even without a win. You learn as you go along in racing – every day is a school day.
The enthusiasm among new owners is marvellous.
Barry O’Connor was in conversation with Olivia Hamilton