How did you get into racehorse ownership?
I’m originally from Athy, Co Kildare, and I developed an interest in racing going to the Curragh with my dad Henry in the 1980s.
Over time I got more interested in racing and bloodstock and, after a few legs in a few small syndicates, I decided to be ‘master of my own destiny’ and bought my first horse in 2007. She turned out to be a nice filly, Miss Minnies, who won three times, trained by David Myerscough.
What was your best day at the races and why?
Can I name a few?
My first winner Miss Minnies at Down Royal, August 2008.
Elusive Beauty winning the Listed Eternal Stakes at Carlisle, June 2017 - my first stakes winner.
Celtic Beauty second in the Group 3 Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, June 2019 - what an experience!
Thunder Beauty winning her maiden at the Curragh, July 2020, first time out. It was emotional to have a winner where I first started with my late dad.
Thunder Beauty running in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in May 2021. Even though she ran disappointingly, it was a proud moment for me to have a runner in a classic.
What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?
You have to go into it with your eyes open regarding costs. Things like injuries to the horses, plus the extra costs such as vets’ fees etc, can be frustrating but having a winner makes up for it!
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
I’ve had winners at Down Royal, Dundalk, Gowran Park, the Curragh, Carlisle, Kempton, Navan, Limerick, Naas and Fairyhouse.
All have been fantastic occasions and we’ve been treated very well.
I have a bias for the Curragh as it reminds me of many happy days there with my late dad as a teenager.
Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer and why?
I started off with an interest in the flat so it’s my favourite.
I find the whole bloodstock and pedigrees fascinating and it’s a big interest.
I like the jumps also and had a great day at Punchestown last week.
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
Good communication, honesty and good planning in placing a horse.
I also like a trainer to be prepared to take some ‘skin in the game’. I think it’s healthy.
I’ve been with Ken Condon since 2015 and we have a fantastic relationship.
What improvements would you like to see racecourses in Ireland do for owners?
I think Irish racecourses do their best and some are better than others.
Catering can be hit and miss sometimes.
I’m CEO of a group where we have the guest experience as our core mantra.
I think racing needs to become less insular and needs to put the overall guest experience more to the fore.
How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general and on ownership in particular?
Obviously with inflation, costs are going up everywhere so this is bound to put pressure on owners
I’ve found horse prices to be very high in the past few years which seems to be going against other asset classes so I wonder is that sustainable?
What can trainers or HRI do to encourage owners to keep horses in training at the moment?
Obviously try to keep costs as competitive as possible such as training fees, entry fees etc.
I head up a hotel and property group (FBD), and each time we sell a holiday home in our resort in Spain, the owner becomes a ‘privileged card’ holder.
This allows them to avail of lots of discounts and benefits throughout our resorts and hotels.
How about HRI giving owners a ‘privilege card’ to give them discounts on racecourse entry fees when they don’t have a runner, discounts on F & B at all courses, discounts on entry fees when they spend over a certain amount?
In our business we see this as investment not cost, and you will get the returns and loyalty.
What significance do your colours hold?
My daughter Caoimhe is a big Barney the Dinosaur fan - hence the purple!
I then matched the purple with pink to give them a distinctive look.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
I leave the buying to the experts.
Dermot Farrington has bought for me and Ken Condon also buys.
I prefer fillies as I’ve been lucky with them and a bit of pedigree helps on re-sale value.
What horses do you currently have in training?
I have four horses with Ken Condon and one with Dave O’Meara in Britain.
Ken has Needle Lace who won recently at Limerick, and we have three unraced two-year-olds - Sugar Beauty, Beyond Beauty and Adare Beauty. All will be out soon.
My first horse with Ken was Elusive Beauty who was very lucky for me so I try to include Beauty in my names.
What’s next on the agenda for your horses?
Needle Lace, who we think is a nice prospect and who won recently, runs at Gowran Park next Wednesday.
My horse with Dave O’Meara in Britain, Thunder Beauty, I sent to him to try to get more blacktype over there. She runs today in the Group 3 Chartwell Stakes at Lingfield if we get some rain.
Have you any young horses to look forward to?
The three unraced two-year-olds with Ken Condon.
What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?
I don’t breed from them so I always sell on.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
One thing I’ve noticed is that the auction maiden structure seems to be having the rules bent a bit.
The whole objective of this I think, was to give smaller owners a bit more of a chance by providing opportunities for horses going through auction at more reasonable prices.
I sat at two yearling auctions in Goffs and Tattersalls Ireland at the end of last year and two big owners put two large consignments through the ring and bought them all back unopposed at nominal prices.
I’m not blaming these owners, they’re doing nothing wrong, but I think it compromises the spirit of the whole auction race series a bit and should be looked at.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
Go into it with your eyes open. Use the experts to help you. Stretch your budget to buy a horse with some pedigree.
And lastly enjoy the good days!
David Kelly was in conversation with Olivia Hamilton