How did you get into racehorse ownership?

I am pretty new to the game and only bought my first horse earlier this year. But my husband Gerry Shevlin has had numerous horses over the years with Tom McCourt and his passion for horse racing rubbed off on me.

What started out as just going along to race meets to support him, soon developed to a genuine interest in the sport which in turn quickly developed into a genuine love for it!

Horse racing is really a part of daily life in our house – even my four-year-old daughter Sophie loves roaring at the TV, comes along to race meetings and loves nothing more than visiting Tom and all the horses at the yard.

What was your best day at the races and why?

Without a doubt, this was last Thursday week at Bellewstown. Charming Lady was out for only her second run, in the Irish EBF Auction Series Maiden. She had a very promising debut a few weeks before in Fairyhouse and we saw improvement in her so we were really hoping she would run well.

It’s a local track for me (living 10 mins away from the course), it’s down the road for her trainer (Tom McCourt) and even the jockey (Robert Whearty) is a local.

So when she crossed that finish line as winner, it really was a very special moment and one I will never forget. Only downside is, as a first-time owner and my horse winning her second ever race, my expectations have been set pretty high!

What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?

It’s expensive for one. And I suppose the uncertainty of it. Horses can pick up injuries, the ground can be unsuitable, and not always does the best horse win the race.

But I think most people are in it for the love of the sport, the excitement and the buzz of seeing their horse run a good race and you have to be prepared to take the highs as well as the lows.

In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?

My horse has only run at two courses but I’ve been to a few with my husband Gerry. I’ve always liked Navan – I like the facilities for owners – the owners’ lounge has a great view of the parade ring and the course.

Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer and why?

I love watching jump racing but I think, if I do get involved in owning more horses, I would stick with flat racing. I would hate to think my horse could fall and be badly injured or worse.

What do you look for in a trainer?

As I said, I got involved in horse racing because my husband has been involved in the sport for years, long before I came along. He has a great relationship with Tom (McCourt). They talk every day on the phone about horses – who, what, when, where. Tom is very straight, he will tell us very honestly what he thinks. And he encourages his owners to be very involved.

We go as a family to Tom’s yard to visit the horses on a regular basis – always followed by tea and scones. To me this is massively important – it’s very much a family affair for me and I love that my two daughters, Amy (21) and Sophie, are welcome anytime, it’s very relaxed.

I am very new to the ownership side of things, and I feel I can ask Tom anything, no question is a stupid question. My initial worry getting involved was that I would be out of my depth, I wouldn’t know enough.

But I genuinely have had such a great experience with Charming Lady – seeing her work for the first time, noticing her improvements each time, getting that inkling she could win a maiden and then be there to see it happen! It’s been amazing to be on that journey from the start.

How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general and on ownership in particular?

The last few years have been tough on the industry, and definitely for owners. A lot of owners are in it for the love of it and it just doesn’t compare, watching your horse win a race at home on the TV. I saw this when my husband’s horse won and he was gutted not to be there due to Covid restrictions. The winner was Highway To Heaven who won at Gowran Park in August 2020.

For small owners in particular, those days don’t happen too often.

At the moment, with the cost of living spiralling, it will inevitably impact the racing industry. People have less money to spend and days out at the races might go down the priority list.

And I think the same with ownership. People tend to more cautious with their money during economically challenging times.

On the other side, the Irish racing industry has a pretty good track record, there will always be people prepared to buy horses.

What significance do your colours hold?

As unexciting as it sounds – I just liked the colours – pink and black.

What horses do you currently have in training?

Just one – Charming Lady (for now).

What’s next on the agenda for your horse?

I am still enjoying the glory of winning a few weeks ago.

So I am sure the conversations will be around what races are coming up that will suit her. We will look at our options and hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see her in action again.

Have you any young horses to look forward to?

Not from me specifically but some of my connections might have!

What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?

I am hoping I have a few years yet to consider my options. But it will certainly be a priority for me to make sure she is well looked after. My daughter thinks she’ll be coming to live with us – maybe she will!

What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?

Have more lower-grade races available considering the number of horses there are in this bracket.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?

You need time and patience. It’s not just about showing up to big race meetings – there is a lot of preparation, a lot of planning, a lot of waiting for all the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place, just to get to the starting line.

I was worried I didn’t know enough, that I wouldn’t ‘fit in’. But my experience has been so far from this.

It’s so important you have a trainer you can talk to honestly – ask the questions – it’s amazing how much I have learnt in a short space of time, because of the people I have around me to help.

I would also advise a potential owner to choose a local trainer. If you want to be really involved, it’s great to be able to visit the yard, see them work. I really enjoy this aspect of being an owner.

Elaine Shevlin was in conversation with Olivia Hamilton.