How did you get into racehorse ownership?
MY neighbour started a syndicate called Red Robin about 20 years ago now.
I joined with no prior knowledge of racing, but being a part of the syndicate gave me huge sense of purpose and a reason to go somewhere.
It introduced me to some great people, who I now consider close friends, and spurred me to venture out in the game on my own back in 2008.
Every second of my ownership journey so far has been a pleasure.
What was your best day at the races and why?
Jamies Choice winning a Grade B handicap chase at Cork is the standout day for me and it’s by far the biggest and most profitable race I’ve won. He was the first horse I owned and I purchased him after he’d ran his races for us in the Red Robin syndicate.
Success is always sweet, making it hard to rank each win, but Starzov’s Cork victory last Saturday was another great day out. I had the family down to celebrate with me and the quality of racing on display was top-notch. We had a great day all round and an even better evening.
Celebrating the highs in any sport is amazing and horse racing definitely holds its own in relation to this.
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
Cork and Downpatrick are the two racecourses that I feel really excel and go above and beyond for owners. Their hospitality and generosity in regard to food and drink really helps to soften the blow on a bad day.
As I always say, “There’s nothing like a good meal to lift the spirits when your down!”
I also feel like there should be a set standard for how racecourses treat owners, sometimes you’re travelling the length of the country to watch your horse, and a sandwich and a cup of tea doesn’t always suffice. Especially if you’ve brought the whole family down in an attempt to make a day of having a runner. It’s an expensive game and a little goes a long way.
If HRI are looking to set up ownership hospitality standards, Cork and Downpatrick should be used as models!
Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer and why?
The flat isn’t something I’ve turned my hand to just yet, but it’s a game I’m willing to tackle in the near future. I do find the jumps that bit more entertaining, the races last longer and so does the adrenaline rush!
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
Any horse I’ve owned outright has been in training with Phillip Rothwell at his Wicklow base. Our minds think alike, and as people we’ve a lot in common. He tells you straight up what the plan is and what he thinks of a horse, there’s no excuses or romanticising things. I really like that.
Phillip (Rothwell) has given me an open invitation to visit the horses, going down in the mornings starts the day off well and I love showing support to such a hardworking yard.
People don’t realise how much work and dedication is required by the smaller trainers and to be able to help out is great.
How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general and on ownership in particular?
Individuals can only spend what their budgets can stretch to. Unfortunately, the cost of ownership is increasing and the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll on all aspects of society, not just racing.
Some owners won’t be able to match the rising funds needed to stay in the game and I think more owners will sadly be forced out.
What can trainers or HRI do to encourage owners to keep horses in training at the moment?
For me, the most discouraging aspect of ownership in Ireland is getting balloted out of races.
There’s nothing more frustrating than your horse being race fit with suitable surface conditions, only to be balloted out.
You’re then holding off running for another two weeks or so and may fall mercy to a change in weather conditions, with unsuitable ground potentially postponing you yet again.
I understand HRI’s current race schedule is designed to increase the competitiveness at the lower end of the game, but horses aren’t getting their chance to show connections their full potential.
How can they when they’re not getting into the races that may suit them the best? It’s a disheartening process for all connections and I feel sorry for the smaller trainers trying to get their names out there when their horses aren’t getting the chances to run.
If HRI can come up with a better solution, I think it would really encourage owners to persevere through these tougher financial times.
What significance do your colours hold?
They’re the same colours as Moneygall. I hurled for them back in the day and it’s a club very close to my heart.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
Philip Rothwell helps me source a lot of my horses, with the majority of them being purchased privately from his yard. Starzov and Cullenwaine both came into my hands after being put on the market by other Fairwood Stable owners.
After seeing a horse physically, I consult with Philip and we both give our views. We work together. Philip may find faults in the physical of a horse that I like and vice versa.
However, at the end of the day luck has to play its part. You can only see so many things that you like in a horse and most thoroughbreds are well bred these days. If lucks on your side, there’s always a chance of finding a horse that can come good for you, even on a tighter budget.
What horses do you currently have in training?
Starzov (six-year-old gelding by Morozov): A recent winner at Cork last Saturday in a two-mile handicap hurdle. He’s come out of the race well and was given a couple of days to recover at the beginning of this week. We couldn’t ask for anymore from him and he’ll target the meeting at Punchestown on January 30th.
Cullenwaine (five-year-old gelding by Golden Lariat): A big scopey horse who enjoyed a summer campaign in bumpers/ over timber.
Due to his size, he hadn’t really grown into himself to compete in these races, so we put him away and gave him some time. Philip (Rothwell) will start bringing him back into work in the next couple of weeks for another stint when the good ground comes.
Baltinglass Hill (six-year-old gelding by Cable Bay): Entered to run at Punchestown on Monday after 15 months off the track.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
If you’re contemplating ownership, JUST DO IT! You’ll only regret it later in life! It’s a great buzz and the days out racing are second to none. It’s so rewarding to be part of the sport and contributing to your passion.
As soon as one of the horses gets an entry or a declaration, I immediately have something to look forward to.
What’s more is that it’s a great way to see the country. Racing has taken me to parts of Ireland I wouldn’t have gone to on my own and I love it.
Go on, bite the bullet.
James Guilfoyle was in conversation with Sophie Mellett.