How did you get into ownership?
My father Tom Gilligan has been a long-time racing enthusiast, and has owned racehorses with Willie Mullins for many years. I have shared this interest since my childhood. I am told I started to go racing before I could talk! – and was delighted when the opportunity arose for Jodmart Ltd to get involved in the purchase of a young horse from Willie in the autumn of 2020.
What was your best day at the races and why?
My best day was our visit to Cheltenham last month to watch Seabank Bistro finish a gallant fourth in the Champion Bumper.
We have also enjoyed many great days in the past, such as with Euro Leader in Listowel and Auteuil, Shakervilz in Navan and Fairyhouse, and Dooneys Gate in Leopardstown.
What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?
So far, I have seen no drawback to being a racehorse owner, and I have had nothing but good experiences from racehorse ownership.
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
We have had very good experiences at Punchestown, Fairyhouse, Galway and my dad’s local tracks in the west, Roscommon, Sligo and Ballinrobe.
Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer and why?
I love the thrill of jump racing, and find that nothing compares to the fun of watching horses over a fence.
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
My dad has had a relationship with Willie and Jackie Mullins for over 25 years, and the friendship and trust built up over those years is invaluable.
It also helps that he is the most successful trainer in history, and we can aspire to share in some of that success.
What improvements would you like to see racecourses in Ireland do for owners?
I was very impressed at Cheltenham that our group, as owners of a horse placed in the Champion Bumper, were invited for a celebratory glass of champagne by the racecourse executive, with an opportunity to watch a rerun of our race.
While I am aware that winning owners are treated in this way in Ireland, I thought it was very nice that they extended their hospitality to the owners of all placed horses.
This might well be an initiative which Irish racecourses would consider adopting, and would greatly enhance the ownership experience.
How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general and on ownership in particular?
I hope and believe that racing will emerge from the current crisis even stronger than before.
What can trainers or HRI do to encourage owners to keep horses in training at the moment?
I think it is important for trainers to enhance the ownership experience with regular communication and stable visits. I must say that the level of communication from Closutton is excellent, for which a particular mention should be made of Grainne in Willie’s racing office, for her regular photographs and videos.
I should also commend Jackie Mullins for her morning photographs from the gallops at Cheltenham recently.
Racecourses and HRI need to make special efforts to attract younger people to initially go racing, and later branch into ownership. Certainly, the level of interest and excitement among my friends, since I have got involved has been huge.
What significance do your colours hold?
Our colours are yellow and blue, which reflect the county colours of my father’s home county Roscommon.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
We look to the expert advice of Willie and Jackie, supplemented by their trusted henchman, Harold Kirk.
What horses do you currently have in training?
We have Seabank Bistro, who was fourth in the Cheltenham Champion Bumper and won his bumper at Naas in January, and a young horse called Loughglynn who will hopefully run in the Tattersalls Ireland Sales Bumper at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday.
What’s next on the agenda for your horses?
I hope that Seabank Bistro will run in the Punchestown Champion Bumper, where he will be cheered on by John and Marie, Eric and Mark and all the great staff of our favourite Malahide restaurant, also called Seabank Bistro.
Have you any young horses to look forward to?
As mentioned above, we are looking forward to the debut of Loughglynn on Easter Sunday. He has been named after my dad’s home village in Roscommon, so I expect that he will have an additional incentive to represent the village well.
What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?
We like to secure a happy and caring home for our horses when their racing days are over.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
I think that enhanced prize money levels especially at the lower end - bumpers and maiden hurdles - would provide better opportunities for young horses, and broaden the number of small yards who could aspire to win such races.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
My advice would be to think of racehorse ownership like a visit to a playground attraction. Fasten your seatbelt, close your eyes, and look forward to the thrill of your life.
And most importantly, when you do have some success, make absolutely sure to celebrate it to the limit making great memories for the future.
Lorna Gilligan was in conversation with Olivia Hamilton