How did you get into ownership?
My father, (also Peter), had a few horses and I went racing with him when I was a kid. We are from Dublin but my uncle John Michael had a stud farm in Kildare and we used to spend time there.
He had a lot of racehorses, so I went racing frequently with him, and one of his best was Mr John who was second in the 1986 Irish 2000 Guineas. I was only two then but have seen a recording of the race and he would have won with a more forceful ride given a mile was as short as he wanted. He later ran in the Derby won by Shahrastani. Unfortunately he was given a poor ride and finished ninth. If I had been a bit older I would have made sure he won the St Leger as he had that look written all over him!
The broodmare I have now all stems back to my uncle’s breeding line. He passed away about 10 years ago so I was determined to keep the pedigree going.
What was your best day at the races, and why?
I have three days. The first was when Kinger Rocks won at the 2005 Galway Festival. She was a homebred from my uncle’s linage and ran under my aunt Tamem Michael’s name but in my Dad’s colours. It was her first time over hurdles and she was the favourite, trained by Dermot Weld and ridden by Ruby Walsh, so nearly everyone in the stands backed her and the buzz with the whole stands cheering her when she crossed the line in front still lives with me.
The second was at the Punchestown Festival in 2006 in the Flogas Ireland Novice Hurdle with Tony McCoy riding Kinger Rocks to win. I am a massive fan of McCoy so that made it extra special. Kinger Rocks sadly died of colic very young. She was Champion Hurdle class, so that still hurts.
The third was when Innamorare won at Leopardstown for the second time for us on October 20th. This was the first time I had seen a horse win in in my own colours. It was a very special day for me.
What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?
Bookmakers – no, I’m serious. You just can’t get a bet on and it’s driving people away from owning horses. It’s a disgrace. You might fancy your horse but you cannot get your money on in any of the major firms, shops or online.
You can forget about online as they close even losing accounts for simply beating the SP. All they want is people who lose year in and year out to bet with them. They have no problem taking any amount of money from those customers and bring them to special events and even have the nerve to call them VIPs. They are trying to make them feel like they are friends while all they are interested in is taking the last dime off them. Sometimes I wonder how they sleep at night as people with gambling problems even lose things more important than money.
People that have even a bit of knowledge about racing are being turned off by bookmakers refusing to accommodate them to even a respectable amount. I know a few people who were potential owners but turned their back on the game as they can’t get bets on.
Most firms, don’t even take a bet on a horse yet cut the odds because someone was trying to get €100 each-way on at say 10/1. They would refuse the bet and offer maybe €10 each-way, which the person won’t take anyway, and they will cut the odds to around 7/1. Imagine, companies worth billions being afraid of actually laying bets, having no faith in their traders ability to actually judge a price.
Bookmakers are more interested in laying bets on cartoon races and many times I have been in a betting shop that would have around 15 screens and you would be forced to watch a race on in Ireland on a corner box of one screen, while cartoon racing and cartoon soccer have a full tv screen to themselves, plus racing from South Africa or other countries. Not to mention the roulette and bingo. They are more of an arcade now in reality.
Questions needs to be raised about the terms and conditions of bookmakers trading also as it is a total shambles. They are allowed to do what they want when they want and as gambling debts are not enforceable in Ireland there is very little a punter can do to get paid. In the UK recently gambling debts have become enforceable and Ireland needs to follow suit and change the gambling laws.
Recently I got done by a bookmaker on a totepool bet; they were acting as agent for the Tote and they did me in for quite a few quid but, even worse, I was treated like an absolute criminal by them because I was fighting my corner. They got away without having to pay me for their mistake, again all down to the out of date gambling laws in Ireland. If it was the UK they would have backed down before it got to the courts.
Units for certain pool bets need to be seen as they are going into the pool before the bets kick-off. Only seeing the units for the likes of Placepot, Pick6 and the Jackpot after the first leg is over is not good enough. They take a huge percentage of all bets so they should be able to afford to update the system.
Which Irish track treats owners best?
The treatment of owners has got a lot better. I like Leopardstown, it sets the standards with great facilities.
Flat or jump racing. Which do you prefer and why?
I like both codes and have horses for both. I probably prefer the flat as there is nothing worse than a fall at the last when you have the race at your mercy! I also find it easier to race read the flat.
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
That really is a tricky question. I have horses with Gavin Cromwell and Henry de Bromhead and I rate them both very highly.
I like a trainer with a brain – someone you can communicate with and discuss your horses’ progress with easily and one who will always be honest with you. You want a shrewd trainer who thinks about each horse as an individual and who is also good at placing the horses.
What improvements would you like to see at Irish racecourses?
Big screens at all racetracks to follow the horses when they are far away. Also, sometimes they take far too long to declare the winner of a photo-finish. I would also like to see the winning line more visible at racetracks.
I go racing not to socialise but to bet. You do expect as an owner to get food and tea/coffee vouchers. I want to enjoy the day when I have a runner with some facilities where I can take my friends.
Do your colours hold significance?
As a child I always had those colours in my head, the red and white hoops. The only tweak is the red star on the cap. The red/white hoops on the cap as well was already in use.
How did your syndicate get its name?
I have been involved in different syndicates but Innamorare and other horses run in my name and colours. Darach O’Fionnagáin and Declan Harmon and a few others are also involved. It is the very first horse they have had shares in and I am glad she has won two out of three for us as it has repaid the faith they had to come in with me.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
I bet for a living and I wouldn’t chose horses necessarily on just pedigree or conformation. I like to buy horses that have run a good few times that I think more can be got out of or that have underperformed for some reason. Maybe they have run over the wrong distance, ground or the wrong tactics have been used.
This is where I depend on my ability to race-read. This doesn’t apply in the case of Innamorare but in some instances so much improvement can be found with some horses with a change of trainer and conditions. I was attracted to Innamorare as I could see she only just does enough in her races but yet has the heart of a lion and her form was working out very, very well. Combine that with the fact that I thought there was more in the tank, she was worth the risk.
What horses do you currently have in training?
Innamorare. I also have a retired racemare Rock Angel, a full-sister to Kinger Rocks, who is in foal to Excelebration.
I have two with Henry de Bromhead: Chef Afef (co-owned with Kieran Byrne) and Jason The Militant (co-owned with Martin Michael). Both will hopefully run by the end of this year. We also have a Kalanisi colt with Tom Burns in Derrymore Farm in Co Offaly. My mare is also with him. He does a great job with the horses. I’ve been with him for six or seven years and never had any problems.
What’s next for your horses?
We might run Innamorare again this season – we’re not sure. She’s been on the go for quite a while this season but she seems to love the game.
Have you horses to look forward to?
I’m looking forward to seeing the horses with Henry run. I bred them all so that adds an extra dimension. Henry is one of the best around.
I will, without doubt, be having more with Gavin, whom I also rate extremely highly.
I went to him when he only had about 10 horses and he’s got the results and now has about 40 in training and counting. His record for the horses he had at the time I went to him with Ripped (a syndicate horse) was outstanding given the horses he had and the numbers.
I am truly delighted for him that he is becoming more known worldwide.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
It can be very hard to get a run, you can keep on getting balloted out. They must keep on improving that. I definitely think there should be a cap on the number of horses a trainer can run in a race, narrow it down to, say, three max. It’s madness when you see a trainer run six or seven, sometimes in the same colours, and this can happen in all levels of racing, from maidens to Group 1s. A small trainer would be sitting with first reserve and can’t get a run. How is that fair?
Another idea is to have one or two races per card at the smaller country tracks limited to trainers who only had a certain amount of winners the previous season. It keep the top trainers from entering these races. (They win enough anyway!) Impose some conditions to favour the smaller owner/trainer and give them a chance of winning, as we do with apprentice jockeys. It is hard for a big trainer as they have so many horses in training but smaller trainers need to be given a chance to be able to stay in the game. We have lost the likes of Adrian Maguire and Colm Murphy, among others.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an owner?
Make sure to find a trainer you have faith in and can have input with, unless you feel you don’t know enough about the game, then leave it fully to them.
Most people who own horses will lose so I would say go into the game for enjoyment and not with too high expectations but at the same time try and get the best out of your horse. Do not keep donkeys in training – it’s far too expensive.
Peter Michael was in conversation with Olivia Hamilton