How did you get into racehorse ownership?
I own Dooly’s Fish and Chips in Tramore and Waterford, and I’m nearly 40 years in the ownership game.
I suppose I got into ownership like a lot of other people. It stemmed from having a little bet on a Saturday, which progressed to physically attending the courses whenever possible.
Thurles on a Thursday soon became the highlight of my week and I just got bitten by the bug. It wasn’t long after this that the dream of owning my own racehorse one day was ignited.
What has been your best day at the races and why?
Ownership has rewarded me with some great days and it would be very hard to single out a specific one, but I suppose any winner I get at my local track in Tramore is very special.
What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?
The biggest drawback has to be hearing that one of your horses has sustained an injury that will put them out of action for a while.
It’s every owner’s hope that their horse reaches their full potential, no matter what level that happens to be at.
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
Any racecourse that offers you a table for lunch when you have a runner stands out to me, and it always makes the day that bit more enjoyable.
Getting all the family sat down together really adds to the occasion.
Flat or Jumps racing, which do you prefer and why?
Jumps racing just offers a touch more excitement, so I’m going to have to say the National Hunt game.
It’s not an easy decision however, some of my better ownership days have come on the flat. It’s a very close call.
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
I’ve been very lucky to have been involved with some brilliant trainers over the years, on either side of the Irish sea. Frank O’Brien and John Kiely in Ireland and Richard Fahey and the late Alan Swinbank in England.
All of these trainers have had the same primary trait, and that’s honesty! They’ve always been honest about a horse’s ability and how the horse is taking its training regime.
Their equine knowledge has both won and saved me money, allowing me to continue partaking in ownership whilst still being able to pay the bills.
What improvements would you like to see racecourses in Ireland do for owners?
The racecourses I’ve found to be the most hospitable are the ones offering owners and their connections a table. Somewhere they can relax with their family and friends and get some nice food and drink through out the day.
It really helps to differentiate a day when you’ve a runner from a standard day’s racing, both of which are great fun, but you’re paying a lot more as an owner.
How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general and on ownership in particular?
When an economic crisis hits, you always cut the things that you can live without first.
Syndicates may particularly see the effects, especially if they’re of large numbers. I don’t know if syndicate numbers have dropped at all, but it would be really interesting to see.
What can trainers or HRI do to encourage owners to keep horses in training at the moment?
Trainers will always move with the times and do the best they can to attract new owners. I feel that HRI on the other hand need to hold more 0-95/0-102 handicap races. The balloting system is very frustrating at times.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
I always like a horse off the flat with a bit of size to go jumping. We’ve had great luck with that system. Coolfighter is one that springs to mind.
He’s a son of Black Sam Bellamy and we brought him from the Tony Mullins yard back in 2014.
I put him in training with my son Noel and he scored for us straight away at Tramore on the flat. He’s a horse that’s also granted us many great days out on the hurdle course, with wins coming at Downpatrick, Gowran, Tramore and Wexford.
His versatility even landed him an 18-runner handicap on the flat at Gowran in between his runs over timber.
What horses do you currently have in training?
At the moment we have Cheerful Chap, Where’s Bunny, Plain Or Battered and Down Around.
All of the horses are in training with my son Noel.
I’m also involved in a syndicate with my brother Wilf, called The 777’s syndicate. The name stimulated from us owning an arcade together in Tramore, and as everyone knows, to win the jackpot on the one-armed bandits you needed to get the three sevens in a row.
What’s next on the agenda for your horses?
Where’s Bunny won three races over the summer period and gave us a great start to the season. We turned him away for a well-desevred break at the end of October.
Cheerful Chap won in Tramore earlier this month and he’ll likely target Limerick over the Christmas period, along with Plain Or Battered.
Where’s Bunny and Down Around are in the midst of coming back into work now and they’ll both target summer campaigns.
Have you any young horses to look forward to?
I have a nice unnamed four-year-old Jet Away gelding out of a mare I own with my brother Wilf. We’re really pleased with how well he’s going at the moment, so the dream is still alive.
What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?
Any horses that we’ve retired sound have gone on to join Meadow Lane, a riding school not far from us, owned and run by Bob and Aileen Walsh and their sons Robbie and Neil.
Some of my grandchildren go there for lessons so it’s great to see them riding some of the horses that gave us so much pleasure.
Any horses that have retired injured or not suitable for Meadow Lane are with us here on the farm.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
Again, I feel balloting is a huge issue. People need to be able to target races without the fear of being balloted out. Increasing the number of lower graded handicaps is the only way this will be resolved.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
Nothing beats standing in the winner’s enclosure with your horse, but be prepared for way more losses than wins.
Most importantly, enjoy every day your horse comes home safe and sound from a day at the races.
Robert Dooly was in conversation with Sophie Mellett.