I AM a farmer from Naas, Co. Kildare and run a farm with my brother Michael.
Cattle is the main form of stock that keep but we are becoming more involved in the equine side of things, particularly in the breeding and buying of young horses. You could say farming and breeding is in our blood as it’s what our family has done for many years.
Growing up in Kildare also meant that my brother and I were exposed to the racing industry from a young age.
How did you get into racehorse ownership?
My father always had broodmares and racehorses on the farm, so I effectively grew up with them. When I was old enough, I got involved in owning a few horses with him and later got involved in a couple of syndicates. I then met Shark and that’s when I got my own colours. I’ve never looked back.
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
I’ve always been treated brilliantly at any track I’ve been to with a runner, and I’ve had one at every track in the country!
Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer and why?
I enjoy the two and have had runners in both spheres. However, if I had to choose it’s got to be the jumps, I just love the excitement and at the moment I only own National Hunt horses.
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
I like to be able to build a personal relationship with a trainer, what I like about Shark is that he puts so much time into his owners and you are always welcome to see your horses train. This is a huge part of ownership for me.
There is nothing better than going to see your horse work on the gallops, it really builds up the pre-race excitement. Shark could have 20 or 30 owners there on a Saturday and we all get to know one another and have a bit of fun. After seeing your horse on the gallops you’re always welcome to a cup of tea from Mrs Hanlon (Shark’s mother).
Even if you can’t make it down, Shark is great for keeping you updated on your horse. It’s also great to meet the stable staff who work so hard there to take great care of the horses. Since I joined the yard, Shark’s partner Rachael has helped immensely and I can’t thank herenough for everything.
What significance do your colours hold?
I can’t say they hold any significance, but I am proud that they have become synonymous with the yard.
Paddy Hanlon, Shark’s son, wears my colours when he is pony racing and I am very proud of that too.
Paddy had a great time on the track this year winning the Dingle Derby and I look forward to seeing him wearing them on the race course for me in the future.
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
I like a horse that is broken and ready to run. However, if I’m buying a youngster, I like something that looks athletic and has a good temperament.
What horses do you currently have in training?
Hewick, Skyace and Nasee.
What’s next on the agenda for your horses?
Hewick and Nasee are on a break now until December. Hewick’s main target next year will be the Cheltenham Gold Cup, he’s had a fairytale year and fingers crossed it continues.
Nasee is set to go handcapping in the new year but there are currently no set race plans.
Skyace had her first run in my colours at Fontwell recently and I am really looking forward to her next run in a couple of weeks.
She was a fairytale story for her previous owners, the Birdinthehand Syndicate, and lets hope she gets back in the winner’s enclosure soon.
Have you any young horses to look forward to?
We have two homebred two-year-old fillies at the moment, one by Yeats and the other by Affinisea. The Affinisea is actually a half-sister to the Grade 1-winning hurlder Fiddlerontheroof, so she’s very exciting. I own both of them with my brother and he does a fantastic job of looking after them.
The next step on their journey to the race course is being backed and this process will be carried out by Shane Fenlon. He does an amazing job. Shane has actually ridden three winners for me and it’s really nice to have someone I trust doing such an important role.
The plan is to send them both into training with Shark next year.
We also recently just purchased Hewick’s half-brother, a colt foal by Affinisea, from the Tattersalls Ireland November National Hunt Sale last Monday and we’re really excited about him.
What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?
Most of my horses are stayers so they are usually sold to buyers in the UK to go pointing. It’s nice to able follow them once they have finished their career under rules and I always hope that they bring as much joy and luck to their new owners as they did for me.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
I think increasing the number of races for horses which cost under a certain value will really help.
It will create more opportunities for the smaller owners and trainers and encourage new buyers to get into racing.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
Go for it! You only live once! Starting off in a syndicate or racing club can help with the financial side of things. They’re also a great starting point for learning the ins and outs of ownership and for meeting people in the industry.
Winners can be hard to come by but it’s important to keep at it and find a trainer who wants to get you that first win.
There is no better feeling.
T J McDonald was in conversation with Sophie Mellett
Galway or America?
I HAVE been asked this question a lot over the last couple of weeks and it’s a hard one to call.
Winning the Galway Plate was amazing. I’ve been going to the Galway festival with my friends since I can remember and it’s always been my dream to have a winner there.
I also knew how much Shark wanted to win a Galway Plate and it was brilliant to be able to share that with him and his family, all of who have been very good to me.
The reception Hewick got that day was unbelievable. I will never forget the crowds around the parade ring and the President handing you a trophy like the Galway Plate is something that lives with you forever.
Shark’s parents were there and I know it meant a lot to him that they were. They’ve been following my horses since I started keeping them in training with Shark and it was great to share a big occasion with them.
It was great for Jordan (Gainford) to have a big win like that at such a young age and I’m sure it’s also a treasured day for him and his family.
We had a great night celebrating, as you can imagine.
Far Hills was an unbelievable experience, to go to America with a horse is something I could never have dreamt of.
Ahead of the race, Hewick had accumulated a lot of media attention which really put the pressure on. He was a horse with such a big following and we didn’t want to let anyone down.
For Hewick to actually go there and win the way he did made it all the more special. I couldn’t get over how many people wished us luck and wanted to see him do well. We had messages from people all over the world and they all tuned in to watch.
Shark’s youngest son Sean did great job capturing the unforgettable American moments and is doing great in looking after the website and social media platforms. I also got to meet a lot of new people this day and made lots of new friends, that’s what I love about racing.