GARRETT Freyne, who died just before Christmas following a short illness, was a racehorse owner and breeder for over 50 years and enjoyed considerable success at home and in Britain.
Born in Clondalkin, Co Dublin, he established a veterinary practice there in 1966 which still exists today. He loved all sports and played Gaelic football for Dublin at minor and senior level, as well as playing for UCD.
Having been introduced to racing by his father, Garrett acquired his first racehorse in 1966 when a client gave him the horse in lieu of veterinary fees. His colours – red with a green cap – were a nod to his father’s county of Mayo.
He developed a preference for flat racing and, over the years, had horses in training with several trainers in Ireland and England.
In an interview with The Irish Field in 2015, he recalled a special day in 1979 when he took his parents and some friends on a private plane to an English track where Garrett had a winner trained by Charlie Nelson and ridden by 7lb claimer Walter Swinburn.
Jockey and trainer were loaded into the plane and the party flew to Hamilton where Majestic Nurse landed the second leg of the Freyne double.
Majestic Nurse went on to become the first – and still the only – British-trained winner of the McDonogh Handicap (now the Colm Quinn Galway Mile). Michael Cunningham trained her to win the Irish Cambridgeshire, with Steve Cauthen on board.
The mare bred seven winners including Awesome Power, who won 12 races for Garrett and trainer John Hills. Noel Meade and Niall Madden also trained winners for Garrett in that era.
Garrett bred a winning jockey too – it was a proud day for him in 2006 when his son Tom, then a college student, rode a winner in the Freyne silks at Downpatrick.
In more recent times Mark Johnston, Michael Halford, Andy Oliver, Jack Davison, Ken Condon and Willie McCreery trained for Garrett. Andy trained Jazz Girl to win eight races between 2011 and 2013 and Colour Blue won five for Willie.
There is an unforgettable photograph of Garrett taken on Irish Derby day in 2015 at the moment when Colour Blue was announced as the short-head winner of a premier handicap. He told The Irish Field: “Enjoy the good days. They are very special and help compensate for the many bad days. Don’t go into racing expecting to make money. Remember the old cliché ‘The best way to make a small fortune with racehorses is to start with a big fortune’.”
A year later Colour Blue won another premier handicap on Irish Champion Stakes day at Leopardstown before being sold for a handsome profit.
Last September Michael Halford sent out the consistent Anyonecanhaveitall to win the Ulster Cesarewitch at Down Royal for Garrett, and the five-year-old won again at Thurles in October. That would be his final winner.
Michael Halford said: “I only began training for Garrett after Covid arrived, so I never got to experience the great days at the races he was famous for. But you would know from talking to him on the phone that he took a huge interest in all aspects of the game. He liked to have an input into everything - race distances, jockeys - he got a great buzz out of it all. He was a wonderful enthusiast who was always looking forward. He had just bought two lovely yearlings and he was very excited about them. It’s a great shame that he was taken so quickly.”
Willie McCreery recalled that Garrett had a soft spot for Killarney. “He would bring his family and stay in The Europe Hotel. Garrett was a great family man and loved the social side of racing. We had good and bad luck in Killarney. Colour Blue - named after Dublin - won at the May meeting and got blacktype there in 2014, but two years later she was beaten by three short-heads in a listed race there.”
Jack Davison said: “Garrett was the first outside owner to send me multiple horses. In many ways he got me going and we had good success together. He was really passionate about racing and his horses. Garrett was a very hands-on owner, we would talk for hours about his horses. He knew his stuff and kept me on my toes. I really learnt a lot from him. He went out and bought nice yearlings for me to train and I will be forever indebted to him for that. He had a great sense of humour and enjoyed his winners. We will all miss him very much.”
Enthusiastic to the end Garrett bought a yearlng at the Orby Sale and he paid €95,000 for a Profitable yearling filly at the Goffs Autumn Yearling Sale last November. Tragically Garrett received bad news from his doctor shortly afterwards and he passed away on December 19th.
Predeceased by daughter Caoimhe, Garrett is survived by his wife Anna [nee Taaffe] and children Sallyann, Jeannie, John, Tom, Aoife and Aine. Our deepest sympathies go to the Freyne family.