AFTER more than a quarter of a century working in the equine industry worldwide, I am finally living my dream; training my own string from the famous Authorized Yard in Newmarket.
While it has been a long journey to get to this point, I am fortunate to have the backing of some wonderful owners and staff, which now make it possible to achieve my ambitions within racing.
Dad was pretty involved in every sphere, be it hunters, point-to-points or ponies. As youngsters growing up in Galway, myself and my brother took a keen interest from an early age.
Every weekend was taken up with one form of equine activity or another; showjumping, hunting or ponies, depending on the time of year. At 14, I got my first summer job - helping out with mares and foals at Derrinstown Stud.
Such was my interest, that when my day was done, I would accompany vet Tom Burns on his rounds. As a boarder in Rockwell College in Tipperary, I didn’t get home as often as I would have liked but when I did, every waking hour was spent on hunters and ponies.
After my Leaving Certificate, I did a two-year National Diploma in Equine Studies at Witney College in the UK. The course centred on business and finance as well as the more practical side.
As part of a work placement, I was sent out to Richard Philips, who had just started training. That was a fantastic experience during which I learned a great deal. Being Irish, I didn’t go home for the shorter holidays and long weekends, preferring instead to ride out for Stan Mellor who was based in nearby Swindon.
After graduating in 1994, I had been due to join Luca Cumani as pupil assistant but I ended up in hospital requiring surgery on my lower back. For that reason, it was another year before I took up the position. I spent nearly two years with Luca, rising to joint assistant by the time I left in late 1996.
From there, I joined Terry Casey, as I wanted to gain further experience in a jumping yard. It was the ideal time to be involved, as that very year, Rough Quest won the Grand National, as well as finishing second to The Fellow in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The undoubtedly highlight for me during the year I spent with Terry was getting to school over fences with Richard Dunwoody.
In 1997, I went to New Zealand to work for trainer Tony Cole. Ironically, the very year I went out to the southern hemisphere, Lord Gyllene, formerly trained by Tony, won the Grand National for Steve Brookshaw.
While primarily employed as an exercise rider, I also got to ride in a few jump races. The following year, I came back to the UK to work for Pam Tetley, a lady I had met while with Terry Casey. Aside from riding out in the yard, I also rode her horses in point-to-points.
In 1999, I returned to Ireland and rode in bumpers for local Galway trainer Mattie O’Toole. Eddie Wright, who had won the 1974 Irish Grand National on Colebridge, was also working in the yard.
Aware of my love for travel, Eddie suggested that I might consider Canada. So, in 2001, I headed over to work for Mike Doyle, brother of well-known bloodstock agent Peter.
Initially, I was employed as an exercise rider but during a six-year stay, I worked my way up to second assistant. In 2007, I went to Dubai, taking up a position as head lad to trainer Erwan Charpy. During my time there, I became friendly with Eddie Kenneally, who offered me a role as assistant trainer.
In early 2008, I went over to America to run a barn at Keeneland for Eddie. In a three-year period, I also ran barns at Saratoga and Belmont, as well as Florida during the winter.
Brendan Walsh, now a very successful trainer, was with Eddie then and I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to work with and learn from him.
On my return home in 2011, the intention was to train from land my family had in Co Tipperary. I applied for a permit and was sent a few horses by a couple from outside Cahir. In order to supplement the training, I also rode out for Fethard-based Joe Murphy.
Unfortunately, the horses I had just weren’t good enough and eventually their owners decided to retire them. By this time, I was going out with Amy (Stennett), who is now my fiancée. She had been back and over to see me while I was based in Tipperary but in 2013, I made the move over to England.
A friend, Olly Stevens had started training for Qatar Racing and promised to get me going. My older owners from Cahir knew a trainer in Newmarket, so through him I was able to rent five field shelters - they were literally that; no electricity, concrete floors or water; just five shelters out in a field.
True to his word, Olly sent us four or five horses to break/pre-train. Extortionist, one of the first I received, later won the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot under Johnny Murtagh. Coincidentally, Purr Along, another that passed through our hands, went on to become Johnny’s first group winner as a trainer.
Then, just as everything was falling into place, our landlord put the yard on the market. With no horses or permanent base, I took a job delivering feed for a local feed company for eight months.
I made the most of that experience, using the time to study how the feed was made and what went into it.
In 2014, Amy found us a yard to relocate to and we were back in business. John Gosden, Ed Dunlop, Robert Cowell and Cheveley Park Stud, to name a few, all sent us horses to break, pre-train.
It was a fantastic learning curve, as while John had primarily milers and middle-distance horses, Robert is renowned for his sprinters.
When the lease on that yard came to an end, Amy was very supportive in encouraging me to chase my dream of becoming a trainer. She even found our current yard, from where 2007 Derby winner Authorized was prepared.
In July 2019, after years of hard work and setbacks, Amy and I were finally in a position to start training. Khalifa Dasmal and GB Horseracing, clients for whom we had previously broken and pre-trained, supported us by sending horses to train.
Joe Burke, a good friend of mine since college, was and continues to be instrumental in our success. Our second ever runner, Venusta, was a winner; allowing relief and all kinds of other emotions free. Unfortunately, Covid hit soon after and we ended up having very few runners for the rest of the season.
Having bought yearlings in 2020, many of whom needed time, we only ran seven individual horses last year.
However, from that number, four horses ended up winning six races between them. Adaay To Remember picked up valuable blacktype, while Prontissimo won at Ascot in September.
Already this year, we have unearthed a nice juvenile in Wahaaj, a winner on his debut at Nottingham before following up at Yarmouth. His owner, Mohamed Saeed Al Shahi, is a great supporter of the yard, so it’s fantastic to have a good one for him. We have 14 horses in training at the moment, with room for 25.
Having always taken a hands-on approach wherever I have worked in the past, I would hate to lose that connection. For this reason, I want to focus on quality rather than quantity, going forward.
Having achieved the ambition to train racehorses for a living, I still have another that has yet to be ticked. As a very young child, my earliest memory of racing was attending Galway with my family. It was the first time I had ever seen thoroughbreds up close and it stayed with me.
Since then, I have always said that one day, I would train a festival winner at Ballybrit. It still remains something I am very keen to realise.
Patrick Owens was in conversation with John O’Riordan