THE sport of racing often works in mysterious ways.

Gordon Elliott didn’t know the significance of the date when he entered Liberty Dance to make her debut in a mares’ bumper at Fairyhouse but her owners Tim O’Driscoll and his wife Ger did.

The five-year-old mare was named after Ger’s mother Betty, whose funeral took place one year to the day on December 11th. As she bounded clear on the run-in of the Co Meath track, both Tim and Ger could barely even see her, their emotions overflowing.

“Mrs Doyle, as I used to call her, never Betty, she loved dancing,” Tim explains. “The girls in Gordon’s office were on to us to select a name and Ger came up with this. It was just one of those things - how could you explain it?

“Mick Browne was there as well. He sold us the horse and he got emotional by the whole thing as well. You wouldn’t have been able to plan it if you tried it.”

In truth, there have been a few other special, if not quite as destined moments for the O’Driscolls this jumps season. They’ve seen four separate horses launch their careers with impressive wins and the future is bright for each of them. It leads them to pinch themselves, the surreality of it all.

Tim O’Driscoll has always had a racing passion. Ever since he and his sister would jump the wall of their Foxrock garden and watch horses zoom by on the Leopardstown back straight.

His father Ted, worked in Allied Irish Finance and his uncle Mon, was the first chairman of AIB but initially the only thing he inherited was said passion for racing. He did go on to reach a very respectable level of football, playing for the Dublin senior team for the guts of two years. He won a minor All Ireland title with his county in 1984, playing alongside a good friend in the legendary Jim Stynes. He also played soccer for Shamrock Rovers and was part of the first college side to travel to Australia in 1983 to play with the oval ball in Aussie Rules.

But before all of that, he rode horses.

“People might think that’s a bit mad - a posh lad from Foxrock, riding out down the country! But I’ve always loved the animal,” O’Driscoll explains. “It all goes back to my dad, who is no longer here, but he loved his racing. I’d go racing with him and I’d meet all the characters of the racing world, the likes of Mick O’Toole and Dessie Hughes.

“I started riding out for Joe McGowan. Joe had lots of horses that won in Cheltenham, like Davy Lad and Park Hill. I actually schooled Hartstown as a kid before he went to Cheltenham. I remember him winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. But sure I was only a kid then and eventually the horses got too small for me!”


O’Driscoll will be known to most people in racing as an insurance broker. He has generously sponsored jockeys and racecourse initiatives down through the years through his insurance company O’Driscoll O’Neill (Odon), who he built up with his brother Niall in the late 1980s. That DAC was acquired by major insurance broker Arachas six weeks before the pandemic hit in 2020.

It was something of a lucky break but he and his brother had worked seriously hard to bring their brokerage, specialising in sport and education insurance, up to the level it got to. He continues to work for Arachas, but the pressure is off and now he’s able to devote a little more time to racing.

This season he decided to buy a few horses in training with Willie Mullins to go alongside the majority of his string who are trained by Gordon Elliott. Harmonya Maker, Indigo Breeze, Liberty Dance and perhaps the most exciting Redemption Day have all won for him this season.

Racehorse ownership all began for him at Punchestown racecourse in 2004.

“I’d be good friends with Niall Quinn and through him, I got to know Kevin Ryan, who I first met at the Punchestown Festival,” O’Driscoll recalls. “I don’t even know what happened but the next day Niall rang me and said we own a horse. I can’t even remember this arrangement taking place but we owned a horse called Cloud Dancer.

“She ran at York two months after and Kevin told us not to back her, that she’d only been in awhile, but he did say to back his other horse, so we did. Of course, Cloud Dancer went and won at 20/1! So that was the start of it.

“I never had horses in Ireland, I always had them in England with Kevin Ryan and Quinnie was involved with a few of them. Then I met Dessie Hughes one time at a book launch and I said Dessie, could I have a horse with you?

“I went down to his stables and bought a horse called Captain Arceus who was my first winner in Ireland, he won in Navan. And in fairness to Dessie, he kept saying to me, ‘Are you coming down tomorrow with the kids?’ I said ‘I am,’ and he said ‘Don’t be afraid to back the horse,’ and he won at 10/1 with Roger Loughran on. Roger is a big part of my involvement in racing now - he breaks and pre-trains every young horse for me.

“I had a number of horses with Dessie over the years until he passed away and then I had a couple with Sandra before she decided to stop training. After that I had horses with Peter Fahey and then with Gordon; I would have got to know Mouse (O’Ryan) over the years. Then just recently, after selling the business, I thought I would like to have horses in other yards, so now I’ve two horses with Willie Mullins at the moment.”

Having horses with Gordon and Willie gives him an elite perspective only afforded by a very select few in Irish racing. He says both men have their different style and different approaches but are geniuses in their own ways.

Having been with Gordon longer, O’Driscoll has built up a strong relationship with the Meath man and he spent plenty of time with the trainer during his turmoil last year. He is part of a cohort of owners who are simply in awe of the team at Cullentra and have backed Elliott significantly in his time of need.

“I remember talking to Gordon after the incident and he said you might have a decision to make and I said I’ve no decision to make,” O’Driscoll recalls. “I said I’ll support you through whatever. We’ve all done stupid stuff in the past. I wouldn’t have liked social media to be around when I was playing football and out in pubs and clubs. Let the first person who’s never done anything bad in their lives through the first stone.

“I was sadly in Gordon’s yard when the Cheveley Park horses left last year and that was harrowing. All you could hear was people crying. It was that sad.

“Through the lockdown myself and Gordon would go walking for a couple of hours, the two of us would talk about things and that. What I love about Gordon is his passion for just training winners - it is infectious.

“He hates losing, he just wants to have winners. I think that with the support he’s got from owners, I’m sure it’s given him that confidence that he has their backing. I remember saying to him, ‘Gordon when you started first you had nothing, when you start back after this, you’re still going to have 200 horses and most of your owners and look at the facilities and team you have. You’re starting from a different level.’

“It’s up to him now to bring it forward and he certainly has. His horses are doing all the talking. I think what Gordon has shown is: what he is good at, he is very good. And he’s getting better. I really believe that.

“For the next year or two, if I was Gordon, I’d focus back in on trainers’ title. That’s what he’s always wanted. He has been a close second for a few years but he has come back better now and it’s up to him to take that step. I probably shouldn’t say that now that I’ve got horses with Willie!”

Young horses

It’s the young horses that are playing a significant role in Elliott’s resurgence and two of O’Driscoll’s are mares, something of a new venture for him.

“Given the way the programme and schemes for mares have developed over the years, I was more than happy to trial a few mares and we’ve been lucky to source Harmonya Maker and Liberty Dance,” O’Driscoll says. “I don’t get into racing to make money but with a mare there is always residual value.

“The programme is there for mares now and the fillies bonus (Weatherbys ITBA) is fantastic. Liberty Dance and Harmonya Maker won it in December and when they go jumping hurdles they can win it again and the same over fences.

“I remember sourcing Harmonya Maker with Mouse. We narrowed it down to three and I said she was the one. I love going to the sales and going to see horses. I know what I like but at the same time, I’m an insurance broker, so you leave it to the experts. But you always do your due diligence as well. If you tell me to buy a horse tomorrow, I’ll always ring around to find out what other people thought, gather all the information and make up my own mind.

“I’d never point the finger at someone if a horse didn’t work out. I’m out of short trousers long enough to know that the can stops with you. If you start pointing fingers at people you’ll have no one ever talking to you about horses again.”

O’Driscoll’s initial ambition in racing was to have a winner at Leopardstown, where it all began for him. He achieved that at the Christmas meeting in 2017 when Flawless Escape won a maiden hurdle. That was a great day for his family and friends, who were there in huge numbers.

His close links to the Dublin track have led him to worry slightly for the state of the ground there. For instance, after Harmonya Maker’s runaway win at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, Gordon Elliott more or less ruled out the Grade 2 mares’ bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival because of the likelihood of unsuitable ground. He remembers the days when heavy was a regular description at Leopardstown and recognises now a balance needs to be found.

On the other side of the white rails, he reiterates the point he made when featuring in The Owner column in this paper two years ago, that owners should be allowed to get in free to every meeting around the country.

“Maybe when I do retire, I will end up going racing more,” O’Driscoll muses. “So say if I was out walking one morning and decided to go down to Clonmel for the day, but then you’re kind of saying to yourself, and I know this sounds miserable, but I might have to pay €15 or €20 to go in. It’s not the money, it’s more so that you’re thinking you’ve been in racing for so long and invested a significant amount already.

“And if you make it free, I think more people go racing and more people come along with current owners and get introduced to the sport, to the trainers and so on.”


A more consequential issue for racing is that of insurance, with the point-to-point sector in particular affected by the failure of a number of hunts to secure a new deal which has led to more meeting cancellations. Given his background in both industries, O’Driscoll’s insight is valuable.

“I think it’s an economies of scale issue where you have lots of individuals all doing their own thing and the industry would be better served by people coming together collectively which leads to more control,” he explains.

“I’ve had loads of discussions with people about the point-to-point situation but the problem you have is there are too many individuals. I was asked to look into it and said I’d make a couple of phone calls but when I went through the Arachas umbrella, there were three other people who had been approached by three different people from the point sector.

“Everyone panicked and what happens is, you’re going to the same markets so the insurance company’s underwriter gets a right pain in their backside because he’s getting approached by 10 or 15 people and he just says no.

“I think it can be resolved. There’s one or two good guys that are there at the moment, guys that would have a good interest in the game and that’s who you want. But you have to have one insurance broker in Ireland dealing with one person for the industry and the UK, not 10 or 15 different people.”

In the meantime, Tim O’Driscoll will keep living the dream. He says the best part about racing is the part beforehand, the hope and anticipation. He’s got plenty of that this season.