How did you get into racehorse ownership?
I come from a farming background in Tipperary and have been around horses all my life.
I went into the hotel business as a young man and worked in different establishments in Britain and Ireland.
After I bought what was then a pub back in 1986 with the name The Horse and Jockey, it was a natural progression to own racehorses.
What was your best day at the races and why?
Every day you go to the races is a good day: obviously the winning days are better. The journey going and coming with friends is a big part of the day out.
Galway races are special; everyone remembers your winners there and it is a lucky track for me.
What is the biggest drawback about being a racehorse owner?
The evaporation of your ‘friends’ when your horse gets beat.
In your experience, which racecourse in Ireland treats owners the best and why?
Thurles has made huge improvements over the last number of years and deserves credit and support.
Naas gives a warm welcome along with having top-class facilities and food.
Flat or jump racing, which do you prefer and why?
I enjoy both. The point-to-point racing scene is special, to see all the families and neighbours get up close and involved in the action, this needs to be minded. Racing to me is about the horses and the stories.
We used to have some mixed cards during the summer which brought both codes together and was a good thing. We bow too much to TV coverage - there is a balance.
What qualities do you look for in a trainer?
Ambition, honesty and someone who has good facilities.
What improvements would you like to see racecourses in Ireland do?
There have been huge improvements in catering for owners at most tracks and this is very welcome but some tracks are way behind and below standard. Maybe the catering contracts should be given to one or two people to level the standard.
An eight-race card and 35 minutes between races are both no-nos. Racecourses need to work harder to keep attendance up, making in more attractive for young people, maybe allowing the ladies free admission emphasising the social aspect of racing and including some music not just at the festivals.
Make it more attractive to have a bet on the course rather than on-line where the whole world knows your business.
I had a winner at Gowran Park the other day (Silken Ladder) and I didn’t feel there was any effort to engage with racegoers or the local area. An entrance of €20 is a lot when you are not getting much entertainment value. On the plus side there was a bouncy castle for my granddaughter to enjoy.
There should be a big screen at every meeting at the very least. HRI could well afford to fund that even if it was shared among tracks in a local area.
How do you think the current crisis will impact on racing in general and on ownership in particular?
The rising costs are a worry to owners and need to be matched with increased prize money and lower costs from HRI. Attendance to races need to be kept up because if racegoers stop going, owners will fall away.
What can trainers or HRI do to encourage owners to keep horses in training at the moment?
All the trainers can do is their job and keep the winners churned out.
There are several things the HRI could try out. I feel the racing calendar needs a seriously overhaul with the racegoer in mind. There are too many race meetings in the same area at times.
We need set weekdays for racing to allow people to plan their professional life around the race meetings. In past times, country tracks like Clonmel, Tramore and Gowran had racing during the week and work fell into place around that half-day. Post the pandemic with flexible working and more people being able to work from home, those days could be revived.
There should be at least one graded race per meeting at the rural tracks to allow locals to see the good horses.
I feel the large betting conglomerates are having an adverse effect on racing and gambling in general. I would like to see a well-run Tote system like they have in France, Australia and Hong Kong which would be responsible to help the gambling and racing industry.
I would like to see the bookmakers staying on the course bringing atmosphere and more reason to go racing and have a bet.
We punch way above our weight regarding horses and trainers in the world but lag behind when it comes to innovative thinking and leadership in the sport. We should be like New Zealand in rugby where the rest of the world look for guidance.
What significance do your colours hold?
You would have to ask Annette Kinnane daughter of Christy Kinnane who trained my first horse, she picked them. She did advise having a plain cap – easier to replace if lost!
When buying a horse, what do you look for?
Mostly they buy me, they just might catch my eye for whatever reason and I’d back my own judgement, they would have to have a page that I like.
What horses do you have in training?
I’ll skip that one. Better to keep it quiet from my wife! I have horses which I own in partnership with friends. The horses I own on my own tend to be ones I breed myself.
What’s next on the agenda?
I’m looking forward to runners at the festival meetings at Killarney, Galway and Listowel where I can combine a few days holidays and catch up with old friends.
Have you any young horses to look forward to?
I look forward to them all. You never know where the next good one comes from, but there’s one out there.
What do you do with your racehorses when their racing days are over?
It depends on the circumstances as to why they are retired. I tend to have a lot of mares which are easier to find homes for. A good friend who has land nearby accommodates me.
What would help to make Irish racing more competitive for the smaller owner/trainer?
I don’t think you can start altering the race programme in favour of the smaller owner/trainer.
Everyone should compete on the same playing field. Say as an owner you are second or third to one of those horses owned by the big owners, well that’s still a worthy achievement.
We need the big successful owners and trainers as they set the standard.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a racehorse owner?
Join up with a friend and buy two fillies, keep your expectations low and you’ll learn it all after that.
Tom Egan was in conversation with