It’s the silence that strikes you first on the drive up to Kieran Cotter’s stables in Clonanny, Co Laois – but there’s nothing quiet about how the small but select stable of about 15 horses have been running recently. While 2,000 Guineas day at the revamped Curragh was supposed to be about the blueblood empires of Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden going hoof-to-hoof, the 54-year-old Cotter was quickly having his best day’s racing in either ‘a lifetime in racing or five years taking training seriously’. Whatever you want to believe.
And the reason for the sudden invasion of the Paddy Power News team is a two-year-old speedster, Daughter in Law who, in her distinctive red hood, quickly turned the opening 5f sprint into a procession and has connections dreaming of a tilt at next Wednesday’s Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. As the trainer explains:
It was some day. We were able to walk around with our chest out, rather than skulking away.
It’s a statement that hints at earlier disappointments and a quick look at Daughter In Law’s form explains why.
Despite showing all the right signs at home, she was beaten on debut at Dundalk, when heavily-backed from 8/1 into 6/4 favourite. And again when third in a 5f Naas maiden, when a 10/1 shot.
We nearly cried when she was beaten at Dundalk.
But there was far more at stake than the just the money that went south. Daughter In Law been working well with another of Cotter’s inmates, George Cornelius, who was a very impressive 10-length winner of a 5f Dundalk maiden in April, on his sole start to date.
Both were expected to be flag-bearers for the yard in a season that could represent a significant step-change to the operation, if things go to plan. Cotter has been in the game long enough to know the ups are soon followed by the downs, and has told his wife Deirdre: ‘not to infect me with your hope’.
But they yard are not one-trick ponies as subsequent wins by Polly Douglas and Dash D’or (owned by D J Mooney) proves.
“We’ve set a goal of a winner a month and we’re trending in the right direction,” Cotter said. “We’ve 15 horses in training but would love to double it in the next year or so. Steady success will help that.”
A big run on Wednesday could see that ‘steady success’ ratchet up a few notches for the pair, but first Daughter in Law goes to the boutique ‘Goffs London Sale’ Sale at Kensington Palace on the eve of the five-day Royal Ascot Festival (sold for £150k).
And while there’s already been six-figure interest from South Africa in the €23,000 purchase, Cotter knows they could be on borrowed time with the two-year-old, even if he has some unfinished business at Royal Ascot.
“I was only there once as an 18-year-old with my father’s horse Shindella, who finished third in the Windsor Castle Stakes in the 1980s. Sure at the time I thought we’d be back every year, but I haven’t been back since! There’s no pressure on us, but it’ll be fantastic to go there with a chance.”
And while there’s no sign yet of the pressure getting to connections, the trainer for one is pretty sure the occasion won’t get to Daughter In Law either.
She’s a carbon copy of what you want in a racehorse. All she does is sleep, eat and work.
The return of Daughter In Law’s owner Danny Murphy, a childhood friend and trainer of 1,000 winners in Malaysia, has seen a big uptick in the stable’s fortunes.
“Danny’s back home about eight or nine months now and we’ve had 16 runners which is way up on previous years,” the 54-year-old son of former trainer, Bobby, explains. “We’re now able to compete in maiden races, which is a huge thing for our business model. We can buy, race, sell and re-stock. The success we’ve had at the lower grades can be built upon and we’ll be looking to quality rather than quantity.
“Our 7f gallop here suits us perfectly at the moment and Danny’s brought back an American and Australian method of training sprinters where “less is more”. We do either slow or fast work. No in between. A lot of steady work and then fast work. Slow horses are no good to anyone whether they’re 5f sprinters or 3m chasers. Most of ours are sprinters because it’s so competitive to have 10f and 12f horses in Ireland. Everyone wants them.
“Danny has huge contacts as it’s harder for smaller trainers to approach the bigger owners”.
Those contacts could come in very handy next Monday night at the sales and somehow you can’t imagine the air of calm – so evident on a morning visit last month – lasting too long if that distinctive red head-gear pings the stalls in the Queen Mary Stakes.