It’s the dream of many owners and trainers to have a horse good enough to win at the Galway Festival – but Adrian McGuinness’ stable in the heart of fruit ‘n’ veg country at Skylark House in north County Dublin, has been putting it up to the big boys for years.
With 35 to 40 horses in training and plans for more at the end of the season, the yard is flying high and well on course to smash 2018’s best-ever total of 30 winners that raked in more than €400k in prizemoney.
So far this year, they’ve had 23 winners in Ireland, one in the UK and bagged €300k into the bargain, after just seven months. With Fundalk Fridays still to come, the turnaround in fortunes is down to fixed-cost syndication, spear-headed by assistant trainer and Godolphin Flying Start graduate, Stephen Thorne.
The 29-year-old has been around the place for a decade or so now, initially helping at weekends, by going racing up and down the country, before a stint on the prestigious two-year Godolphin Flying Start programme, took him around the world.
Placements with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in New York and bloodstock agent James Harron in Sydney followed, and with Irish racing still feeling the considerable after-shock of the credit crunch, Thorne “begged” and got a job with famed South African trainer, Mike de Kock In Durban.
When he eventually arrived home, he faced a wildly different picture to what he’d been used too.
“When I came back initially, it took me three months to sell shares in a €10k horse. I sweated here all winter just to do that,” Thorne says.
But he stuck at it and with that €10k horse, Master Speaker, winning at Killarney earlier this month, a ‘fixed-price’ business plan had been established under the Shamrock Thoroughbreds Syndicate banner.
“What we try to do is set a fixed yearly training fee, so syndicate members don’t get any shocks,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than having to ask owners for more money for vets’ bills or whatever, particularly if their horse is not performing.
“We like to split the syndicates into 10 shares and then try buy a better quality of horse who can compete for better prizemoney. You can sub-let a share if you want and many of the owners here are involved across different syndicates.
“We’d a record number of winners and prizemoney last season and with a bit of luck we’re going to smash it again this year.
“We buggered off to the sales a couple of weeks ago and spent €240k and everything is sold now, except for about €20k’s worth.
“It’s some feat to do that in the space of two years, but we’ve a top team of people working for us and our success is directly attributable to them.”
Only seven trainers on the Flat have had more winners than McGuinness’ yard since January and none have a higher individual ‘winners to runners’ ratio, with 47 per cent (almost one in two) of their horses winning a race.
And the yard is hopeful that stat notches a few percentage points higher with Saltonstall who returns to the scene of the crime last year in Tuesday’s Premier Mile Handicap 7.40pm when well punted for then trainer Mick Halford, before finishing down the field.
Now running in the colours of the UK-based Dooleys (James, David & Mark) and the O’Sullivan Partnership of influential yard sponsor Bart and his son James, his most recent run was a close-up fourth at the Curragh on Irish Derby weekend. His trainer seems hopeful, to say the least.
“I think he’ll run a big, big race this year,” McGuinness said. He has to prove he handles the hustle and bustle of a race like that at Galway – but I think he will. He’s a very high-class horse and is rated about 14lbs lower than his run there 12 months ago.
To make sure they yard gets a second bite at the cherry, Saltonstall has been entered in the £100k 7f handicap on Sunday 3.55pm, along with Aussie Valentine who was fourth in the mile race last year, Sirjack Thomas and Master Speaker.
“I’ll be like Aidan (O’Brien),” McGuinness says.
I could have five or six runners in that 7f race on the final day.
Next week is all about the seven-day Festival where former stable stalwarts Beau Satchel and Beau Micheal (the only horse to have won a Chase, Hurdle and Flat race in the space of three weeks) have set the standard for the rest of the yard to live up to during race week.
But for the rest of the year, the goals are to beat last year’s tally, win Premier Handicaps and ideally, get some ‘black type’ with one of this season’s winners.
As McGuinness says: “When you train winners, you just want to train more winners. That’s the way it is in this game.”