Dick McCormick on The Tetrarch
“The only other man ever sit on The Tetrarch’s back - long enough to stay there - Dick McCormick, who is now my head man. As soon as I decided to take out a trainer’s licence I asked Dick to come and help me, as I consider he knows more about feeding horses than any man in the country.” - Steve Donoghue.
A GREAT MAN WITH HORSES
Meath Chronicle, March 1, 1947
MANAGER OF CLONBARRON STUD
TRIBUTES TO MR R.J. McCORMICK
Thanks to the good offices of Mr Patrick Murphy, Conyngham Arms Hotel, Slane, we are in a position this week to present a Handsome literary bouquet to a Meath man, who in England and Ireland, has worthily upheld the sporting traditions of the Royal county. He is Mr R.J. McCormick who manages a stud farm and trains for Mr and Mrs A.P. Reynolds at Clonbarron, Athboy. Mr Murphy writes “Dick” as he is known to everybody is the son of Mark McCormick who was one of the most accomplished and certainly one of the bravest horsemen in Ireland. He lived in Clonmahon, Summerhill, where Dick was born.
Twice Mark swam the Boyne when in full flood after stag and once he swam the Liffey near Lexlip and on another celebrated occasion he jumped the canal lock gates at Fernslock. I have heard him spoken of as an almost legendary horseman in the hunting field in England. Dick went to “Atty” Persse at Stockbridge as a boy and, as an example of Persse’s opinion of him, he was the only one ever to ride The Tetrarch except the stable jockey. The immortal Steve Donoghue. Although only a lad at the time, Dick rode The Tetrarch in all his work. He was a difficult horse.
From 1917 to 1937 Dick was Persse’s right hand man. Then to redeem a promise he had made to Steve Donoghue years previously, he left Persse and went to Steve when Steve retired from the saddle and became a trainer. I see that in the “Sporting Chronicle” he is referred to as “assistant trainer” to Steve. With all respect and affection for Steve, whose book “Donoghue Up” I wrote for him as a free act of friendship Dick was the Chief and only Trainer while they were together. Steve was a wonderful horseman and in galloping and training the youngsters was very useful to Dick, but he had no knowledge of feeding.
I know for I was with Steve, writing the book, during most of the period and Steve, who was the most candid little man made no secret of his complete reliance on the quiet, self-effacing and skilful Dick. His success since he came to Clonbarron, where there was not even a pail or a broom. 40 races in 3 seasons, only racing fillies, speaks for itself. People think a fortune has been spent there. This is nonsense. The establishment shows a big profit on its capital value in the three years Dick has been training there. Finally, may I say that Dick is the most simple and retiring of men. He is never away from his horses. Indeed, his addiction to work has made him famous. I attended all the dinners given by various bodies to Steve when he retired. Dick, who worked with him and whom he loved, attended none.
A dozen times I have heard Steve say to him on the morning of one of these dinners “Well Dick, I suppose there will be a telegram from you tonight saying: Best wishes. Sorry cannot attend owing to business with horses”. And that is what always happened. I have sent you this newspaper and these notes because I do sincerely think that this brilliant Meath man deserves well of his countrymen. I am from Cork so cannot be accused of bias.
McCormick, whom I met frequently when he lived in England, has upset the calculations of many other trainers since he returned to Meath, his native county to train. “Dick” as he is popularly known both in England and Ireland, now manages a stud farm and trains for Mr and Mrs A.P. Reynolds at Clonbarron, Athboy so his time is well filled, though he found time to visit familiar racecourses to him in this country last year. He has always told me that his experience in English stables stood him in good stead when he decided to train in his own country. The late Sir William Nelson constructed Clonbarron and Tangiers, Vencedor and Juggernant stood there.
Sol Oriens who won the Irish Derby for Mr A.P. Reynolds, is there now. The owner, who is a transport expert, raced for many years in a small way, but when he decided to increase his interests he asked McCormick to take over the establishment. In 1944 he turned out ten winners with a dozen horses and in 1945 he had eleven winners with the same charges. Last year he won 19 races with 14 horses in training. His success is not surprising considering he has been connected with racehorses all his life. His father, the late Mr Mark McCormick, was one of the best men to hounds in Ireland and his feats in the saddle with the Ward and Meath hounds are still spoken about. Thus it was not surprising that the parent imparted some of his knowledge to his son.
But it was in England that Dick McCormick gained his real skill for he worked for 20 years with H.S. Persse, with whom he served his apprenticeship during which time he had charge of The Tetrarch, about whom he has great thoughts. Some of McCormick’s methods of training, particularly with two-year-olds, closely resemble Persse’s, so much so that he called it the “Atty Persse of Ireland”. While with Persse he became travelling headman and then headman, and before departing to Ireland he was assistant trainer to the late Steve Donoghue. It was while he was with Steve Donoghue that the stable won the season’s richest two-year-old prize, the National Breeders Produce Stakes at Sandown, with the Apple Ring colt, later named Rogerstone Castle.
That season (1938) the race was worth To train 40 winners in three seasons while never having a large string of horses is no mean feat. In his first season he had Lady’s View, who won the Phoenix Plate. The following year Linaria, who McCormick trained, had a successful year as a two year old and last season she had improved to such an extent that she proved the champion filly in Ireland, winning the Irish Oaks, in which she was ridden by Charlie Smirke. Curiously enough Mr McCormick only trains fillies because Mr Reynolds wants them for the stud, and most of the inmates of the stable were bought by the trainer on behalf of the owner at Ballsbridge.
When he took over Clonbarron it was in bad shape. He had to get a staff together and remake the gallops, which are now some of the best in Ireland. Several English jockeys who have visited the establishment have told me how good they are. Considering his good fortune, McCormick has no regrets at taking out a trainers licence, and he looks forward to next season with optimism. He has round about 20 charges and has hopes about Madelina, a three-year-old filly by Donatello II out of Lemon and Grey, who won one race and dead heated in another last season in Ireland.
Conceding 10lb she ran second to Siranoush at Aintree, where the very heavy going was against her. Many people in England will be pleased to hear of the success of McCormick, for he has a host of friends in this country and often thinks of the good times he had there. I am looking forward to visiting the Irish racecourses with him some day, as we did the English tracks in the past.