Serendipity had a definite role to play in the acquisition of the talented HARDBOY (IRE). As trainer, the colt gave me significant wins both over hurdles & on the flat. Consistent racing form that year (1972) culminated in an opportunity to represent at the prestigious Colonial Cup in Camden. 50 years on, our journey together is well remembered.
Attending the GOFFS November sales in 1971, I spotted Sir Hugh Nugent, trainer of a three year old colt called HARDBOY (IRE), owned by an American, Mrs Ellie Prentice Porter who had run prominently a number of times finishing placed when I felt he might have won. I made a private offer for him via Sir Hugh & as luck & circumstance would have it, the offer was accepted the following day. Serendipity ! My mother, Una & friend Gene Kruger, Canadian Master of the Meath Hunt in County Meath took ownership of the horse & my wonderful journey with HARDBOY (IRE) began.
In making all the running to win the Winter Maiden 4 year old Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 5th, HARDBOY (IRE) gave an exhibition of jumping and proved his liking for the winter game. I thought it was time to find out how good he really was and I targeted an all age Handicap Hurdle at Navan on March 5th. Knowing full well that it is extremely rare for a four year old to beat his elders in Handicap company. Unless they are exceptional...
A month later at Navan, the favourite was the 5 year old TARTAN ACE (IRE) at 5/4. Trained by the legendary Tom Costello & owned by Mrs. Malachy Skelly, TARTAN ACE (IRE) (who went on to win 17 races in total including an Irish National as a novice in 1973) was the one to beat. As the race unfolded, HARDBOY (IRE) lay second throughout the race & took up the running after the second last hurdle. At the last hurdle he was joined by TARTAN ACE (IRE), ridden by Jackie Cullen, one of the best jump jockeys in Ireland at the time .They had a ding-dong battle to the line with HARDBOY (IRE) prevailing by a neck. After the race I asked Tom Costello how good was his horse . “We had 5 grand on ours” he said . “Well Tom” I said, “Mine must be a hell of a horse as a four year old to beat yours as you would not have 5 grand on a bad one”. Later that evening in Newbridge, at dinner with my sister Valerie & Galwegian, Gary Hartman, I declared that “HARDBOY (IRE) will win the Galway Hurdle this year & I won’t run him over hurdles until then”.
Preserving HARDBOY’s March hurdle handicap for Galway Hurdle Day, I duly ran him on the flat a few times where he won a mile and a quarter handicap at the Phoenix Park by 4 lengths ridden by Christy Roche.
At Galway that year, the race was a mere formality for HARDBOY (IRE). When the horses were leaving the parade ring to go out on to the racecourse proper for the Hurdle that day, the astute Flat Handicapper, Capt. Michael Byrne came over to me as I was leaning on the railing and said “I think you will win here”. Curious as to his reasoning, I inquired as to why he might think so. Byrne was clear in his response. He told me “Well he has improved a stone (14 lbs) since you got him and we know he can jump”. In a field of 23 runners , ridden by his usual jockey, Tommy Murphy, HARDBOY (IRE) jumped out in second place & remained throughout the race behind the pacemaker VOW. HARDBOY (IRE) took it up going to the second last, sprinting up the steep Galway hill to win on the bridle by an ever widening 6 lengths. Mission accomplished!. HARDBOY (IRE) had become the first 4 year old in 30 years to win the Galway Hurdle.
Despite acquiring a hind limb cut during the Galway race. HARDBOY (IRE) recovered well & ran in the Carrolls Handicap Hurdle at Dundalk at the end of August. Another prestigious hurdle race, HARDBOY’s previous form meant he would carry the welter burden of 12 stone on firm ground. Irish Times racing columnist, Raymond Gallagher was adamant that horse could not win. Despite the odds, HARDBOY(IRE) did not disappoint. In a driving three way finish, he beat the favourite, AUTUMN WONDER (IRE) by a short head.
With such consistent form, HARDBOY (IRE) was invited to run in the prestigious Colonial Cup in Camden ,South Carolina as the Irish representative. A $100,000 Invitational Jump Race sponsored on her 4000 acre estate by Mrs. Du Pont Scott in November every year, the owners were delighted to accept & his usual jockey Tommy Murphy would ride.
Camden was an amazing place for all equine endeavours & I could see why it was the eminent pre - training quarters for so many of America’s famed racing stables. We were stabled alongside the horses of D.M.’Mikey’ Smithwick, a famous American horseman with strong Irish connections. On the day of the race a real carnival atmosphere prevailed, more attuned to an Irish Point to Point. The facilities were all temporary, stand, parade ring & jockeys quarters were a tent. As the race evolved, a furious pace was set on the fast sandy terrain over the 2 miles 6 furlongs. Racing prominently early HARDBOY (IRE) faded in the last half mile of the race. A disappointing race for sure but on inspection the following day, though not lame, HARDBOY (IRE) was found to have a swelling in his tendon sheath. Some explanation for not showing his true ability on that sunny Camden day. On returning home & after a remarkable season, HARDBOY (IRE) did not show his true sparkle & was retired to George Williams stud in Co. Cork where he sired a number of high class jumpers.