Updated: Oct 21, 2022
A chance meeting with Rory Mahon @ Naas Racecourse last week brought me back to a previous conversation, in the same spot 40 years ago to the day that had unimaginable consequences for me & my career. It was wonderful to recall the talented German bred filly JASMINA (GER) who was my last winner as an Irish racehorse trainer.
My 12 years as a racehorse trainer in Ireland continued my education in equine peak performance & exposed me to quality horses, their support teams & valued owners. With a successful training portfolio developed by 1982, I was aware of a new significant owner on the racing scene & anxious to gain their patronage. German Industrialist Dr.Herbert Schnapka was known in equine circles as the owner of the best show-jumper in the world at that time, BOOMERANG. He had already employed an Irishman Eddie Macken to ride the talented show-jumper & his Irish connections were increased by his purchasing of the well-known Ferrans Stud (located between Kilcock and Summerhill village where the Mc Cormicks resided since 1839). Capt Tim Rogers was initially employed to run the stud farm & was later replaced by Rory Mahon as Manager. I knew Rory vaguely but made it my business to let it be known that I would like to train for a near neighbour! This solicitation went on for about 2 years until one day Rory said he was sending me a 3 year old filly that had raced in Germany as a 2 year old without success. Here was the ‘test' ...
JASMINA (GER), a pleasant filly to deal with, enjoyed her work & what she lacked in stature she made up for in heart. I devised a training routine for her to which she adapted quickly & after some initial trial work, she was ready to have a serious assessment. I asked neighbouring Curragh trainer Paul Doyle if I could work with a filly of his who had recent winning form. Vivian Kennedy, a seasoned work rider & second jockey to the’ Scotchman’, Tommy Burns on the Curragh, was engaged to ride JASMINA (GER). That morning was a quiet one. Only the two fillies worked in the gallop over seven furlongs up the Curragh Flat Rath gallops. This section of the fantastic Curragh training grounds was always a test & to this day gives accurate feedback on training progress. JASMINA (GER) won the gallop that morning by a scintillating 6 lengths. Immediately after the gallop when the respective horses were walking around & post mortems being discussed, I told Paul to go & get his filly checked out as my filly could not win in Germany.
JASMINA (GER) was immediately entered up in the next suitable fillies maiden which happened to be at Dundalk Racecourse. Who to ride her was the question?. I needed a low profile jockey who would be competent, capable & trustworthy. I noticed fellow trainer Peter Russell, a shrewd horseman, was using the Spaniard Sal Martinez, who was attached to the powerful Paddy Prendergast stable. He would do & was duly booked to ride her. Martinez never sat on JASMINA (GER) until race day. No need. Coincidentally, I bumped into Rory Mahon, Schnapka’s stud manager at Naas races & informed him that Friday next at Dundalk was the day JASMINA (GER) would win. I suggested that he should attend. In a field of 14 runners at Dundalk, JASMINA (GER) showed her ‘form’. Her opening price was 16/1 & returned at 8/1. Starting strong, the filly was never out of the first four & won by a decisive 2 lengths.
1982 was a busy year. I was commuting between the Curragh, Co. Kildare & Summerhill, Co. Meath where I was building a new training centre & I had horses in both places. About a week after JASMINA (GER)s win I was standing watching horses canter around the newly laid all weather, when I saw someone driving towards me on the grass gallop. I was horrified as this was a definite ‘faux pas’ if ever there was one. Rory Mahon was jubilant as he jumped out of the car & asked me if I would be interested in going to Kentucky to manage the legendary Belair Farm for Dr. Schnapka. With my newly developed & currently incomplete training centre, I had no desire to go anywhere & certainly not to work on a US horse farm. I thanked Rory & told him I would give the offer consideration. That evening sitting in the kitchen with my mother Una, I told her casually of the offer that I had been made & had been dismissed in my mind. Her response surprised me. “Of course you will take it” she said as she turned around from stirring her roux!
I took the offer as an opportunity to meet the reclusive Dr. Schnapka himself. A Saturday afternoon appointment was agreed for the following week in Germany. On arrival, at this several story office block, a security guard ushered me to the elevator which would take me to the top floor. Schnapka explained that on consideration, his preference was for me was to manage Clermont Farm, his breeding farm in Upstate New York. With over 100 clients, the breeding operation had 6 stallions, a fully developed pre-training facility with indoor & outdoor training track. I agreed to view the facility & report back.
On arrival at Clermont Farm, on the banks of the Hudson river in Germantown, New York, I could see this was a magnificent property. Split into two sections, a private part consisting of a Livingston mansion on 60 acres & the public farm on the other side of the road consisting of 10 immaculately maintained houses, barns, offices & training facilities. Built by the previous owner, Mr. Fried, a construction mogul & Commissioner for Corrections in New York state, the property was impressive in scale & yet screaming for attention. The paddocks were overgrown with dock leaves, a sure sign of overgrazing which leads to excess equine parasites in the little available grass & hence severe worm infestation in the existing horse population. The opportunity & the challenge presented was enticing. On return to Ireland, I agreed to accept the Clermont position (having agreed terms commensurate with my skills as a graduate veterinarian and a 12 year successful career as a racehorse trainer). Three weeks later, in August 1982, having dispatched the remaining horses in my own stables, I began my new life as Vice-President & General Manager of Clermont Farms. At that time, Clermont was the largest facility of its kind in the state of New York .