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Michael Elders

The Inside Track with Jessica Harrington - Why Irish Racing is so Strong

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My first interview of the season is aptly with Jessica Harrington, legendary trainer of Moscow Flyer and current Champion Hurdler; Jezki. She was my first ever interviewee for CFI, over 18 months ago and there's a lot to talk about. The National Hunt season is in full flow now so it was good of her to find the time to have chat whilst orchestrating the morning work at her Commonstown Racing Stables. I caught up with news on Jezki, why the Irish are so strong at the big meetings and she kindly gave us one to look out for that's running at Punchestown on Saturday....

Can we talk about the Festival in March, how confident were you with Jezki?

It looked very competitive but I was confident with the ground drying out and we put a hood on to settle him. He ran well at Cheltenham the year before and so I was hopeful. I thought if everything went right in the race I was sure he'd go very close, everything didn't go quite right for him the year before but he still ran well.

How sweet was the victory?

It was great to win a Championship race. I've been lucky enough to win a Queen Mother and have been placed in a few Champion Hurdles, but to win one was great.

What effect has winning the champion hurdle had on you and on the yard?

It was smashing to win a big race, but it didn't really change anything around the yard. We just got on with things but we enjoyed it.

Did you stay at Seven barrows again? Nicky was pleased it was you who beat MTOY, if it had to be anyone.

Nicky is great, we have a lot of rivalry but I always go to stay with them at Cheltenham and he stays with us for Punchestown and we enjoy each others company.

What about this weekend at Punchestown, potentially taking on Hurricane Run, Faugheen and Annie Power - How is the Champ?

Jezki iwill be running in the Morgiana, all things being well. There are six remaining but I don't know which ones they are - it could potentially be a super race. Jezki is in great form given it's the beginning of the year, and whatever he achieves he will improve on. He spent the summer at JP's and came back to me looking fantastic. He'll run here, at Christmas and in March, perhaps a fourth. (Hurricane Run is the sole entry for Willie Mullins in what should be a good opportunity for Jezki to pick up a Grade 1 and 48k - although race fit Little King Robin might keep him honest).

You have had lots of success on the flat again this summer, do to enjoy both sports in equal measure?

It's great to have good national hunt horses but it's equally nice to have good flat horses, i enjoy the flat; it's exciting. It's good to have the flat season because it means we can keep our staff all year round, I enjoy it. It slotted in when things were a bit tough over here during the recession. It's hard to keep National Hunt people because it's such a waiting game, you have to wait so long. You buy a horse at three and they might not run until five, but on the flat it's slightly different.

As one of the leading female trainers, what are the challenges that face women trying to succeed in the sport?

It's got a lot easier. When I first started training i was faced with a lot of questions about what I thought I was doing and why wasn't I at home looking after my children and husband. Nowadays there a lot more of us, and I think you just have to get out there and prove you're as good as anyone else. It's a results business so regardless of how well you train a horse, or manage a difficult one, it's all about results.

How has racing changed over the last 20 years?

It has changed and a lot of good things have come into racing. They have done a lot of work on the tracks and in the yards, improving safety and our amenities - but we could always do with more. We are now enjoying a minimum prize fund in each race so at least you're not running for 1200. The good thing about Irish racing is there is no place to hide, both on the flat and in National Hunt it's very competitive. It's no use keeping bad horses in Ireland as there are not many places to run them. I tell my owners you might win a race or two but the cost of keeping a moderate horse is the same as keeping a good one.

Is that the reason the Irish do so well?

Yes, the quality is very high. If you win a two year old maiden here, you have a listed horse. The standard is high, as seen by my filly who was third in the Prix Marcel Boussac and began the season winning an auction maiden in Roscommon and progressed from there to win a Group 3 and a listed race. I knew she was good, if she hadn't been good she wouldn't have won a maiden. It's the same over the obstacles; it's very hard to win a maiden hurdle or a beginners chase in Ireland, unless you have a proper horse.

Who do you admire most in racing?

Vincent O'Brien for the simple reason he did everything. He was the most amazing trainer who started over jumps, winning everything and then went on an won everything on the flat.

If you could change one thing about racing, what would it be?

Keep the prize money up. If it's good even for the ordinary races then it trickles down to the owners, the smaller trainers, the stable staff to everything. If you have bad prize money, nobody wins. we are getting the idea here in Ireland, I feel sorry for trainers in the UK.

What horse would you have loved to train, if you had your pick?

I think I would have loved to have trained Denman. A fantastic horse to train, a great big galloper and the fact he was such a great big horse and stayed sound made him exceptional.

What advice would you give a trainer starting out in their career?

Work hard.

Can you give us one to look out for?

TTebbob won a 3 mile maiden hurdle last year and finished third in his first race this season. He's bred to be a three mile chaser but I htink he'll be a nice 3 mile handicap hurdler this year. (Ttebbob is declared for Saturday's 12:30 at Punchestown at the five day stage, and could line up against the eagerly anticipated Daneking for Mullins/Ricci so might be a good price).

To Conclude

Cheltenham opens it's doors for three incredible days racing on Friday, and it's a weekend I look forward to immensely. It's easy to forget a lot of the top irish prospects will be on show over at Punchestown so if you're attending the West Country, I advise setting up the auld Sky Plus and making sure you catch up on the Irish action next week - don;t say you weren't told come March!

Jessica Harrington has had a good flat season and looks to be embarking on an exciting national hunt chapter with her stable star Jezki leading the charge. As the great trainer says, look out for any of hers winning a beginners chase, or maiden hurdle as they are likely to be very good. For all those who are heading to the races, I wish you great craic, serious banter and a pocket full of the bookies money come Sunday. We are launching 3 full days of Cheltenham on Fantasy Horse Predictor, with the card up the night before each day and some top racing from Punchestown to boot. Talking to Jessica kicked off my week with a bang, and I hope she has a tremendous season, with her horses staying safe and sound.



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Comments

  1. dvds2000's Avatar
    thank you for taking the time to post Michael
  2. Maruco's Avatar
    Another excellent blog Michael. Thanks.