Donn's Articles » Robbie McNamara
8th July 2016, Robbie McNamara had the day picked out before he ever had a horse here. He tells you about his reasoning matter-of-factly: you will only have your first runners as a trainer once, you will only have the publicity that your first day generates that one time. You need to make the most of that publicity, exploit the opportunity.
There were three maiden hurdles and a bumper at Cork on 8th July – it is unusual to have three maiden hurdles on the same card – and Robbie would be able to find horses for all four races. It presented a rare opportunity for the fledgling trainer to have four runners on one card, each with a chance of winning.
They interviewed him on At The Races that morning – there’s the publicity right there – and he was candid. Natural inclination might have been to play it down, say that he was hopeful, that it would be great to have one winner. It would have been easy to trot out the banal, to rely on the comfort that clichés provide, but he didn’t. All four had chances, he said. He would be disappointed if he didn’t have a winner, and he could have two or three.
“I only had four horses in the yard to run,” he says. “Dr Ronan Lambe sent me Call Vinnie, he had been in Dermot Weld’s. I rode him in a couple of bumpers. I got Chadic at the John Ferguson dispersal sale and I got Flush Or Bust out of Philip Hobbs’ yard. Rathcannon was the last horse I got, I got him from Michael Worcester just six or seven weeks before the day. That was tight, but I still had enough time to get him ready.”
He did the trainers’ course in May at RACE. Joseph O’Brien was on the same course. Two former top class riders, one flat, one National Hunt, both embarking on new careers as trainers. The young trainers discussed their plans, they talked about the importance of the first day. On Joseph’s first day with runners, 5th June, he had four winners.
“I thought that I would get nervous watching Chadic in the first race,” says Robbie, “but I didn’t. Conor (Brassil) gave him a lovely ride, he jumped the last in front and went and won. It was great, but I didn’t get that excited, I was just happy that he won. And it wasn’t job done, day over. I had three more runners.”
It was a brave decision to put young rider Conor Brassil up. He could have got a big-name rider, there were top riders at Cork on the day who didn’t have a ride in the opener. But Chadic can be tricky, and Conor rides him every day, Robbie figured. He knows him well. It was a decision that was borne out of confidence, and it was a decision that was rewarded by the ride that the 7lb claimer gave the horse.
“I thought that Chadic would be a 6/4 or 7/4 shot. I couldn’t believe that he was 12/1. Maybe it was just because he was my first runner.”
“Did you back him?”
“I did. Covered the feed bill for a couple of months.”
Flush Or Bust was beaten in the second race, the ground had just gone too soft for him, but Call Vinnie ran a cracker to finish second in the fourth, the three-mile maiden hurdle. Then, Rathcannon went out and won the bumper.
“None of it happened by chance. I always wanted to go training. It wasn’t that I was thinking, I’m after getting injured now, I may go and find something else to do, and decided to go training. Even if I hadn’t had my accident, I would have gone training. When I was in the hospital, it was all I was thinking about.”
There’s the first mention of the accident and the hospital. It was on 10th April 2015 that Robbie McNamara’s life changed. The fall from Bursledon in that handicap hurdle at Wexford was not an especially hard fall, it was the impact of the horse from behind that did it. It was like a juggernaut hitting you in the back, Robbie had said. He meant physically, but he could have meant metaphorically too.
Broken ribs, collapsed lung. For two hours, Robbie couldn’t breathe properly, he couldn’t get his lungs to expand. Even after he was moved to the Mater Hospital, the medics still feared for his life. He had to deal with the pain, he had to concentrate on survival before he could even start to contemplate the paralysis.
It is difficult to believe that the accident is just 15 months ago. So much has happened. It has been a remarkable journey. Racehorse trainer, yard on The Curragh, trainers’ course completed, licence attained, staff recruited, horses sourced, owners sourced, first runners, first winners. The fact that he has been able to get to this point so quickly is quite astonishing.
Galway was always a big week for McNamara as a rider. When you ride for Dermot Weld, Galway week is marked on your calendar as soon as you get it. Leading National Hunt rider at the meeting in 2010 and 2011, he is looking forward to going there as a trainer this week.
“Call Vinnie will probably run in the three-mile handicap hurdle on the Sunday,” he says. “He is in off 102 over hurdles, and that is a mark off which he should go well. Rogue Agent will be entered on Wednesday on Saturday, but I think we will wait for the maiden hurdle on Saturday, and I will be disappointed if he gets beaten.
“I have a lovely Arcano colt, unraced, Tenth Amendment is his name. He will be entered in maidens on Friday and Saturday. He is still a little raw, but he is forward enough to show himself in a good light. There’s something very sharp about him, but I don’t mind if he gets beaten, I want to mind him for next year. He’s going to be very good next year over middle distances.”
“Chadic goes for the Connacht Hotel Handicap on Monday. He was rated 100 at one stage, and he’s rated 81 now, so he’s more than capable of running in that. I’d be very disappointed if he doesn’t run a big race.
“I wouldn’t be as confident going to Galway was I was going to Cork, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended the week with no winners, but I’d be very surprised if they didn’t all run well.”
His wheelchair does not hold him back. On the contrary, it probably propels him forward. Last December he spoke about his plans to go training. He said that he would set up on The Curragh, that he knew how to use the gallops there, that he had spent enough time around top trainers, Dermot Weld, Willie Mullins, to know how he wanted to train. He had nothing in place then, but he said that he would have runners by the summer. So he had.
Four horses has quickly grown to 22, with three more arriving this week. This is a growing operation, run by a driven young man who has a definite plan and who has the confidence to pursue it.
© The Sunday Times, 24th July 2016