Donn's Articles » Ben McElroy and Laughing Lashes

Ben McElroy and Laughing Lashes

Ben McElroy and Richie Galway were at Royal Ascot in June 2008, friends from college ploughing separate furrows in the racing industry, McElroy making his way in the world as a bloodstock agent, Galway managing most things at Punchestown racecourse.

A week earlier, McElroy had bought a filly for an American syndicate, Langs Lash, who was set to race in the Queen Mary Stakes. There was no major science to the purchase, she came up for sale, he liked the filly and he watched the videos of her two previous races. She had been impressive in winning her maiden at Folkestone and she had been drawn on the wrong side when she finished second in a listed race at York. McElroy watched her closely after they had crossed the line at York and noticed how strong she was, how rider Alan Munro had some difficulty pulling her up. Crucially, the price was right, and the deal was done.

Langs Lash won the Queen Mary that day. She made virtually all the running on the stands side and held on well to win by a neck and spring a 25/1 surprise, only it wasn’t a surprise to McElroy and Galway, and they decided then that they would put a syndicate together themselves and try to do something similar.

“We thought that we would get in touch with a few of our friends and see if they were interested in being involved,” recalls McElroy. “The plan was to buy fillies with a bit of a pedigree. We knew that the really well-bred fillies would be out of our price range, but they still needed to have enough of a pedigree so that, if they did do well on the track, they would be fairly valuable as broodmares.”

It wasn’t difficult getting the people together. David Cox, Eamonn McEvoy and Mark Sheridan, all fellow graduates of Writtle College, Pat Costello, Bates Newton and Gabriel Duignan, associates of McElroy’s in America, Gillian Walsh, Dick O’Sullivan. McElroy went to the Keeneland September sale that year armed with a few quid and a short wish list, and came home with a filly by the new American stallion Rock Hard Ten.

“I really liked her as an individual,” says McElroy, “and I liked Rock Hard Ten, a top class racehorse by Kris S who was a potentially high class stallion. Also, her half-sister, Mythical Border, had just finished third in the Flying Childers Stakes at Doncaster, and she was within out budget.”

Long Lashes – they kept the “Lash” name for luck – went into training with Jessica Harrington, and impressed in her early moves. She wasn’t EBF registered, and she was going so well at home that her trainer thought that she wouldn’t be out of place making her racecourse debut in the listed race at The Curragh on the Friday of Derby weekend. Not many people agreed, another 25/1 shot, another 25/1 winner, and the McElroy Syndicate were off to the best possible start.

“I went on holiday the day after,” says Ben, “and it was incredible, the phone constantly ringing with people wanting to buy her. Eventually we sold her to Sheikh Mohammed for a good price. She has done well for him so far, which is great, she won the Sweet Solera Stakes on her next run, and I think there is more to come from her this season.”

They were always going to re-invest, it was hardly even a point for discussion. They lost two members of the syndicate to personal reasons, and there was a clamber among other friends to get involved, but they decided to go again with the eight remaining members. McElroy went back to the Keeneland September Sale last year and bought Laughing Lashes.

“I was a little surprised that we were able to buy her as cheaply as we were,” he says, referring obviously to the days when $100,000 was cheap. “I thought she would make a little more, and we had a few quid more to spend on her. She was a lovely big scopey filly who was only going to improve. Look at her in the parade ring on Sunday, she’s at least 16.2hh.”

Laughing Lashes’s early days with the McElroy Syndicate were almost a carbon copy of Long Lashes’s, back to Jessica Harrington’s yard, impressing at home, racecourse debut on Derby weekend, an unconsidered 16/1 shot, only this time they just got beaten a short head by a once-raced filly of Aidan O’Brien’s, Wild Wind. She was second again to another Ballydoyle filly, Together, in a Group 3 contest at Leopardstown last month, but she improved markedly on that to win the Group 2 Debutante Stakes back at The Curragh three weeks ago, exacting her revenge on Together.

She wasn’t entered in today’s Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes initially, but she earned her place in the race by winning the Debutante Stakes, and she more than earned the supplementary entry fee.

It has been some year for Ben McElroy. As well as Laughing Lashes, he was also the person who spotted Pathfork’s potential as an unraced, untried yearling, and convinced Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton that they should pay £230,000 in order that he would race in their colours. Now Pathfork, also trained by Jessica Harrington, has won the only two races that he has contested, and is second favourite for next year’s 2000 Guineas and one of the most exciting juvenile colts in Europe.

McElroy joined Vinery in Kentucky in 1997 after he completed his Equine Science degree at Writtle, and quickly moved through the ranks, from stallion groom when he joined to yearling manager in 2001 to co-General Manager in 2005. In 2007, however, he decided that he would go it alone.

“It was a big risk at the time,” he says, “to start off looking for clients and without the backing of a large organisation like Vinery behind me, but it has gone well so far. This year has been fantastic.”

It could get even better this afternoon.

© The Sunday Times, 29th August 2010