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Paul Flynn

Paul Flynn thought that Moon Dice would win at Limerick in early May. His horse hadn’t run since he had finished sixth in a novices’ hurdle at Fairyhouse six months previously, but that was inconsequential. The trainer knew from his homework that he was an improved horse, a stronger horse than he had been the previous season. He was well-backed for the Limerick race, despite the impost of 11st 12lb, and he won like a well-backed horse should win.

The trainer was impressed, the owners were impressed, and the punters who backed him were impressed, but the problem was that the handicapper was also impressed. A 15lb hike for winning a fairly run of the mill handicap under 11st 12lb was fairly harsh on the face of it but, given the authority with which Moon Devil had prevailed, you couldn’t really have argued.

“I suppose you always think the handicapper is being harsh when he puts you up,” says Flynn. “I entered him in another race at Gowran Park after that, but then I thought, he had been raised so much that he should get into the Galway Hurdle. If he had gone and won at Gowran, he would have gone up another couple of pounds, so I figured, why not try to win the Galway Hurdle instead?”

In reality, however, Flynn didn’t really think that he could win it. He thought his horse would run well, but he never really thought that he could land the most valuable handicap hurdle on the racing calendar.

“It was a strange race,” recalls the trainer. “He was in the van the whole way, and nothing seemed to be able to get into it from too far back. It was almost like just an ordinary hurdle race, not a Galway Hurdle. They didn’t seem to be going that fast early on, but my fellow is like that. Even when you’re riding him, you don’t think you are going that fast, he has such a good cruising speed, he does it so easily. Even so, I was gobsmacked when he won.”

It was Flynn’s biggest and most important win by far as a trainer. Based in Colehill in County Longford – like Fiji, not really a racing stronghold – he runs a small but tight operation, full with 20 horses. Winning the Galway Hurdle was great for his profile, but it didn’t result in any more horses coming through the gate, simply because there was room for no more.

“In one way, I’d love to have a bigger place,” he says, “but in another, I’m very happy running a tight operation. We know our owners now, and they know us, they all pay regularly and it works well. And I’m the leading trainer in the county.”

Even before the Galway Hurdle, however, Flynn was no stranger to big-race success. As a rider, he rode the Philip Hobbs-trained What’s Up Boys to win the Coral Cup at the 2000 Cheltenham Festival, just getting up on the line to catch Barry Geraghty on Native Dara. Then, a year and a half later, he rode the same horse to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.

“It was great riding What’s Up Boys to win those big races,” he says, “and riding Supreme Prince to win the Vodafone Gold Cup, but Philip Hobbs did all the hard work. I just got up on them and steered them. I enjoyed being a jockey, it was good craic, I think it suited me. You just get off them when your finished riding them, they are someone else’s responsibility then. It was much easier than training them.”

A bad injury to his elbow eventually ended his riding career. It was never really the plan to go training, but horses was all he knew, so he started off with a permit, and that gradually evolved into a full trainer’s licence. He had his first runner, Bronte Bay, at Gowran Park in April 2007, and moved on. He won the valuable Arthur’s Day Handicap at the Galway Festival in 2009 with Drunken Sailor, who won four more handicaps besides, and he has sent out Archie Boy to win seven chases and a handicap hurdle.

Never averse to bringing a horse over to the UK, and with winners at nine different tracks in the UK in the last five years, Flynn has brought his Galway Hurdle hero Moon Dice over to contest the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham this evening.

“I think he’s even stronger now than he was when he won at Galway,” says the trainer thoughtfully. “He had a gallop at Leopardstown last Sunday, and I was delighted with him. He is fresh and well, and he loves good ground so, as long as there is no rain at Cheltenham, I’m very hopeful. I’d be delighted if he finished in the first four, but I’d be disappointed if he didn’t.”

Ironic that Moon Dice and Pateese, who is trained by Flynn’s ex-boss Philip Hobbs, are vying for favouritism at the top of the market.

“If we beat him,” says Flynn mischievously, “I’ll give him a bit of a dig for sure. If he beats us though, I think I’ll just stay quiet.”

© The Sunday Times, 13th November 2011