Donn's Articles » Peter Casey

Peter Casey

Junie Casey rarely goes racing on Sundays. The rest of the family usually go, so she stays back to look after things at home.

On the day that Flemenstar won the Arkle Chase at Leopardstown last January, she was out all morning looking after their sheep. She got back to the sitting room and switched on At The Races just in time to see their horse go clear of his rivals and win by 19 lengths. She couldn’t believe it, a Grade 1 race by 19 lengths. She turned the television off and quietly went back to the sheep.

As Junie watched from the sitting room, her husband Peter watched on the big screen from the parade ring at Leopardstown. He shared his wife’s sentiments of incredulity as he watched his horse jump the final fence and bound clear, but the difference between how husband’s sentiments and wife’s sentiments manifested themselves could hardly have been more stark.

As he left his spot on the rail in the parade ring and started to make his way towards the winner’s enclosure to welcome his horse back in, Casey saw Tracy Piggott walking towards him, broad grin on her face. He didn’t really take in the fact that she had a microphone in her hand, or that there was a camera pointing at them. He wasn’t really looking for a camera. He just saw Tracy’s friendly face and he reacted, caught in the headlights.

“I’ll have ******* sex tonight and everything. And I’m going away for a week.”

As post-race quotes go, it was up there with Mick Fitzgerald’s.

Junie’s phone provided the first hint that something unusual had happened. A couple of text messages first – what’s he after saying? – then phone calls from friends, then from acquaintances, then from the media.

The Casey house – ‘The Palace’, just outside Stamullen in County Meath – the following morning was a media frenzy. It could have been Cheltenham’s winner’s enclosure. Lads with microphones and dictaphones and cameras, a girl from the Sunday World dressed as a leprechaun. One lad walked into the kitchen carrying a parcel and, so friendly was he that Junie thought he was their new postman. He was a reporter from the Daily Mirror.

Then there was YouTube – a half a million views and counting – and there were the phone calls from the television stations. The Late Late Show wanted them, the Saturday Night Show wanted them. They went on the Saturday Night Show, simply because they asked them first.

“They were great,” says Peter, dipping his bread into the bowl of home-made soup that Junie has just put in front of him. “They put us up in a suite in the Radisson Hotel for the night and everything. We had sex that night as well, didn’t we Junie?”

Junie smiles the mortified smile/scowl/shrug of the woman who has been married to Peter Casey since she was a teenager. Times were tough when they moved in here first, no running water, no electricity. The electricity hadn’t managed to stretch this far into rural Ireland when they moved in. Think modern-day broadband.

The photographs on the wall don’t go back quite that far, but they go back far enough, and they confirm that Peter Casey is no one-horse-trainer. Photographs of Ireland’s Call, Cool Touch, Palace Star, Jack The Bus, Fingal Rock and their ilk dominate the wall behind the table.

Casey bred yesterday’s Becher Chase winner Hello Bud, trained him during the early part of his career and, when the horse turned nine, recommended to owner Seamus Murphy that he send him to England, where they had more long-distance races. No distance of ground was long enough for Hello Bud. Casey’s judgement has been well vindicated: Hello Bud has now won nine races in Britain, including a Southern Grand National, a Scottish Grand National and now two Becher Chases.

On the day that Hello Bud (trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies) won the Becher Chase at Aintree in November 2010, Casey sent out Jack The Bus, also owned by Seamus Murphy, to win the Troytown Chase at Navan. That was one of the good days.

Flemenstar has provided plenty more. Unbeaten in the last 12 months and six runs, he has simply progressed with every run, from a promising novice chaser this time last year to a point at which he is now one of the hottest steeplechasers in the country.

“We always thought an awful lot of him,” says Casey. “Ever since we got him, we thought he was a good horse, but he has improved again since he started jumping fences. People are always telling me how good a jumper he is.”

The quality of Flemenstar’s jumping was very much in evidence when he won the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last January, and again when he rounded off the season by winning the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse last April. On his debut this term, he beat the perennial that is Big Zeb in the Fortria Chase at Navan fairly comprehensively, and the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown today has always been the plan since.

“We’re happy with him,” says Peter’s son and assistant trainer Francis. “He did a nice piece of work with Andrew (Lynch) at The Curragh on Tuesday, and he popped over two fences. That should have put him spot on for Sunday. Tacky ground would be a worry for him, but he handles soft ground okay. It will be a hell of a race though. There probably won’t be many runners, but with Sir Des Champs and Rubi Light in it, it’s going to be very difficult.”

It can be difficult for a small trainer to get and to keep a top class horse, and there are plenty of stories around about how and when the son of Flemensfirth was nearly sold, including once when he didn’t make his (high) reserve at Tattersalls. But owner Stephen Curran – who trained his horse himself to win his point-to-point – is a long-standing owner with Peter Casey, and his loyalty has been rewarded in spades.

Casey is not thinking too far beyond today’s race, but push him a little and he will tell you Gold Cup, not Champion Chase. The owner’s desire to follow the Gold Cup trail is so strong that he didn’t even want the horse entered in the Dial-A-Bet Chase over two miles at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. Lexus Chase, Hennessy, Gold Cup. All going well, that’s the probable route.

That route begins today with the John Durkan Memorial Chase. It could be a fantastic day, and God knows what the night will bring.

© The Sunday Times, 9th December 2012