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Shay Barry

Shay Barry had never ridden Black Queen before John Kiely gave him the leg up on her in the parade ring at Ballybrit as they prepared for the 1998 Galway Hurdle.

The trainer told Barry not to be in any hurry on the Bob Back mare, take your time with her, it’s a long way from the home turn up the hill to the winning line.  So the rider got his mare nicely settled through the early stages of the race, towards the rear of the field.

Going past the stands first time with a circuit to run in that Galway Hurdle, 19 years ago now, Shay Barry looked through his legs to see what was behind him.  Nothing.  All he could see was green grass.

“I got a dream run around the inside the whole way,” recalls Shay Barry now, sitting on a bench in the courtyard surrounded by Curraghmore House in County Waterford, 2,500 acres of tranquility, from where he now trains his team of 30 horses. 

“I didn’t have to leave the rail until we went down into the dip on the run to the second last flight.  Fran Berry was in front on Tidjani around the home turn, he must have been about four lengths clear going to the last, but my filly flew home.  She winged the last and we caught him half way up the run-in.  That was some feeling.  To win the Galway Hurdle.  That was a big day.  It was a big week.”

Barry had plenty of big days as a jockey.  Rathgar Beau was brilliant.  He won lots of big races on Rathgar Beau, the Hilly Way Chase and the Red Mills Chase and the Clonmel Oil Chase, and if Dusty Sheehy’s horse had not been born into the same era as Moscow Flyer, one of the greatest ever two-mile chasers, he would have won lots more.  He did beat Moscow once though, in the Champion Chase at Punchestown in 2005.  He beat him by a nostril.  It was right that Rathgar Beau won a Grade 1 race.

Barry won other Grade 1s as a rider.  He won the Denny Gold Medal Chase in 1998 on His Song, he won the Stayers’ Hurdle at the 2003 Punchestown Festival on Holy Orders.  He got some kick out of riding those winners.  Even so, he always said that he would know when it was time to hang up his boots, and that, when it was, he would relish the challenge that training racehorses presented.

“I loved riding when I was riding,” he says.  “I’d have ridden out through the wall there.  But my attitude probably changed when I had that bad fall at Killarney.”

That was in August 2010, he was going down to the final fence in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase on Hairy Molly with every chance of winning, when his horse got the fence wrong and crashed to the floor.  Poor Hairy Molly was fatally injured and Barry was rushed to Kerry General Hospital. 

“I shattered my coccyx bone and I broke my pelvis.  The horse landed on top of me and I heard a crunch, I thought my back was gone.  Lying on the ground, I couldn’t feel my legs.  And I’ll never forget the pain.”

They actually discharged him from hospital that evening.  They sent him home, told him to have a hot bath.  After a sleepless night in agony – there was only so much that the morphine could do – he called Tadhg O’Sullivan in Whitfield Clinic, who looked at the x-ray again and diagnosed a fractured pelvis.  Barry was on the flat of his back for two months.

He went back riding all right, but the wheels of training were whirring in the background.

“I always said that, when I wasn’t enjoying riding any more, I would stop.  And I remember going to Wexford one day for three rides, and none of them finished.  I drove home that day, and I said that I would never put on a set of colours again.”

He started training at his own place at Kilmeaden with a few point-to-pointers initially, then a few for the track, before moving to Owning.  Then before the start of the 2015/16 season, he moved here to the scenic surrounds of Curraghmore House, home to the 9th Marquis of Waterford.

“I knew Lord Waterford from hunting, so it was great to be able to move here.  It’s brilliant to be able to train horses from here, it’s so peaceful, and the surroundings are unbelievable, the facilities, the gallops.  Most importantly though, the horses are happy here.  That’s key.”

Barry had 13 winners from just 90 runners during his first season here.  This season so far, he has had four winners from just 35 runners, and he is looking forward to Galway this week where, all going well, he has real contenders for both the Hurdle and the Plate in After Rain and Bentelimar respectively.

“Hopefully After Rain will get into the Hurdle,” he says thoughtfully.  “He needs a few to come out.  As long as he does get in, he has a good chance.  He ran well in big handicap hurdles at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, and the stiff finish at Galway should suit him.”

Bentelimar was a good hurdler, but his trainer has always been dying to go chasing with him.

“He won nicely at Wexford in June after a break.  The two miles at Wexford then three weeks ago was probably too sharp for him, but we wanted to get another run into him before the Plate.  He’s very well and on track.”

Chestnut Brave could go in the handicap hurdle on Wednesday, Thats Mypresenting could go, Abraham has a few options on the flat and over hurdles.  It could be another big week.


© The Sunday Times, 30th July 2017