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Patrick Prendergast

Patrick Prendergast came to an age at which he had to ride out.  When you are the son of Paddy Prendergast and the grandson of the legendary Paddy ‘Darkie’ Prendergast, you inevitably arrive at an age at which you are expected to ride out, even if you would prefer to kick a ball than ride a horse.

“Riding out back then meant mucking out, tacking up, getting on a horse and walking him over to the gallop,” says Prendergast with a degree of circumspection.  “Then giving him to a jockey to ride work.  And taking the sweaty, mucky horse that the jockey had just ridden, bringing him back to the yard and washing him down.” 

On occasion, however, if circumstances allowed or if a jockey was not available, young Patrick was allowed to ride work.  That was the catalyst.

“The first time you canter on a racehorse.  It blows your mind.”

Patrick was very young when his grandfather passed away, but it doesn’t mean that, like most of the racing world, he is not in awe of what he achieved.  Darkie Prendergast was a standard-bearer for Irish racing.  A pioneer.  He trained the winners of 17 Irish Classics and was champion trainer in Ireland six times during the 1950s and 1960s, but his exploits in Britain pushed the bar even higher. 

“I’ve read so much about those days, and I’ve seen so many clips.  I’ve watched them so often, sometimes I feel like I was there.”

Patrick’s grandfather took the two-year-old The Pie King to Britain in 1953, and won the Coventry Stakes, the Richmond Stakes and the Gimcrack Stakes.  In 1960, he won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket with Martial.  In 1963, he won the Musidora Stakes and the Oaks with Noblesse and the King George, Great Voltigeur and St Leger with Ragusa, and was crowned champion trainer in Britain, the first Irish trainer to achieve that accolade.  And, aided by the exploits of Ragusa and Pourparler and Meadow Court, he was crowned champion trainer in Britain again in 1964 and in 1965. 

“When you think about it now,” says Patrick.  “Champion trainer in Britain back then.  It was some achievement.  My father talks about it.  And my uncle Kevin.  They were there.  They saw it.  Going over to England, the horses getting on CIE trains.  Going out to the North Wall and getting on boats.  And these hauliers over in England with these old wooden boxes, dragging the horses to York and Newmarket and all over the place.  And my grandfather was champion trainer in British three times.  It’s staggering.”

Young Patrick rode a few bumper winners, but he accepted from early that he was not going to make a living as a jockey.

“I was always a bit heavy, and I always knew that I really wasn’t good enough.  I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad I did it because, when you’re giving instructions to jockeys these days, you can remind yourself how ordinary you were!”

He travelled the world and gained experience.  He worked for Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger in Ireland and for Jean-Claude Rouget in France, before going to Newmarket, where he worked as assistant trainer, first to Ed Dunlop and then to Sir Michael Stoute.  Then he came back to Ireland to take over from his uncle John Muldoon at Strawhall Stables as pre-trainer for the behemoth Japanese operation Taiki Racing.

“I really enjoyed that, but when Mrs Akazawa became ill, they started to wind down the operation.  Dad had retired so I came over here to Melitta Lodge.  We didn’t have that many horses, but we decided that we would give it a go.”

He had nine winners in 2005, the highlight of which was Waterways’ victory in the Listed Marble Hill Stakes at The Curragh. 

“She was a lovely filly, owned by a great fellow, Pearse Gately.  She was a bit unlucky too, to come up against some really good horses.  She finished second to Rumplestiltskin in her next run after the Marble Hill, and Rumplestiltskin went on to win the Debutante Stakes and the Moyglare Stud Stakes and the Prix Marcel Boussac.  And Waterways was only beaten a neck by Dandy Man in another listed race at Tipperary.  She was a very good filly.”

There followed some fallow years for Prendergast.  A lot of his owners were hit be the recession, and he struggled.  In 2009, he had no winners.

Gradually, he consolidated and, with the support of a few good owners, most notably Rick Barnes of Grangecon Stud, he started to build his team back up.  He won the Flame Of Tara Stakes and the CL Weld Park Stakes in 2011 with Coral Wave, he won the Staffordsrown Stud Stakes in 2012 with Seolan and the Eyrefield Stakes with Sugar Boy.  Then, the following year he took Sugar Boy to Sandown and won the Classic Trial with him.  

Prendergast is on track for his best season ever this year.  He trains for some good owner/breeders, and he enjoys that.  Try to win your maiden, enhance the horse’s value, move up in grade, try to get some black type. 

He has his own standard-bearer this season in Skitter Scatter.  Owned by Anthony and Sonia Rogers of Airlie Stud, the Scat Daddy filly is small to observe, in the box that was occupied by Blue Wind – who won the Epsom Oaks and the Irish Oaks for Dermot Weld in 1981 – when Patrick’s father trained her as a two-year-old.  But she is sweet and she has a talent that runs deep.  And what she lacks in size, she makes up for in attitude. 

She beat Sergei Prokofiev and The Irish Rover in a maiden at Dundalk in April and, only just beaten by So Perfect in the Group 3 Grangecon Stud Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend, she stepped forward from that to win the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes at Leopardstown at the end of July.  Then, last time, she put up the best performance of her career to date when she ran out an impressive winner of the Group 2 Debutante Stakes.

“She keeps on surprising us.  She seems to be under-rated by the public, but she was under-rated by her trainer, so that is understandable.  We don’t do that much with her between races.  Sometimes she just goes out for a walk and a pick of grass.  We don’t need to do that much with her.  She’s such an honest filly.”

Next up for Skitter Scatter, all going well, is the Moyglare Stud Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend in two weeks’ time.  Her first venture into Group 1 company. 

She has earned her place in such exalted company, and she could continue to surprise. 


© The Sunday Times, 2nd September 2018