Donn's Articles » Pat Fahy

Pat Fahy

The Castlegrace Paddy story has deeper roots than you would think.  Ostensibly it starts when owner Steve Parkin called Pat Fahy in April 2016 and told him that they were looking at a horse at the Goffs horses-in-training sale at Punchestown, and that if they got him, he could have him to train.  If he liked him. 

But it runs deeper than that.

It was in 2011 that Fahy first met Steve Parkin, founder of the delivery business Clipper Logistics.  Introduced to him by Joe Foley of Ballyhane Stud, Parkin told Fahy that he wanted to have a horse trained by him, and so the Morning Assembly story began.  Bought for €15,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland August sale that year, Fahy trained the Shantou gelding to win the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle and the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase, and to finish third in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. 

But the Castlegrace Paddy story goes back even further.  Back to 2003 and Thunder Road, whom Fahy trained to win four races, a maiden hurdle and a handicap hurdle and two handicaps on the flat.  It all dovetailed at the Punchestown sale two years ago.

“All I had was a lot number,” recalls Fahy.  “Lot 16.  I went up to the sale and got the catalogue and saw the horse.  It was only then that I realised that he was out of Thunder Road.  Steve didn’t know the connection either.  It was just a coincidence that we had trained Castlegrace Paddy’s dam.”

Thunder Road was a good mare.  She won three in a row n 2005, and she probably should have won at the Galway Festival that year. 

“She injured her heel just before the race and she still finished second, beaten a neck, under a great ride from Ruby Walsh.  Declan McDonogh rode her to win a handicap at Ballinrobe in 2006.  That was the year that Declan was champion jockey.” 

Fahy liked Castlegrace Paddy when he saw him first.  He wasn’t perfect, he tells you.  You had to see through the flaws, but there was a lot to like about him as an individual.  He had only just been beaten in a point-to-point too five days before the sale.  The gavel fell at €75,000, and Pat Fahy had the Flemensfirth gelding home with him.

“I thought that he was good straight away.  His work here was very good.  We took him to Navan for a bumper that November, and we couldn’t see him beaten, but he was.  He was beaten 16 lengths.  He just didn’t finish off his race.”

Castlegrace Paddy was beaten in another bumper and in a maiden hurdle before he won his maiden hurdle at Gowran Park in March 2017. 

“He suffers from allergies, so we had to treat them.  He got beaten at Punchestown in April that year, he just cut out.  He was always a real steeplechaser though.  You’re just sitting waiting for him to go over fences.”

He embarked on his chasing career at Fairyhouse last December, and he won easily.  Then he went to Thurles in March, and he won again.  But he was well beaten by Footpad in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival last April.

“He was stepping up in class at Punchestown, but he didn’t run his race.  We think it was his allergies again, that they are worse in the spring when the pollen count is high.  But we are learning about them, we are able to treat them.”

That’s the difficult thing about training racehorses: the horses can’t talk, they can’t tell you what ails them.  You have to figure it out.  That’s a significant part of the art of racehorse training.  Understanding your horses.  Knowing that they are telling you.  Your experience helps, your horse sense, and you are all the while learning.

Pat Fahy does not run a behemoth training operation, but he has proven time and again that he can train a top class horse when he gets a top class horse to train.  He has been doing it for years too.  He won the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock with Nuaffe in 1995.  That’s almost 24 years ago. 

He won the Grade 1 Heineken Gold Cup the same year with Butches Boy.  He won the Grade 1 Durkan New Homes Chase in 2004 with Mariah Rollins.  He can do it on the flat too, as he proved with Ballybacka Lady, winner of the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud 1000 Guineas Trial in 2011.

And it’s hands on.  It’s a small team.  This evening, for example, after his dinner, Pat has an hour’s work to do with his mini digger on the gallops.  Just to be sure that everything is perfect for the horses in the morning. 

December has been a good month so far.  Dunvegan looked exiting on his seasonal debut at Fairyhouse last Saturday.  His jumping was good, and he came clear of his rivals to win his maiden hurdle impressively.  He is entered in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle at Naas next Sunday, and that looks like a good next step for him. 

Castlegrace Paddy made his debut this season in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork three weeks ago, and he won doing handsprings.  His task was simplified by the departure of favourite Great Field at the second fence, but Pat Fahy’s horse could not have been more impressive than he was in beating the rest of his rivals, good horses like Doctor Phoenix and Special Tiara.

“That was the plan.  We discussed it, Joe, Steve and myself, and we decided that we would start off in the Hilly Way and see how we go.  Once he got over the first two fences, you could relax a bit.  He settled into his rhythm nicely.  Paul (Townend) gave him a lovely ride.  Then I thought they were coming to him in the straight, but he came away again.  I hadn’t realised how easily he won though.  I was making my way down off the stands as he was coming up the run-in.  I thought he won by maybe six lengths.  I couldn’t believe it when I heard that he won by 16 lengths.”

After that, the obvious race for him was the Grade 1 Paddys Rewards Club Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival this Thursday.

“He’s stepping up in grade again, but he deserves to step up in grade.  I don’t think we’ll lack for pace.  I always thought that he had the pace of a flat horse.  We have had a clear run with him since Cork, and that’s all we can ask for.  Hopefully we continue to get a clear run with him.”

The story continues.

© The Sunday Times, 23rd December 2018