Donn's Articles » Philip Reynolds

Philip Reynolds

Philip Reynolds is sitting in an armchair, talking about Presenting Percy, talking about Pat Kelly.

“I’ve called Pat a genius,” he is saying.  “And I don’t say that just because of what he has done with Percy or what he has done with Mall Dini.  I’m saying that off the back of how he is doing it.”

Pat Kelly has a very small yard of horses, the owner tells you.  Presenting Percy is the best horse in it, and Mall Dini is the second best.  He doesn’t have yardsticks, lots of good horses against whom others can be evaluated.  He doesn’t have GPS systems.  He doesn’t have heart monitors to measure his horses’ fitness levels.  He doesn’t own a smart phone.

He doesn’t have a gallop at home.  His training field is an ex-point-to-point field that his friend Gerry McGarry allows him use.  Actually, it’s two fields, joined together by two holes in the ditch. 

As the horses start to gallop, Gerry and his two friends Michael and John take up their positions at the posts that mark the gallop, one in each corner of the field(s).  As the horses go past, each man moves his post onto the fresh ground.  When the horses go past again, each man moves his post out another few yards.  The horses never gallop on used ground. 

When the horses are finished and are cooling down, the three men go around filling in the holes that the horses’ hooves have made.  By the time the horses are leaving, the men have it rolled, all ready for the next day.

Three Cheltenham Festival winners in three years.

You know how good a horse is by clocking the time that it takes him to get from one hole in the ditch to the other hole in the ditch.

“That’s why I call Pat Kelly a genius.”


Horse racing has always been a part of Philip Reynolds’ life.  As a young fellow, it was always about Galway.  The family’s summer holidays centred around the Galway Races.  When he and his six siblings were small, they would rent a house in Galway for the summer and they would go racing with their dad, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.  Galway, Roscommon, Kilbeggan.  The interest grew and developed.

Philip joined his dad’s business, C & D Foods, when he was 18, and he bought the business from him when he was 26.  They were turning over almost €100 million a year and had a staff of 500, when a fire in 2006 nearly devastated the company.  A hugely successful business in Edgeworthstown in County Longford, a massive employer.  It could have been calamitous for the local economy.

“That was a testing period, but thankfully we got back on our feet,” says Reynolds.  “We’ve re-built it and we’ve expanded it many times since.  We’re in nine countries across Europe and we have 1500 colleagues working for us.  We’re very proud of it.”

As well as an interest in racing, he also had a wider interest in horses.

“At a young age, I was into ponies.  I used to show and show jump ponies.  And, as I got older I always had a hunter or a show jumper around me.  I’ve hunted with the local hunts, and I’ve show jumped and I’ve done cross-country, and I’ve tried my hand at dressage.  I suppose the natural extension of that was that, when I got a few quid together, I would get into horse ownership.  And I’m delighted and privileged to be able to do so.”

It was through Jason Titley that Philip Reynolds first met Pat Kelly.  Titley, who rode two Galway Hurdle winners for Pat Kelly – Natalies Fancy in 1992 and No Tag in 1995 – was going out with Philip’s sister at the time, and he introduced the owner to the trainer late one night during the Galway Races in the basement of the Great Southern Hotel. 

A few years later, Reynolds met Pat Kelly at the races in Mallow, and asked him to keep an eye out for a horse for him.  It took Kelly two years to come back to him, but when he did, he told him that he had found three horses, all three at Tom Costello’s, and that he would be happy to train any one of the three for him.  Philip went down to see the horses and, out of the three, selected the Milan gelding out of the Glacial Storm mare that he would name Mall Dini and take to Cheltenham to win the Pertemps Final in 2016. 

At that stage, Presenting Percy had run just once, he had finished an encouraging second in a bumper at Punchestown six weeks earlier.  They didn’t know it at the time, but the Sir Percy gelding would go to Cheltenham the following year and emulate Mall Dini’s feat in winning the Pertemps Final.  Then he would go back there in 2018, win the RSA Chase and become the talk of the land.

“It unbelievable, really.  All our horses come back to us during the summer, I go out to them with Anne, and we can hardly believe it.  That, between the two horses, we are looking at three Cheltenham Festival winners.  In a field, at the house.” 

While Presenting Percy ran five times last season in the lead up to his RSA Chase win, this season, events have conspired in the lead up to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, to limit the number of times that he has run to one.  He won the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last month.  He hasn’t run over fences this season.  No horse since Easter Hero in 1929 has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup without running at least once over fences that season.

“The idea was that he would have two or three runs before Christmas, but what happened to us happened to just about every trainer, every owner in the country.  The ground just wouldn’t allow us to do that.  It was always on the agenda to go for the Galmoy Hurdle again, and it was great to win it again.  There was a special atmosphere at Gowran Park that day.  The reception that he got that day was incredible.  I still don’t understand it.”

That reception may pale by comparison to the reception that he will get if he wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday. 

“I know that Kim Scott will mind this horse as well as any horse will be minded.  She’ll travel over with him.  She practically sleeps with him.  I have a very very good jockey in Davy Russell who knows his way around Cheltenham.  And, Pat is very happy with the horse.  He was happy not to run him again after Gowran.”

Genius is patience.  Isaac Newton said that. 

© The Sunday Times, 10th March 2019