Donn's Articles » Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith


Matthew Smith knew that One Cool Poet was well in the lead up to Galway.  The trainer knew that he had his horse in good form.  But to win three times?  You couldn’t have dreamt it.

The book of entries that the Urban Poet gelding had for Galway week was testament to his versatility.  A handicap hurdle on Monday, a beginners’ chase on Tuesday, flat handicaps on Tuesday and Thursday.

The plan was to run him in the handicap hurdle on the Monday evening and go from there, but he didn’t get into Monday’s race.  He was balloted out.  If he had got in on Monday, he wouldn’t have run in the handicap on Tuesday.  Call it Fate, call it happenstance.

“It just all worked out,” says Smith.

The trainer thought that he would get Billy Lee to ride him.  He had seen Billy Lee win on Early Call at Navan a couple of weeks earlier, and he liked how he rode him.  Patiently, delay your effort until deep inside the final furlong, just how One Cool Poet likes to be ridden.

He called Lee’s agent Kevin O’Ryan to ask if the rider was available.  His agent wasn’t sure.  He had other options in the race for his rider.  A one-mile handicap?  For a horse who had won over a mile and a half on the flat and who had finished second in a beginners’ chase over two and a half miles?  In the end, he was happy to trust the trainer’s judgement.

There was no real pressure on Matthew Smith on Tuesday evening.  No pressure from the owners.  They were hopeful.  No pressure on One Cool Poet, no pressure on Billy Lee.  Ride him how you find him, just don’t hit the front too soon.

Horse and rider gelled.  Well back in the field early on and no better than seventh or eighth as they started to turn for home, One Cool Poet cut through his field and loomed up on the outside as they raced past the furlong pole.  He moved into second place behind Ross Coakley on Emphatic as the furlong marker flashed past, but still the rider sat.  Don’t hit the front too soon.  It wasn’t until the winning post was in sight, until there was barely enough time to make the ground that they needed to make that Lee asked his horse for maximum effort, and One Cool Poet delivered.  He hit the front strides from the line and won by a neck.

“It was unbelievable,” says Smith.  “To win at Galway like that.  We knew that One Cool Poet had the talent, he had been frustrating, he just needed things to fall right for him.  It was brilliant.  It was brilliant for the owners.”

The owners are Paul Devery, Ollie Ryan, John Flanagan and Shay Gillen.  That’s the DRFG Partnership for you, an Offaly-centric partnership.  One Cool Poet’s last run before Galway was in a beginners’ chase at Tipperary on the Sunday that Shane Lowry won The Open.  They were hoping for a famous Offaly double.  The fact that One Cool Poet came up a half a length short that day was forgotten on Tuesday.

“It was difficult to leave Galway on Tuesday evening.”

But Smith left all right.  The consummate professional.  He was driving the horse box himself, and his horse took priority.  He had One Cool Poet back home in Kilmessan in County Meath on Tuesday night, happy and satiated and in good form.

“The plan was to run him again in the one-and-a-half-mile handicap on the Saturday.  But it didn’t look like he was going to get into that, he needed 17 horses above him on the ballot to come out, so we thought that, as long as he was okay, we’d run him again on Thursday instead.”

The horse was well, so he was back in Galway on Thursday.  He had to carry a 6lb penalty for Tuesday’s win, but you could have argued that the longer distance of Thursday’s race would suit him better.

“The lads were a bit quieter on Thursday than they had been on Tuesday evening!  But, again, there was no pressure on anybody.  We had our win in the bag.  Anything more would be a bonus.”

With Billy Lee back on board, One Cool Poet won again on Thursday.  And he was better on Thursday.  There was no semblance of slowing or stopping or thinking that he had done enough once he got to the front.  Again, Lee delivered him late, but not heart-stopping-late.  He hit the front 100 yards from home this time, and he powered on to win by a length and a half.

“There was a big difference in the horse on Thursday.  It must be a confidence thing.  He obviously enjoyed Tuesday.  In the winner’s enclosure and people patting him and all the attention and all the cameras.  They know all right.  The good horses know when they are good.”

Matthew Smith knows too when he has a good horse.  His first good one was Rawnaq, whom he trained to win the Grade 2 Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan and to finish third in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and in the Brown Advisory Plate at the Cheltenham Festival.

He thought when he got him that One Cool Poet could turn out to be his best horse ever.  Winner of a handicap at Limerick when he was with Arthur Moore, he was impressing Smith at home, and he wasn’t far off a run when a tendon injury set him back.  With the help of the owners’ patience, and the care and attention afforded to him by his breeders, Caroline and Donal Brazil, he got him back and got him racing again in January last year.

One Cool Poet ran some good races in defeat in the interim, but he hadn’t managed to win, not for Smith.  Twenty runs and no wins.  And now look.

He got into Saturday’s race all right.  He sneaked in, number 17 on the ballot. Smith felt the pressure on Saturday.  Self-imposed.  With the history of it and all that.  Only one horse – Busted Tycoon in 2013 – had won three times at the same Galway Festival, and no horse had won three times on the flat.

One Cool Poet was even better on Saturday than he had been on Tuesday or Thursday.  He had to carry a double penalty, he had 12lb more to carry than he would have had if he hadn’t won on Tuesday or on Thursday, but it didn’t matter.  He burst clear and won by five lengths.

That’s how it all worked out.

© The Sunday Times, 11th August 2019