Donn's Articles » Mick Winters

The canteen at Cheltenham was quiet.  There were a few people in there, a small crowd, nothing like you would get at the Cheltenham Festival in March, or even at Cheltenham’s December meeting during normal times.  Covid restrictions dictate.

Mick Winters told the canteen staff that, if Chatham Street Lad happened to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup the following day, he’d be back to them.  And sure enough, the following evening, after the racing and the talking and the television interviews and all the shenanigans, true to his word, he returned with a crisp note for each one of them.

“It was actually the owner’s idea to go to Cheltenham,” confides Winters, deflecting the credit.  “I’d be more of a home bird, and there is plenty of prize money at home.  But the owner Vivian Healy had the race picked out for him from a little while ago.  He had the plan.”

Vivian Healy hails from Glenamoy in north County Mayo.  He and his brother Liam are big enthusiasts, and it is not a coincidence that Chatham Street Lad’s jockey Darragh O’Keeffe wore green silks with a red band.

“Watching the race,” says Winters.  “The way that he came down the hill, Darragh just sitting up on him there, up on his neck.  He reminded me of Tommy Carmody.”

Mick Winters had never trained a winner at Cheltenham before Chatham Street Lad won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup there last month, but he had been involved all right.  He had Monsignor as a young horse before the Mister Lord gelding joined Mark Pitman and won the Champion Bumper in 1999 and the Sun Alliance Hurdle in 2000.  He got a great kick out of those wins.  And Forpadydeplasterer was sold by Winters to Tom Cooper and The Goat Racing Syndicate before he won the 2009 Arkle Trophy.

It is the lot of the small trainer: you have to sell the good ones in order to keep cogs oiled and the wheels turning.  Every now and again though, you happen upon a good one that you keep.  For Bill was one of those, a high-class mare who was trained by Mick Winters for owner Donie Sheahan to win 11 of her 19 races, including two Grade 3 contests. 

“Donie Sheahan was born on the same day as The Queen,” says Winters.  “21st April 1926.  They exchange Christmas greetings every year.  I’d say there are not too many people alive today who were born on that day.  And if we do make it to Cheltenham this year, I’ll have a picture of Donie with his date of birth on it, and my intention is to give it to The Queen.”

Rebel Fitz was another, the Grimes Hurdle winner and subsequent Powers Gold Cup winner who instigated shoulder-high pandemonium when he won the Galway Hurdle in 2012.  And, of course, there was Missunited, who won the Galway Hurdle in 2013, the year after Rebel Fitz won it, then went to Goodwood the following year and, on Galway Plate day 2014, won the Lillie Langtry Stakes.

History tells you that, when he has one, Mick Winters can train a good one all right.  These days, he might have two.

“Chatham Street Lad was a big, plain-looking horse when Jimmy Gordon and I bought him at the Land Rover Sale.  We liked him a lot though.  He had an issue with his foot, so we were six months minding him, but he is a big horse, and he is maturing nicely now.”

The Beneficial gelding won two handicap hurdles last season, and he has won three of his five chases this season, improving by 33lb in the process according to the official handicapper.  Next up will be the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday.  He will have to concede weight to most if not all his rivals, and it is set to be a strong race, but he could be up to the challenge.

Sayce Gold is different.  Racing in the famous green and yellow quartered Trevor Hemmings colours, she won her point-to-point at Boulta in November 2019, and she has hit the track running this season.  She won her bumper in early November and she won her maiden hurdle nine days later, then went to Cork in early December and won a Grade 3 novices’ hurdle.

Winters and Trevor Hemmings go back years.  Hemmings’ Monymusk Farm borders Winters’ place in Kanturk in County Cork – Winters actually acquired eight and a half acres off him when he needed to expand – and Winters has trained a few home-bred mares for the owner through the years, but Sayce Gold is already the best of them.

“Trevor Hemmings is a humble man,” says Winters.  “A modest man.  And all three of his Aintree Grand National wins, he has celebrated them all in the The Vintage restaurant in Kanturk.”

Sayce Gold was beaten at Thurles just before Christmas, but Winters retains huge faith in his mare.

“That was her fourth run in six weeks.  She was in such good form, we decided to run her, but maybe it was just one run too many.  We’ve freshened her up now though, and she’s in great form.  We still don’t know how good she could be.  She’d remind you of Missunited in lots of ways, but she’s a faster lepper than Missunited was, and she could be even better over fences than over hurdles.”

Cogs well oiled now.  Wheels turning.

© The Sunday Times, 10th January 2021