Donn's Articles » Kenny Alexander

Kenny Alexander

Edene D’Arc was Kenny Alexander’s first runner in Ireland.  Trained by Gordon Elliott, she ran well to finish third in a listed bumper at Limerick in April 2018.  The previous month, he had bought Sinoria at Cheltenham, and Henry de Bromhead was going to train the mare for him.  His ties with Ireland were strengthening.

Two weeks after Edene D’Arc ran at Limerick, the owner went to the Punchestown Festival.  There was a Goffs sale on after racing on the third day of the festival, there were 18 horses in the sale, but Henry de Bromhead only wanted to talk about one of them, a Sulamani mare called Honeysuckle who had won her point-to-point at Dromahane just four days earlier by 15 lengths.  The trainer showed the owner the mare’s pedigree, and he showed him a video of her point-to-point win. Convinced by the trainer’s enthusiasm, the owner figured, why not.  Let’s have a go at this.

Honeysuckle wasn’t cheap, but they didn’t expect that she would be cheap.  It’s not for nothing that they call it a boutique sale: the seven horses that were sold immediately before her all went for six figures.  They had to go to €110,000 before the gavel fell.

“Turns out, it was the best hundred grand I ever spent,” says Alexander now.  “We hoped that she would be good, but the road she has taken us on, we never dreamed that she would turn out to be the mare that she has become.”

That road started with a maiden hurdle win at Fairyhouse in November 2018, seven months after the Punchestown sale, and it is rolling on to God knows where.  Honeysuckle has never been beaten.  She has continually gone forward, one step at a time.  She has raced 10 times, once in a point-to-point and nine times over hurdles, and she has won 10 times.

“She is a horse of a lifetime.  And she has only missed one engagement in her life, the mares’ novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019, when she was just a little below par.  We could have gone, we could have taken a chance, but you can’t be going to Cheltenham if you are even slightly below your best, and it wouldn’t have been the best thing to do for the mare.”

Honeysuckle went to Fairyhouse a month later instead and, ridden as always by Rachael Blackmore, won the Grade 1 mares’ novices’ hurdle there, with Elfile, also racing in the blue and white Kenny Alexander colours, chasing her home.

“You start out, you’re going racing, you’re thinking, I’d love to own a horse,” says Alexander, whose passion for racing was ignited and fuelled by childhood trips to Ayr, his local racecourse.  “Then you get a horse and you’re thinking, I’d love to have a winner.  Then you have a winner and you’re thinking, I’d love to have one good enough to compete in the big races.  To run in a Grade 1.  To run at Cheltenham.  Then to win one.  Honeysuckle was my first Cheltenham Festival winner last March, and that was unbelievable.  I thought that it would be brilliant, and it was 10 times better than I thought it would be.”

After graduating from Glasgow University, he worked with Grant Thornton before moving to Sportingbet as financial controller.  From there, he took on the role as chief executive of GVC Holdings, then an Aim-listed minnow, and grew it into a global behemoth of the betting industry, worth almost £4.5 billion, following a series of acquisitions of high-profile names, including Sportingbet, Bwin and Ladbrokes Coral.  In July last year, he decided to step down as chief executive of GVC.

“I made the decision during lockdown,” he says.  “My family is in Scotland, and I had been commuting to London for 20 years.  Life’s too short.  I was missing things, family things, racing, because of work.  I didn’t get to go to see Honeysuckle winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last year.”

He has had horses in Britain since 2008, with Lucinda Russell, David Pipe, Nick Williams, Nicky Richards, but it is only since 2018 that he has had horses in training in Ireland. 

“I had a stud farm too, and I needed to pull it all together.  So I asked Peter Molony if he would do that for me.  He said, if you are going to have horses in Ireland, you need to have them with the best trainers, so we have our horses with Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead.”

He bought Blazing Tempo, the 2011 Galway Plate winner, after she had retired from racing, sent her to Presenting, and bred Blazing Emily, who was trained by Willie Mullins to win a bumper and a maiden hurdle.  He bred Carrie Des Champs, by Robin Des Champs out of Asturienne, and she was trained by Gordon Elliott to win six times. 

“I enjoy the breeding side of it too, but you have to be patient.  You have to be selective.  I will only breed from mares who are worth breeding from.”

It is not a coincidence that the Kenny Alexander silks are associated with high-class mares.  Honeysuckle, Minella Melody, Sinoria, Elfile.  Telmesomethinggirl won three times during the summer, and is on track for the Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival next Sunday.  The unbeaten Gauloise was due to run in the Solerina Hurdle at Fairyhouse yesterday, a race that Honeysuckle won in 2019 and which Minella Melody won last year, before the meeting was abandoned.  She holds an entry in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday, and she may take her chance in that before going to Cheltenham for the mares’ novices’ hurdle.

“Gauloise is an really nice mare.  She is probably the horse that I am most excited about after Honeysuckle.” 

Honeysuckle is very well and all set for her bid for back-to-back wins in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.  Only two horses have won back-to-back renewals of the race since the turn of the millennium: Istabraq and Hurricane Fly.

“Henry told me that she worked the other day,” says her owner, “and she worked great.  She is on track.  Depending on how she does there, that could determine her Cheltenham Festival target, try to win another Mares’ Hurdle or go for the Champion Hurdle.  For now though, our main focus is on Saturday.”

One step at a time.

© The Sunday Times, 31st January 2021