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Ado McGuinness

Ado McGuinness had never had a runner at Longchamp before.  He had never been to Longchamp before.  He went racing there last Saturday, the day before A Case Of You’s date with the Prix de l’Ababye, and he was blown away.  Fabulous.  If Carlsberg did racecourses, he says.

Sunday was different.  A spectator on Saturday, a player on Sunday.  Nervous?  Absolutely, but good nervous.  Nervous because you’re involved, nervous because you’re there, in a Group 1 race, with a genuine chance.  That’s McGuinness’ way.  You only go if you have a real chance of winning.  When A Case Of You ran in the Flying Five at The Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend last month, finishing second, he was the trainer’s first ever runner in a Group 1 race in Ireland.

“It’s so hard to get a Group 1 horse,” he says.  “Every flat trainer wants to have a Group 1 horse.  We were delighted with A Case Of You at The Curragh, we would have settled for second before the race, but then you’re thinking, is that our chance gone?  Was that our one shot at a Group 1 win?”

Longchamp is unusual in that the five-furlong track, the Prix de l’Abbaye track, runs along the back straight, not the home straight, so the winning post is a long way from the stands.  McGuinness stood in the stands with his wife Hazel and watched through his binoculars.  A Case Of You was away smartly and settled nicely for Ronan Whelan, just behind the leaders.  He came under a ride on the run to the two-furlong marker and, by the time he had got out and into full flight, the leader Air De Valse had skipped clear.

“I thought that the bird had flown.  I thought that the leader was too far clear.  But that’s Ronan Whelan for you.  He’s a world class rider.  He didn’t panic and he didn’t give up.  He just kept going forward.”

About three lengths behind Air De Valse as they raced inside the final 200 metres, A Case Of You gobbled up the ground and the deficit.  Under maximum encouragement from his rider physically and from his trainer vocally from the far side of the racecourse, he joined the leader as the two horses hit the line together.

“I didn’t know,” says Ado.  “I couldn’t tell if we were up or not.  I didn’t know what to do, where to look.  I don’t have a word of French!  Then the result appeared on the screen.  That was unreal.  Then the cheering.  The feeling.  I can’t describe that feeling.”

He tries.  Best feeling in the world.  Best moment of his career.  A Group 1 win.  And to do it at Longchamp on Arc de Triomphe day, one of the biggest days in the world of horse racing.

“And it was emotional,” he says.  “For me, for Hazel, for everyone.  Ian Brennan who led the horse in.  Ronan’s face, when he came back.  Tears in his eyes.  For the horse’s owner Gary Devlin.  And the reception we got when we came back to the winner’s enclosure, on the way to the winner’s enclosure.  There were lots of Irish people at Longchamp, and they were brilliant.  We had a good night in Paris on Sunday night and we were probably a little the worse for wear on Monday morning!”

He landed in Dublin on Monday morning and drove straight to Tipperary, where he had two runners in the Group 3 Concorde Stakes.  There’s the work ethic.  He drove the box to Thurles himself on Thursday morning with two horses.  On Thursday evening he was out washing the horse box.  On Friday morning he was up feeding and doing the gallops.

Twenty years to become an overnight success, they say, and it’s all of that.  It was in 2004 that McGuinness won the Imperial Cup at Sandown with Victram.  The world has changed for the north County Dublin trainer since then, it was all National Hunt back then, and there have been tough times in the interim, but the work is being rewarded now.  It has been some journey so far.  Thirty-nine winners this season is a career-high, and the season isn’t over yet.

“We work hard and we have been lucky.  The late Bart O’Sullivan was brilliant to us.  I just met him on the beach in Lusk.  He got involved in a syndicate with us, and it was Bart who introduced us to the Dooley brothers, who own all those horses, Current Option and Saltonstall and Sirjack Thomas.  My wife does all the books, my cousin Stephen Thorne, my assistant trainer, does so much work on the sourcing of horses, in running the syndicate Shamrock Thoroughbreds.”

Everything that is earned goes back in.  New facilities, new gallops, and the beach is just down the road, the best natural equine spa.  Therapy for horses, physical and mental.  A couple of days on the beach, and a horse can come back refreshed, reinvigorated.

“We couldn’t go to Newmarket and give 200 grand for a horse,” says the trainer.  “We are always looking for value, horses who have ability who might be under-priced for some reason.  Saltonstall cost €44,000, Sirjack Thomas cost 60,000 guineas.  We were underbidders for Bowerman and, when the buyers rejected him because he bled, we were happy to have him.  He has won a Group 3 for us, and an Irish Lincoln, and he won the Group 2 race in Qatar last February.”

A Case Of You was a private purchase, but he wasn’t expensive, not now anyway.  A Group 3 winner for John McConnell last year, and now a Group 1 winner for Ado McGuinness.  There were yearlings at Newmarket this week who were making multiples of what he cost, the trainer tells you.  And it may be that he is only getting going.  The Prix de l’Abbaye is a win-and-you’re-in race for the Breeders’ Cup and, all being well, the Hot Streak colt’s next destination is Del Mar.  Where the turf meets the surf.  At least he’ll feel at home by the sea.

“I’ve never been to America before.”

The journey continues.

© The Sunday Times, 10th October 2021