Donn's Articles » Francis Casey

Francis Casey

There have been lots of good days and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.  There was the day that Sina Cova won the Noblesse Stakes at Cork and there was the day that Blessyourpinksox won the Dance Design Stakes at The Curragh, and there was Flemenstar.  Take your pick: the Irish Arkle, the Powers Gold Cup, the Fortria Chase, the John Durkan Chase.  Maybe the John Durkan Chase just shades it. 

But the best day, Francis Casey tells you, was Troytown Chase day 2010, the day that Jack The Bus won the Troytown Chase at Navan and Hello Bud won the Becher Chase at Aintree.  The Caseys didn’t train Hello Bud then, but they bred him, they won three point-to-points with him, and it was Francis’ late father Peter who recommended to owner Seamus Murphy that he send him to Britain.  The horse needed a distance of ground, went the reasoning, and there weren’t enough chases in Ireland run over a marathon trip.  Hello Bud was still owned by Seamus Murphy when he was trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies to win Becher Chase in 2010.

“We had some really good horses through the years,” says Francis Casey now.  “And we’ve had great owners, loyal owners, people like Seamus Murphy and Basil Brindley, and great days.  But there was no day in racing yet that was better than that day.  I went to Navan obviously, I watched Hello Bud winning the Becher Chase on the television, then an hour later, Jack The Bus won the Troytown.”

It’s not easy though, a small operation, competing with the behemoths of Irish racing.  Francis Casey trains six horses now, he tells you, a fraction of the number of sheep that he has, and he bred them all himself.  One of them is Max Flamingo, who goes to the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse tomorrow with a real chance of winning it.

“He’s very well,” says his trainer.  “We had him on the Old Vic (gallop at The Curragh) there the other day, and he went well.  Denis (O’Regan) was happy with him.  He found it hard to pull him up afterwards, the horse was so well in himself.”

Max Flamingo’s roots run deep into Casey family history.  Francis’ father Peter trained Max Flamingo’s grandam Flamingo Flower to win a point-to-point, then nursed her back from a career-threatening injury to win a bumper and a maiden hurdle.  Her daughter, Flaming’s Girl, didn’t race, but Flaming Girl’s daughter, Flamingo’s Court, is a winner over hurdles and over fences, and her son Max Flamingo is on a serious upward trajectory.

The initial intention was to sell the Kalanisi foal before he raced.  Francis took the young horse who would later be named Max Flamingo to Tattersalls in May 2018 as an unbroken, untried three-year-old, and led him around the sales ring, before leading him back out again, unsold at €14,000.

“When I took him back out of the ring,” he recalls, “I had a queue of lads there trying to buy him off me for eight or nine grand.  I just said to myself, lads, if you wanted to buy him, you should have bid for him in the ring, and I took him home.  I said I’d train him myself.”

Even so, the bills still had to be paid.

“I called the two lads, Peter McBride and Alexander (Lexi) Beatty, and they were great.  I told them that my wife would take a share and my mother would take a share, and that if they took a share each, we could kick on.  Things were tough, but I told them the story as I saw it.  I told them that I was looking for more than the horse was worth at the time, but that I thought that he would be worth more in time.”

After winning his maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in March last year, Max Flamingo went to the Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse the following month, 12 months ago, and won a good handicap hurdle.  It wasn’t until he finished third behind Gabynako on his chasing debut back at Fairyhouse last November, though, that Francis started to think Irish Grand National.

“He still has to prove that he can stay, but I think he will.  His pedigree is all National Hunt, Old Vic, Deep Run, Vulgan.  It’s all that stout, deep, National Hunt breeding.  He looked good over two miles and six furlongs at Thurles last time, but there is a chance that he could be even better over a marathon trip.”

Francis Casey’s roots with horses and in racing run deep too.  His parents bought him his first pony when he was four, and he was off.  He was showjumping immediately and he was racing his pony when he was five.  His dad Peter owned a few horses then, King’s Servant was the best of them and he always had one or two with John Murphy, until he decided to take out a licence himself and give it a go.  Francis was by his side throughout and, when Peter sadly passed away in January 2018, Francis took over the trainer’s licence.

“It’s not easy with a small team of horses.  I don’t really have any staff, but I have people who come in and help me out, and I owe them an awful lot.  If we happened to win on Monday, it would be for them, I would be delighted for them, and for my family.  I would owe it all to them.”

Max Flamingo has a real chance tomorrow too.   A progressive novice chaser, a seven-year-old who will carry just 10st 12lb, who won over hurdles at this meeting last year and who has run well twice over fences at Fairyhouse, he was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Thurles last month and he will have Denis O’Regan for company.  There are lots of positives.

“We have had our successes,” says Francis thoughtfully, “but you’re a slave to it, aren’t you?  You’re all in.  It’s toil and toll.  I’ll enjoy Monday though, or I’ll try to enjoy it.  I suppose it’s fairly special, to be going to the Irish Grand National with a horse who has a chance.”

It could be another good day.

© The Sunday Times, 17th April 2022