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Ado McGuinness

Ado McGuinness lowers his binoculars as the horses draw closer and the sound of the hoof-thud grows.

You can’t mistake Saltonstall, distinguishing white blaze running down his face, long white socks on his near fore and his near hind, closest to you as you watch him grab the ground willingly and power past you and stride away from you.  Casanova on the far side of Saltonstall, Star Harbour and Pierre Lapin behind.

Ado looks at his assistant trainer Stephen Thorne.

“You’d have to be happy with that.”

And that’s only half the McGuinness team for the Colm Quinn BMW Mile, the feature race on Tuesday at the Galway Festival.  Add Spanish Tenor, Bowerman, Current Option, Sirjack Thomas.  We’ll see them later.

“You’d be happy with them all, wouldn’t you?” asks Stephen.  

It’s rhetorical.  

“You couldn’t separate them.”

This is the final part of the Galway preparation, boxed up in Lusk and off to The Curragh, up the Old Vic gallop for the final time before heading west next week.  It’s a methodology that works and, well, if it ain’t broke.

Ado McGuinness and the Colm Quinn Mile have history.  It was in 2019 that McGuinness won it for the first time, produced Saltonstall in the prime of his health to land the premier handicap.  Then he won it again with Saltonstall in 2020, and again with Sirjack Thomas last year.  Three wins in a row in one of the most competitive flat handicaps on the Irish racing calendar.  

“I was struggling to get a rider for Saltonstall three years ago,” says the trainer.  “Nobody wanted to ride him because he finished nearly last in the race the year before.  Colin (Keane) had a ride in it, and then Ger (Lyons) didn’t run his horse, so I got Colin.  And Colin was brilliant on him, as he always is, and off it went!”

The 2019 season was Saltonstall’s first season with Ado McGuinness.  The Pivotal gelding ran five times for his new trainer before the 2019 Galway Festival without winning, but McGuinness still travelled west that year with plenty of confidence.

“He was a very high-class horse, a couple of lads thought that he was a Derby horse at one stage.  He bled a little bit and, I suppose, if you have a bleeder, do you want to go to Galway with him?  Face that hill?  But we knew that our training facilities would suit him.  It took us a while to get used to him, we put a tongue-tie on him too, but he’s just a gorgeous horse.”

Ado watched the race on his own.  He always does.  From the same place.  Always the same place.  He’s superstitious like that.  After the race though, you can have as many people as you like.

“We were very vocal.  Ask anybody.  The lads who were over from England, they went crazy!”

It was emotional too.  Poignant.  Saltonstall was led into the winner’s enclosure by the late Bart O’Sullivan, who owned Saltonstall in partnership with the Dooley Brothers.

“Bart started it all off really.  He introduced me to the Dooley Brothers.  He was there, he was very ill, and to have him lead the horse in, I’ll never forget it.  He passed away three months later, but it was just a privilege to have him lead the horse in.  I always said that I always wanted to win that race, it was such an emotional day.”

Galway 2020 was as you were, 2019 all over again, in the sense that Saltonstall won the Colm Quinn BMW Mile but, in every other sense, the contrast could hardly have been more stark.  No people, Galway without the crowds, tumbleweed in the bookmakers’ ring and an echoing stand.  And, at around 6.50pm on the Tuesday evening, it echoed to Ado McGuinness’ voice.

It didn’t look likely as the field raced down the hill, just over three furlongs to run and Saltonstall was 14th or 15th of the 18 runners, and trapped along the inside rail.  But his rider Gavin Ryan didn’t panic, he allowed the horse make his ground along the inside before switching to his left on the crown of the home turn.  He still had about three lengths to make up on the leader Njord as they straightened up for home, but when Saltonstall got out and got rolling, he gobbled up the hill and hit the line with Njord.

Nobody knew who had won and, actually, deliberations over the photo finish lasted so long that a dead-heat looked inevitable.  Then, fully five and a half minutes after the horses had crossed the line, the result was announced: first number eight.  No crowd roar, just Ado McGuinness.  You could hear his voice echoing from the far side of the winner’s enclosure.  A friend told him that he heard his roars on the news that night.

“There weren’t many celebrations – there was nobody there to celebrate with!  There was no one in the hotel.  I was staying in Galway that week, and I had to go back and have a pint on my own.”

Last year was better, there weren’t full crowds, but at least some people were able to go, the owners were able to go, and that was important.  Saltonstall ran a big race last year, but he was left in front when his stable companion Spanish Tenor weakened, and it was his stable companion Sirjack Thomas, the third reserve, a 50/1 shot, who stayed on best of all under Mikey Sheehy to bring up the McGuinness hat-trick.

“It was brilliant.  It’s not an easy race to win, and it’s nice to have plenty of darts to throw at the board.”

This year, all going well, he will have seven or eight darts.

“We have a few new faces, and some of the old stalwarts as well.  They’re off nice marks.  They’ll all have good chances, they all go there in good form.”

More history beckons.

© The Sunday Times, 24th July 2022