Donn's Articles » Brian Duffy

Brian Duffy

Brian Duffy had two runners at Galway on Tuesday, and he decided that he would travel them in two different horse boxes.  His dad Frankie led the way with Magic Chegaga, and he followed, Mean Fomhair’s chauffeur.  A mini convoy heading west.

It is about 170 kilometres from Trim to Galway, so they set off early, just after midday, first engagement at 6.40pm, give themselves time, make their way steadily across the country on the M6 with no stress, no time pressure.  They had just gone through Kinnegad, about 30 kilometres from home, when Frankie Duffy pulled in, his engine over-heating, stopped to add coolant, but that was just a plaster on a bigger problem.  Ten kilometres later, and Frankie Duffy had to pull in again, his dashboard lighting up like Times Square.

“We ended up pulling into the car park of the church in Milltownpass,” says Brian.  “I thought that we were in Rochfortbridge, but we hadn’t even got that far.  We were able to take the horses out though, walk them around the car park.  There was a lady there outside the parochial house watching us, she must have been a bit bemused by the whole thing.  But we couldn’t go on with the two horseboxes.  We had leave one of them there, put the two horses in together and take our chances.”

Mean Fomhair can be a bit ‘nippy’.  She travelled to Leopardstown last October with Plume Noire, in the same box, they got stuck in traffic on the M50 and she had a bit of a nip at her travelling companion.  That was the reason for the separate conveyances in the first place for the journey to Galway.  But Mean Fomhair was as good as gold on Tuesday.  No hold-ups from Miltownpass to Galway, no congestion.  Mean Fomhair was happy when she was moving forward, and they made it to Ballybrit in plenty of time.  

There was a buzz around Galway that started as soon as they arrived and grew in intensity as the afternoon progressed.  It reached its zenith when Brian Duffy walked into the parade ring before the 6.40 race, the Colm Quinn BMW Mile, the traditional feature race on the second day of the Galway Festival and one of the most competitive handicaps on the Irish flat racing calendar.

Usually at Galway, Brian tells you, he feels the buzz all right, but he is on the outside looking in.  On Tuesday, he was on the inside, literally, in the parade ring, in the middle of the buzz, legging Colin Keane up on one of the fancied horses in the feature. 

“It was great to get Colin to ride her,” he says.  “Colin is obviously top class, you won’t get a better jockey, and our families go way back.  Colin’s father Gerry has been a good friend of my father’s for years.  So Magic Chegaga is trained in Meath, ridden by a Meathman and owned by Meathmen!”

It is not a coincidence that the Magic Lads Syndicate’s colours are green with yellow check, as close as they could get to the 1988 Meath jersey.

It was through Mark Flanagan that the initial contact with Richie Walsh of the Magic Lads Syndicate was made.  Mark, a former jockey himself, works with Brian, rides out with Brian, led Magic Chegaga up at Galway on Tuesday.  Brian had seen that Magic Chegaga was coming up for sale at the mares’ sale at Goffs in February 2021, and he thought that she could suit the syndicate.  The sale was on-line, most things were on-line in February 2021, which meant that Brian didn’t have to break stride in his day job with a customs clearance house.  He was on his lunch break when the filly came up for sale.

The story has deeper roots too, because Brian Duffy was working with Moyglare Stud when Magic Chegaga was born there.  He loved her as a foal and as a yearling.

“I used to talk to Pat Farrell, the Moyglare stalwart, about her,” recalls Brian.  “Pat loved her too, there was something about her, so it was brilliant to be able to buy her and then train her for the lads.”

Winner of her maiden for Dermot Weld as a three-year-old, Brian Duffy didn’t train the filly initially after he bought her for €12,500 at the Goffs February Sale.  He didn’t have a licence to train at the time, so the filly went to Tom Gibney and, on her first run for him, for her new owners, she won a handicap at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend.

“Tom did a fantastic job with her,” says Brian.  “And then, when I got my permit, I was obviously delighted when the lads decided to let her stay here.  We’re just a small operation, I’m up early to do the horses in the morning before I start my real job, so it’s brilliant to have a horse like her.”

When he says small, he means four horses.  When Mean Fomhair joined Magic Chegaga in the horse box at Miltownpass on the road to Galway on Tuesday afternoon, Brian Duffy had half his string on the M6.  And gradually, the enormity of the task hit home.

“I didn’t watch the race live,” he says.  “Not really.  I caught glimpses of it through the crowd.  I was in the parade ring, and I saw the start on the big screen, but then I walked away.  I could hear the commentary, I knew that she was going well.  I was in knots.”

He looked up at the big screen again as they were racing down the hill, but then he looked away.  

“I couldn’t watch.  I didn’t look up again until they were almost at the winning line.  It was like slow motion, Casanova coming at her on the outside.  But I knew then that she was going to hold on.  It was surreal really.  Like a dream. Real trainers are used to it I’m sure, but it was all new to me.  It’s like a dream.”

They picked the horsebox up in Milltownpass on the way home.

© The Sunday Times, 31st July 2022