Early morning around the hills at Bellewstown racecourse last Saturday provided a diversion from the usual weekend demands of standing on a sideline watching football, hurling or soccer.
The destination was Rockview Stables, Fowlerstown for a Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) open day at John McConnell's training base that is located between Bellewstown and Stamullen.
The HRI initiative attracted enthusiasts to 28 training yards across the country with trainers opening their doors to the public as part of the inaugural National Racehorse Trainer Open Morning.
THE STAFF AND THE BOSS
“We are extremely pleased with the feedback with over 2,000 visitors attending yards spread across the country, it has certainly helped to raise the profile of racing nationwide,” stated HRI director of racing Jason Morris.
“The event was designed to allow people to look behind the scenes and to see for themselves the expert attention that racehorses receive and the dedication of those involved in caring for them.
“We are very grateful to the trainers who supported this initiative and we hope that this event will have encouraged people to become involved with them in the thrills of racehorse ownership,” he added.
For McConnell and his hard-working, friendly staff it was a busy morning as they completed their usual daily tasks and dealt with the questions posed by close to 100 members of the public who thoroughly enjoyed the occasion.
In training terms, McConnell made the transition from life as a vet based in Kildare to a stable of more than 50 horses at an impressive base close to Stamullen and the historic Bellewstown racecourse where he had his first winner in 2005.
The journey wasn't that straightforward and took a route through Monaghan, back to a training base at the Curragh where his monthly rent was €3,500 before landing at Fowlerstown, Stamullen in 2010.
“I'm from Kildare, but moved to Monaghan where I had a horse or two of my own, but nothing really serious from a racing perspective,” he told the Meath Chronicle.
“The man that supplied the feed for the horses asked me to train one for him and it developed slowly from there, it was for that owner that I had my first winner, Grand Lili in a novice hurdle at Bellewstown in June 2005.
“It got to the stage in Monaghan where I had 10 horses and had to make a decision so I made a move to Kildare and was paying rent for the yard there of €3,500 per month, that was aorund 2008 and it was tough going.
“That wasn't really something that could be sustained and then the move to Meath was on the cards as Mark (Kavanagh) had this place and we were in business together anyway, so it was the obvious choice.
THE FARRIER EXPLAINS THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING THE JOB PROPERLY
“I have around 50 horses at the moment spread across a number of owners, certainly the Gigginstown decision last week will not have any impact on me in the short-term anyway.
“If some of the Gigginstown trainers start trying to replace horses it may have an impact in the future.
“I like taking in horses and improving them, I also don't have any issue with going for the lower level races either here or in the UK.
“My owners just want to have some enjoyment, win a race or two, the standard of the race is not of major importance, it's just to get that winner for them.
“I had a winner at Punchestown this year, Pearl Of The West won a big handicap hurdle for owner Derek Kierans from Drogheda and for me that was a great result as it gave us some extra exposure that we wouldn't normally get.
“Crucially, I have good staff between full-time and part-time, they are all very young, but it's a good team and a happy working environment, that's important for everyone.
“This initiative by HRI with the open day for the public will be helpful in attracting new owners, it was a good day which people seemed to enjoy.
“We generated a few leads, time will tell, but it was certainly a worthwhile exercise,” he concluded.
Last season on the flat and over jumps McConnell sent out more than 20 Irish winners and he also enjoyed success in the UK.
WATCH SOME ACTION FROM THE MORNING