Welcome to a brand new post, this weekend I was lucky enough to be able to visit Fergal O’Brien at his brand new facilities at Ravenswell Farm very near to Cheltenham, so today’s post is going to be all about the morning we spent with Fergal and his team and a full interview with the man himself!
When we arrived we met with Simon, who we then stayed with for the rest of the morning, we then watched Ask A Honey Bee being washed down and put into the horsebox ready to go racing at Wetherby (where he later won). He was a really cool and calm character and it was lovely to see the team preparing a horse for the race, which is something behind the scenes that you never really get to see.
Simon then took us over to Fergal’s control tower to meet Fergal who explained a little bit about his new facilities to us. He currently has 70 acres of land, with a 4 furlong hill gallop and a plot where they are hoping to build a 3 furlong circle sand gallop once the ground isn’t as wet and they can actually dig it out. In August 2019 Fergal moved 10 horses to the new facilities and from then on, every time a horse raced they were moved back to the new place rather than going back to the old yard. Fergal only moved in fully in October 2019, which I found phenomenal. It was an incredible set up and the fact he had only been fully moved in for 3 months blew my mind. He currently has enough space for 70 horses with a further 10 still being built, plus living accommodation for the staff, Fergal’s office and an Owners room, which are being built above the 10 stables still being built.
Fergal took us out onto the gallops to watch the first lot of horses. Sal, Fergal’s partner, was with us and named all of the horses as they cantered past. (Fergal wasn’t so good at the naming of the horses). Fergal has some really great prospects. The last horse in the photos below is an unraced 4 year old by Kayf Tara nicknamed ‘Betty’ who looks like she’s going to be some horse. Great stamina, great speed and Sal said she is really impressed by what she has seen so far.
After watching the first lot we went back down to the stables to have a warm drink and meet some of the stable stars. Similar to other visits I have been on, the horses were all so calm and loving. There were a few grumpy horses who liked to have a bit of a bite, but the majority were so calm and happy for people to fuss them and cuddle them. You can really tell how well looked after these animals are.
We then went back up to the gallops to watch the second lot before returning back to the stables where we got to enjoy some cake. Is it really a visit to Fergal O’Brien’s yard without eating cake?
I was then lucky enough to have 10 minutes with Fergal to interview him before he shot off to Sandown where he had two runners. I asked him a bunch of questions, some from myself and some from my followers who had sent them in.
Me: With Cheltenham less than 6 weeks away what is your best chance? And what is your bet of the Festival? Any trainer, any horse.
Fergal: Envoi Allen would be my bet of the Festival, he looks very impressive, he’s unbeaten and has won at the Festival already so he’s got that experience. And our best chance… crickey that’s a difficult one. I suppose, you know, maybe Champagne Well. Erm, if he goes in one of the handicaps, I think he would struggle to win one of the novices so, I suppose Champagne Well.
Me: If you could train one horse from another stable at present, what horse would you choose?
Fergal: Ooo, a very difficult one again. Erm, crickey. I think Henderson’s horse that won last week… Was it Santini? You know, I think he… I love the way he travelled through the race, erm Twiston-Davies’ horse is a real good yard second, you know he kept coming back at it and he put it to bed very easily and it never looked in doubt to be fair.
Me: How supportive are other trainers with their experiences and advice?
Fergal: Oh, they’re pretty supportive. You know, you find these things out really when you’re going through a bad time, but they are, they’re pretty good. All trainers, you know this is a sport, it’s like football, you go up and down a little bit, so yeah, there are people you get on better with than others but yeah, on the whole we all want to see each other getting on okay, as long as they’re not doing too well.
Me: Why do you always seem to excel when you go to Cheltenham?
Fergal: Erm, I don’t know really. I think the track suits our horses, erm you know, some people put it down to the lack distance we have to travel, it’s literally down the road, it’s 7 miles from the yard here. The horses do run well here, it’s a good up hill finish and as you can see we train on a hill, so I think there isn’t one factor, there’s probably a number of little factors. Yeah, we just love going to Cheltenham.
Me: What is the end goal? Cheltenham Gold up, Grand National, Champion hurdle. What is the dream for you and the team?
Fergal: The dream is to stay solvent to be honest and not go bust. It’s a very difficult game this is, they’re all lovely dreams to have, a Grand National, you know, we’ve had a fourth in the Grand National with Alvarado, I haven’t had a Gold Cup runner yet or a Champion Hurdle runner yet, so I haven’t had them. But erm… It’s never really the dream, it’s what you hope they come along one day, but the dream is, you know, that I’ve got something to hand over to my children really, you know. That’s the main thing, is that there’s something here in twenty years time and if one of my girls want to do really. And just to make them proud of me and to have a business that’s viable and that people get a lot of fun. You can see this morning we’ve had plenty of owners here and that’s what I love, I love people coming and enjoying it and getting the most out of it. It’s an expensive hobby, whatever way you try and dress it up. You go on about prize money or whatever, it’s an expensive hobby. It is, for jumps racing especially, it’s people’s hobbies and it’s important you give people a nice time. You see this morning, there’s lots of nice ordinary people here, who have just got ordinary jobs, not all millionaires, but they own bits of horses and they get a lot of fun out of it and that’s what I enjoy. So, yeah, the end goal… It would be lovely to win any of those races, so I couldn’t pick one of those. But the end goal, the dream is that we are successful and we can keep going.
Me: Now it’s time for the nitty gritty, the serious stuff people really want to know the answers to. Lemon Drizzle or Carrot Cake?
Fergal: Definitely not carrot cake. You shouldn’t even put carrot and cake in the same sentence, it’s wrong in itself. I love lemon drizzle, one of my old owners, Jim Collett used to bring one from the WI every week when I was training the pointers, so yeah, lemon drizzle. Victoria sponge is my favourite, but definitely lemon drizzle over carrot cake, for sure.
Me: Who is the real brains behind the Twitter account?
Fergal: Oh, Doctor Simon Gilson who you met this morning. I would love to take the credit for it but he’s just so sharp. The picture of the couple proposing on Cleeve Hill last week just sums our sense of humour up, I thought it was hilarious but I wouldn’t be quick enough to think of it. Erm, it was obviously a person proposing to his girlfriend to get married and he turned that into it was some bloke trying to be for four days at the festival. So, you know, we got such great feedback from that, it was fantastic, but that’s because he’s just such a sharp man.
Me: Are you going to do another pub crawl?
Fergal: Again, that’s down to… I’m actually a teetotaler so I’ve never drank. I’ve probably been drunk four times in my life, I’ve never drank. So, again that was another great success, I think on the Friday they had about 22-25 people in the end and did about 7 or 8 pubs, so that was brilliant.
Me: Do you prefer a button up or a zip up cardigan?
Fergal: Oo, definitely a button. It’s not a cardigan, it’s a jumper if there’s a zip. I don’t know what it is but it’s definitely not a cardigan.
Me: Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit?
Fergal: I’m very lucky, in one of my owners was involved in this when it went to Parliament for VAT or whatever and it is a cake. 100%.
Me: You’ve got two at Sandown today, one at Wetherby, what’s your best chance?
Fergal: I think Ask Dillon has a good chance, especially each way at an each way price. I also like Ask A Honey Bee, he’s going for a third bumper which is a hard thing to do. There isn’t many horses can win three bumpers. He’s got a double penalty, but he’s got a very good lad on there Liam Harrison who takes 7 off who won on him last time, so he knows the horse, so fingers crossed.
I can now clarify, Fergal was correct with his predictions, Ask Dillon came second at 7/1 and Ask A Honey Bee won at 11/10F, so he definitely knows his horses!
I think overall, we had an amazing morning with Fergal and his team. I want to thank Simon in particular who was lovely, very knowledgeable and made us feel super welcome the whole time. Fergal is such a down to earth, honest person who was open to speak to anyone and answer any questions, so for that I want to say thank you to Fergal and the whole team. I also think it was lovely to hear Fergal say his only goal is to make his children proud and to leave them something in 20 years if they want to go into it. Most trainers want the fame and glory, but Fergal wants to enjoy what he’s doing and leave something for his children and if the success comes then that is just a bonus and I personally loved that about him.
I really hope you enjoyed this post and I will see you all soon for my next!
Thank you for reading.