It is the morning after the day before but Owen Byrne is out on the track, giving the place the once over.
Tramore might have hosted one of its most successful New Year’s Day fixtures ever, with more than 5,000 people flowing through the turnstiles and a potential star, Al Boum Photo winning the listed Savills Chase, a contest that attracted Grade 1 victors and Gold Cup participants, past and most likely future.
But you don’t make progress by resting on your laurels and given that he is only in the job three months, having stepped into the shoes vacated by the institution that is Sue Phelan, Byrne’s focus is firmly on the future.
That said, he was delighted with the turnout and the action, as well as the fact that Tramore was able to put its best foot forward the first day of Racing TV’s coverage of the Irish scene.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with the crowds,” says Byrne. “The weather played its part, the quality of the racing was great. The first maiden hurdle was very good and obviously in the main race, the lowest-rated horse in it was 149, so we’re thrilled.
“I’m coming to Tramore 20 years and it’s a long, long time since I’ve seen the three stands packed, people on the grass in front of them watching the racing. It’s great.”
The Savills Chase had to be close to the strongest race ever run around Graun Hill.
“It was right up there. There was huge depth. Some of the horses maybe didn’t run up to par but Total Recall deserves to be in any race on his rating. Al Boum Photo is on the upgrade and will be heading for Cheltenham for sure you’d imagine.”
That trainers were willing to send quality, established and nascent, to Tramore is a testament to the improvements made at the track over the years, and to the fact that they were able to produce the soft ground trainers were crying out for, despite five consecutive days of drying.
“Paddy Graffin is our clerk of the course and Chris Shanahan our head groundsman and they have been instrumental in it all. Tramore is a very different place to what it was five or six years ago with the ground. Paddy and Chris introduced island fencing which seems to work very well here, there’s loads of room to run there. We’ve invested an awful lot of money and we’d fresh ground pretty much everywhere. We managed the track very well.
“We also invested a lot of money in the grass, the surface and the soil structure in the last number of years, getting the balance right and making sure we maximise everything.”
Having a Waterford trainer in Henry de Bromhead enjoying success on the double would have been very welcome among local backers and keeping the neighbours happy is very important to the management. It is a relationship that has always been fostered and will continue to do so.
“We had a number of local sponsors yesterday and one of them is Tramore Medical Clinic. Dr Dermot Nolan and Dr Austin Byrne are big racing supporters, they’re doctors on course sometimes. They wanted to support it and talking to them yesterday, the goodwill they get from their patients, seeing that they’re supporting the business here, is great.
“We had Savills Ireland down here again yesterday after they started sponsoring the chase last year and speaking with Angus Potterton, who’s their chief executive, he couldn’t get over the positive feedback they got from supporting a small local track. So it’s of paramount importance.”
Racing didn’t enter Owen Byrne’s orbit until his late teens, thanks to the broadening of experience that college inevitably brings.
The Dubliner went down the marketing road professionally and much like third level education, that can be an eclectic experience too.
So he travelled through a variety of avenues before landing on a job with Horse Racing Ireland as sponsorship manager providing marketing support in April 2017, working primarily on Irish Champions Weekend and the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival.
By now, he was a regular racehorse owner, having gotten involved first around 18 years ago. An Cathaoir Mor, who triumphed in the 2010 Irish Arkle, and his cleverly-named though less talented half-brother An Dearthair Og, both trained by de Bromhead were among those that carried his colours. He has participated in a number of syndicates too and recommends this route as a more affordable and very fun way to become involved in racehorse ownership.
Getting to work in the industry at last was where career and hobby aligned at last. That he only stayed 16 months was down purely to the fact that he got the Tramore job. Profession and passion made him an astute selection, though taking over the reins from Phelan must have been daunting.
“The groundwork that’s been laid by Sue and the directors is absolutely brilliant. Sue was here 19 years. It’s always been a course that’s been moving forward and we hope to continue that.”
There is plenty to look forward to.
“There’s been a huge capital investment on the racing side of things. We put in a €450,000 new stable yard so we’ll look to continue that but will be more focused on customer service for the punter. The toilet blocks badly need good facilities. We’re also looking at improving and building on what we have with our catering and bar offering. And then on the marketing side as well, getting the word out there about that.”
Enhancing the quality of the racing programme is also an ambition. More races of the calibre of the Savills Chase would prove the ultimate attraction.
“We’re very keen to do that and will do everything we can to achieve that, while having good race-day offerings as well. We’re a summer track primarily but our winter racing does attract good horses. We had Laurina last year win her maiden hurdle. This year we had Getaway Katie Mai win her maiden hurdle in December. Even the so-called industry days have shown themselves to have good races and we need to build on that.
“So things are great. There are always a few little issues to be sorted and to work on and we’ll look to keep doing that, to keep building.”