Killenaule has been revelling in the achievements of Rachael Blackmore just as much as those of star hurler, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer in the Tipperary jersey in the past few years, and the elite jump jockey’s debut in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby today has certainly captured the imagination of her neighbours.
The south Tipp parish does have another dart to throw at the big one though and with all due respect to King Of The Throne, it does look more likely to hit the target though most observers are looking beyond both.
Since being bought as a yearling by Andy Slattery for Pat Garvey at the Goffs Orby Sale in October 2018 for €62,000, Sunchart has been educated and developed at Meadowview Stables in Cooldine.
Nobody was thinking about the Irish Derby at that juncture, because even though the Slattery operation was growing, he just wasn’t in the position to be mixing it at the top end because he could not afford the Classic-winning bloodlines.
Teofilo has produced an Irish Derby winner before however, appropriately enough as Trading Leather prevailed in 2013 for the man who stewarded the sire’s stunning champion two-year-old career before injury interrupted, Jim Bolger.
The odds compilers suggest it won’t be happening this time around but any proper perusal of the form book tells you that much stranger things have happened, particularly if it were to have rained in the last 24 hours.
That is the dream but Slattery is all about pragmatism and this is a business. Trading, buying and selling was how he and his brothers Willie and Brian became successful, off the back of their father always having a few horses around.
Andy and Willie were jump jockeys and they knew nothing else so this was how they were going to have to make their living.
Initially they produced future stars for the National Hunt game, with Faugheen their star pupil. No wonder Willie Mullins was a regular buyer and still is. Just because Slattery is more visible on the flat as a licensed trainer doesn’t mean they don’t have horses of all kinds at Meadowview.
Almost every resident is for sale, be that through point-to-points, breezers (unraced two-year-olds) or by compiling good form on the track.
While selling at a profit facilitates future investment in better quality models, the key to retaining that quality in the yard is a patron whose motivation is not making money, or even cutting his losses.
“It’s all down to Pat Garvey really” says Slattery. “He’s the one that lets the horses here. He doesn’t care about selling them. He just loves the horses.
“He was down at quarter to six in morning to be able to see Sunchart to his last piece of work the other morning. That’s what it means to him. So we’re thankful to him.
“Selling is in my DNA and we could sell this guy if Pat wanted to but he’s not in it for that. He’s in it for the sport.”
Willie Slattery Snr is still a regular around the place, having started it all with a handful of horses along with a few suckler cows on the 30 acres that passed as a farm. A former jockey, he harrows the gallops next to the family home and must derive tremendous pride in the evolution of what he started, and the primacy of the family that inhabit every bit of it.
Andy’s name is on the training licence but Willie and Brian are key members of the team, as is son Andrew, who was champion apprentice jockey last year, Willie’s son William and three other nephews, the Coen brothers Ben – who will get the leg up on Sunchart this evening – and Jake, and Adam Ryan, an amateur pilot.
Andy is the oldest of 10 siblings and he was still riding when he built the first set of stables. The seven units housed four subsequent bumper winners. He hung up the saddle, began training and Willie was the stable jockey. They were shooting for the moon.
Reality bit hard, however. There was considerably more money going out than coming in so it was time for a rethink.
“The first two horses we bought for breeze-ups, we gave €1200 for the two of them. We had the two of them in one stable together. They made €22,000. We bought five or six of them the next year.”
Grade 1-winning chaser and former Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen is the best known of their countless National Hunt protégés, while My Dream Boat was taught his job expertly before being moved on and winning the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Meanwhile, An Saighdiur, Creggs Pipes, Planchart, Ucanchoose and Sharjah all helped establish Meadowview as a yard capable of training winners in its own right, as well as providing well-prepared, talented stock to the market place.
Creggs Pipes supplied Slattery with his biggest winner to date as a conditioner, in the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Stakes at the Curragh three years ago. He chuckles at the memory.
“Evan Arkwright from the Curragh rang me saying there was going to be a small field, he was trying to get a few in for the race. He got me thinking. We wouldn’t have been in it only for him.”
They didn’t have to be invited to enter Sunchart in the Derby though. The Newsells Park Stud-bred colt confirmed the promise he had been showing at home when second on debut as a juvenile in a Listowel maiden last September.
The winner that day was Santiago, who had the benefit of significant previous experience and won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot last week. Santiago is favourite to give his trainer Aidan O’Brien a 14th triumph in tonight’s blue riband. The inexperienced rival who was just over a length behind on that occasion is available at 33/1.
Sunchart was a comfortable victor in Tipperary the following month and the form of that race has been boosted since but he did disappoint when failing to land a blow in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on his reappearance 18 days ago. Slattery is happy to ignore that however, pointing the finger of blame at himself.
“I’m not getting overly excited about this. I’d be very professional. I treat it like any race. I think when you go for these big races, if you treat ‘em like that you can make a lot of mistakes.
“I might have done it before Leopardstown with him actually because it was his first run of the season and I might have second-guessed myself. I might have given him a gallop more than he should have had.
“Before Leopardstown, a couple of gallop-watchers were looking up the (Old) Vic and they’d never seen a horse to come up like him. Maybe that gallop was the day when we went one too much and that should have been what he produced in the race.
“He was lame after Leopardstown as well and he missed a week. My nephew William rides him every day and he says he couldn’t be happier with him. He thinks he’s bouncing since he came back. Ben rode him his last piece of work and he was very happy with him.
“That day in Listowel, Santiago had run twice before that and it was my first time out so I came out of there saying, ‘That horse will never beat me again.’
“I’m very happy with him. Put a line through Leopardstown. I think he’s in great order.”
He is buoyant about the other representatives he has to go to war with this year.
“I have some nice horses and they should be competitive. Even in the strong maidens, we won’t be found wanting.
“We still do a few jumpers, point-to-pointers, flat, breezers – we have everything.”
Winning the marquee Classic would be a remarkable feat given the road travelled and would catapult him to another level completely. Slattery is optimistic and he doesn’t hold any concerns about the inexperience of his 19-year-old nephew on board.
“I have no fears about Ben. Ben is so cool. There’s no-one going to intimidate him, I’ll put it like that. He might even be the intimidator.
“At the start, we were putting our neck on the line to get him and Andrew up. Now of course the owners want to put them up. Ben and Andrew have ridden winners in the Magnier colours, Aga Khan’s, the Maktoum colours. So I have no fears on that score.
“The tactics will be up to Ben. Usually in the Derby, Ballydoyle goes a gallop to get something beaten but they probably think they have nothing to beat this year so it could be a messy affair. I don’t mind. If it’s a strong gallop, fine. If it’s a steady gallop we’ll change our tactic but I’ll leave that to Ben, where he feels the horse is comfortable. If they go very hard we can sit in and if they go steady we can ride forward.
“Where the horse is happy and comfortable through the race, that’s where Ben will be.”
That Derrinstown run has removed Sunchart from a lot of people’s calculations. Slattery, the ultimate no-bullshit merchant, couldn’t give a toss.
“There’s no pressure. I’d be very happy with the horse and I think if he runs to his potential, there might be a lot of other lads that aren’t happy.”
Make no mistake. He’s in it to win it.