Back in 2009, John Connery, a farmer from Aglish, Co Waterford decided to act on a longstanding plan.
Now in his early 60s, he made a decision to ease back on his workload and invest in a racehorse. Thus began an adventure that would bring huge joy during the final years of his life. John lost his battle with cancer in September 2014 but the adventure continues, carried on by his three sons, Pádraig, Kieran and Niall, their mother Mary, uncle PJ and his son Brian.
Together they are the Connery Family Syndicate.
The latest chapter of this tale will unfold at Killarney today when Here For The Craic bids for glory in the At The Races Kingdom Gold Cup Handicap. John’s absence will be felt but his family will enjoy themselves and dare to dream.
“It’s a pity he didn’t survive a bit longer to enjoy more of these days but by us enjoying them, he’d be happy that we are,” Pádraig says.
“My dad worked really, really hard as a farmer. When we were kids, we probably never got a chance to spend time with him because he was always working so it was probably through the horses that we reconnected that social time together.
“He left Here For The Craic to his three sons and had said to us before he died about syndicating out the horse if we so wished. So Here For The Craic was divided out six ways. We felt that by bringing everyone on board, it kept the family together, it kept my father’s memory alive, a few of the first cousins became involved and we went from five or six going to races to 10, 12 or 14 going to the races. We’ve had some great days out.”
That they most certainly have. The success of John’s first purchase, a mare called Thynetocatcher gave the family the bug.
“In 2011, she won her point-to-point in Dungarvan, went from Dungarvan to Gowran to a bumper, won in Gowran and went from Gowran straight to Aintree for the listed bumper,” Pádraig recalls.
“So in the space of two months she went from running in a Dungarvan bumper to the Aintree Grand National meeting. She went on later that year to win at Navan. It was that success that got all of us in with him.”
Purchase number two was Here For The Craic, bought at the Land Rover Sale in 2010, an event John attended with his friend Michael Long. The horse is trained by Ken Budds, a nephew of Long’s.
The early signs were less than positive.
“As a youngster, he was troublesome,” Pádraig recalls. “He had a few setbacks and a few injuries and his temperament wasn’t great.”
Things improved a little but the big breakthrough came last year when Budds suggested running Here For The Craic on the Flat. It proved at inspired call. Here For The Craic finished second in four of his five efforts on the Flat before finally getting his head in front at Gowran Park in September.
Six runs this year have led to three placed finishes, most recently at the Galway Festival where the nine-year-old chased home Ivan Grozny.
That was emotional, coming at a venue where the family had enjoyed their last racing day as a family shortly before John’s death.
“Even though he was sick, the horse was running in Galway and the man put on such a brave face. He went to Galway when he probably should have been in hospital. It was our last proper day at the races together.
“Even though the horse didn’t win, it didn’t matter — it was our last day, all of us together at the races from what he had started. That’s why it was nice to go back to Galway this year and run respectably.”
John didn’t live to see his third and final purchase run but he did name her, albeit inadvertently.
“Before my father died, he brought Miss Eyecatcher as a three-year-old but he never got to see her running. That’s how she got the name. The last time he saw her he said to the trainer, Roger McGrath, she’s an eye catcher so he essentially named her for us but we didn’t realise it at the time.”
Two bumper wins in Tipperary in May suggest she might just be the best of the three.
“People say we’re lucky owners but maybe my dad was just an exceptional judge of horses,” Pádraig says. “Perhaps it’s a bit of both.”
As for today, the Connerys will travel with hope to Killarney.
“On the form of Galway, we feel he deserves his chance. He won’t be around forever so he deserves to run in a few big ones. We’re dreamers so we may as well keep dreaming.”
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