Feane Ready For Next Level


John Feane with Not A Bad Oul Day | Racing Post

By Daithi Harvey


While not yet a household name among the Irish training ranks, John Feane achieved something quite noteworthy last year when he trained Not A Bad Oul Day (Ire) (Captain Rio {GB}) to win seven races in a season. If training the winning-most horse in Ireland was an achievement in itself, buying the 6-year-old gelding out of a claimer for only €5,000 before he kicked off the winning spree was even more impressive. Feane has only commenced his fifth year with a trainer’s license, but he has made a serious impression in his first four seasons and following 25 winners in Ireland last year he is well placed, with a team of around 50 horses, to build on that promise. While happy with his lot, Feane is ambitious and he has a hunger for winners that will stand the young trainer in good stead as he strives to climb the training ladder.

“I think we had 39 seconds last year, so if a few more of those had gone our way it could have been even better, but yeah we had a great year,” he said.

Feane never envisaged a life that did not involve horses and he credits his father Jimmy for providing a valuable early education in all things thoroughbred.

“My father was assistant manager to Stan Cosgrove at Moyglare Stud for 32 years and I spent all my summers and holidays from school with him there,” said Feane. “I then went to college and while there, I worked part time for Michael Halford.When I finished college, I went to work for Frances Crowley where I rode as an amateur for a while. After a few years, myself and my girlfriend Susan decided we’d branch out and start training ourselves.”

Feane is based at Hazelwood Stables, just opposite the six-furlong start at The Curragh Racecourse in a yard that belongs to his uncle, former Classic-winning jockey Declan Gillespie and having trained 12 winners in his debut season in 2014, he has firmly established himself as a trainer on the up. Like a lot of trainers starting off with limited budgets, Feane carved his reputation by winning with either cheaply bought yearlings or second hand horses sourced from HIT sales and it was the cheaply purchased Prince Connossieur (Ire) (Art Connoisseur {Ire}) who helped launch his career in 2014 when he won four times, including when bagging a premier handicap at The Curragh that autumn.

Recalled Feane, “He only cost €3,000 and won the prestigious Joe McGrath H. for us. He had a lot of training problems but he was very good to us.”

While winning with average horses proved Feane had the ability to get the best out of the raw material at his disposal, it doesn’t lay a particularly solid foundation for success in better class races, something the trainer is keen to start experiencing sooner rather than later.

“We started off going to the horses in training sales to pick up second hand horses that we could win a few handicaps with,” he said. “We are trying to get away from that formula now, even though it has been kind to us, but you need a better class of horse in the yard if you want to compete in the bigger races. We’ve proved we can train successfully so it’s all about improving the standard of horse in the yard. We got a good few more yearlings in last autumn so hopefully there’ll be a few decent ones among them. We have a nice filly by Slade Power and a smart looking colt by Dawn Approach, to identify a few.”

Feane knows that if some of these 2-year-olds win or get placed on their first few runs there is a good chance they could be continuing their careers overseas. He has already sold a couple to Hong Kong since he started training, including last year’s Gowran Park debut winner Bigwood (Ire) (Requinto {Ire}), and it is a similar fact of life for many trainers and indeed owners these days that when there is an offer on the table for a horse it can be hard to justify turning it down.

“That’s the great thing about Irish racing at the moment. It’s so competitive and the form is so strong that if you have a horse that can beat or finish close up to, for example, a Ballydoyle horse in a maiden, it’s suddenly very saleable,” he said. “It depends on the owner, sometimes they are sporting enough to keep them and have a bit of fun, do what they bought the horse originally for, but sometimes if there is enough on the table it’s very hard to say no.”

This business model has been the springboard for many successful trainers nowadays, Ger Lyons being an example, and Feane knows the bottom line counts in any business while he can also see the bigger picture when losing a horse as a result of a good sale.

“Ger Lyons is a great trainer and has excellent business sense and his model is one that young trainers should probably look at and consider implementing if they are capable of doing so,” he noted. “Last year we sold Bigwood to Hong Kong after he won his maiden first time out so while it was a pity to see him go, it made very good business sense. He was bred by his previous owner who still has the dam so I can look forward to training a nice 2-year-old brother to Bigwood this year.”

There is something in the psyche of Irish horse people that will always see a great many of them being traders more than end users and that is something Irish Thoroughbred Marketing hopes will aid them in a project they are hoping to roll out shortly. The ITM team have plans in place to stage barrier trials before racing at Dundalk in April in an effort to showcase unraced Irish 2-year-olds to the Asian market.

ITM’s Jeremy Greene is spearheading the initiative and explained, “We have two aims, firstly to help with preparing unraced horses before they debut in Ireland and secondly, to meet demand from overseas, Asia especially, for unraced but ready to go horses. The trials will be recorded and placed online with a view to being pitched overseas. Dundalk is ideal given the consistency of the surface and everything is in situ on a race-day and we hope to start on Apr. 18 with other dates in early May also possible.”

To be successful the project needs support from trainers and John Feane is one who is keen to get behind the concept. “It will be interesting to see how it pans out,” he said. “Obviously it is a system that works well in Australia, but it will need support from Irish trainers to work here. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t but it’s an initiative that is worth trying anyway and I’d like to try and support it.”

Feane has also embraced the rise in claiming races run in Ireland the last few years and along with one of his owners, James Mescall, is a big fan of the system which he thinks facilitates people getting involved in ownership, something that can only be a positive for racing.

“Not only are claiming races an ideal source for horses that could offer a quick return for an owner, they also provide good opportunities for older horses that may be in the grip of the handicapper to compete successfully,” he said. “I also think there is room for more claiming races in the current programme. At the end of the day owners love winners and if these races allow new owners to get involved with a horse that could be placed to win a race soon after, then it has to be good for the sport.”

The owners of Not A Bad Oul Day are a case in point. Claimed at Laytown in September 2016 with a rating of 58, the horse finished second on his first start for Feane and owner Daniel Lynch the following month. While it was four runs and the following spring before the horse won for his new connections, that victory opened the floodgates for the next six wins that followed over the following six months. Those wins yielded over €70,000 in prizemoney and saw the gelding rise over 30lbs in the handicap, all the while advertising the merits of the claiming system and the skills of his trainer.

In four seasons training, Feane’s horses have enjoyed a great strike rate on the Polytrack in Dundalk and are often towards the head of the betting in many of the premier handicaps throughout the year. While not wishing to sound too big for his own boots, the trainer is hoping to spread his wings this season and become a more regular player in pattern races and some of the bigger turf races.

“Dundalk has been great, we were the second leading trainer there behind Michael Halford last year, but the plan this year is to try and step up again and win some nice races on the grass,” said Feane. “We’ve got a good mix of horses between the old reliable campaigners and the new batch of juveniles and 3-year-olds that are coming through the ranks. We’ve also got great owners at the moment, they’re a pleasure to train for and we are beginning to attract a better quality of horse and that’s what you need to take it to the next level.”

While very much in the early stages of his training career Feane talks like a man who has been in the game a long time and has confidence in his own ability, something that is vital for someone who is keen to progress.

“I like training racehorses, it’s my life and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he concluded. “I think we’ve done well placing our horses so far and I think we’re knocking on the door.”

Feane has stated his intentions loud and clear and if there is a young Irish trainer destined to break into the top five in the coming years, it could well be him.

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