By Christina Bossinakis
Fresh off his first season as a licensed trainer, Dermot Magner has had the opportunity to do what many aspiring racing professionals can only dream of in this country, and that is to apprentice under two of the nation’s leading trainers. Since his arrival in the U.S. in 2012, the 39-year-old Irish horseman has done just that, serving as a foreman for seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher before becoming an assistant for the powerhouse operation of Chad Brown, who himself garnered Eclipse titles over the past three seasons. However, prior to that dream run, Magner developed the foundation of horsemanship in his own backyard, Rathkeale in Co. Limerick, Ireland. Bitten by the bug early, Magner’s passion for horses included a variety of disciplines, including point to point, steeplechase, in addition to a steady stream of buying and selling horses.
In Saturday’s opener at Aqueduct, Magner notched the fifth win of his young career when Win the Shake (Shakin It Up) captured a maiden special weight event by 4 3/4 lengths.
“Growing up, I’ve always been around horses,” Magner explained. “I always kept a few broodmares, had a pony for hunting, jumping, and it just kind of escalated from there. I became interested in racing when I was about 17.”
Among his early stops in racing, Magner worked for renowned Irish horseman Frank Berry at The Curragh before a stint with top steeplechase trainer Michael Hourigan.
“[Berry] was champion jockey in Ireland for many years and I got a great education there,” Magner said. “Not a lot about riding, but just general horsemanship and day-to-day work running a stable.”
Casting an eye beyond the Irish borders, Magner ventured to England for a short spell with one of Europe’s most recognizable conditioners, John Gosden.
“I’ve always been a great fan of John Gosden’s, so luckily, I got a chance to go to Newmarket for a couple of weeks. I have always been a great admirer of his and he’s probably one of the top trainers in the world. It was a brilliant experience.”
Following that heady ride, Magner decided to make the jump to the U.S. and joined Godolphin’s string–charged with developing the operation’s young stock–in Aiken, South Carolina.
“Horsemanship is horsemanship no matter what part of the world you’re in, but it’s a total different way of training over here,” explained Magner of his transition stateside. “You kind of bring your horsemanship skills, but you have to adjust. It’s a lot different here.”
It was during his time in Aiken that he made the acquaintance of longtime Maktoum family-trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, a former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Unable to take on the Irish import himself at that particular juncture, McLaughlin directed Magner to another former Lukas assistant, Todd Pletcher.
“You know, it was a huge eye-opener for me,” recalled Magner, who joined Pletcher shortly after the 2013 GI Kentucky Derby. “I’d never seen anything like that in my life. That amount of horses and people, it was just mind-blowing for the first couple of weeks. The vans came in with all these beautifully-bred babies, and we would have sets of 15, 16, 17 horses coming out [in the mornings]. It took a lot to get used to it, but it was pretty special to be there.”
A host of equine stars ascended to the highest level during Magner’s tenure with Team TAP, including GI Belmont S. champ Palace Malice (Curlin), GI Kentucky Oaks heroine Princess of Sylmar (Majestic Warrior), GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria (Tale of the Cat), GI Wood Memorial and GI Haskell scorer Verrazano (More Than Ready) and Competitive Edge (Super Saver), victorious in the GI Hopeful S.
“Horse after horse after horse, it was unbelievable,” recalled Magner of his time with Pletcher. “Just beautifully-bred, beautifully-trained, beautifully-conditioned horses. It was something special.”
After spending a trio of Saratoga summer meetings with the prolific operation, Magner decided to take his own experience to the next level and landed a position overseeing Chad Brown’s Monmouth division for the next two seasons.
“I think Chad is definitely one of the best trainers of fillies in the world,” affirmed Magner. “He’s won five [GI Breeders’ Cup] Juvenile Turf Fillies and four Filly & Mare Turf races. How he can get those fillies to peak and show up in the Breeders’ Cup–I think that’s just brilliant training and brilliant horsemanship. I think for me, that was one special thing that I took from his operation, how he strategically debuts these fillies late August, maybe early September, and then [targets races like] the Miss Grillo [Belmont], Jessamine [Keeneland] and then the Breeders’ Cup. For me, that was pretty special, just to see how that clicked.”
Student Becomes the Teacher…
Taking the next logical step to the training ranks early last year, Magner recorded his first victory with Hersh (Jimmy Creed) last August.
“We debuted him at Belmont [July 6], but probably didn’t have him a 100% ready,” he admitted. “He finished second, actually, to a nice colt of Chad’s. We shipped him to Saratoga, had a breeze up there, and when the condition book came out, there was a seven-eighths maiden on [GI] Whitney Day [Aug. 11], so we pointed him there. Lucky enough, he won, and it’s a great thing to win a race, and to do it on Whitney Day was pretty special.”
Currently, the Irishman has 10 head at Palm Meadows and another 12 at Belmont Park in New York and he is hopeful he can make some noise in 2019. Among his barn’s notables is Jacob Schnoor Jr’s Strong One (Dialed In), a runaway winner at Gulfstream Jan. 2. Magner is also high on Newtown Anner Stud’s She Takes Charge (Take Charge Indy), an impressive winner in her career debut at Aqueduct Dec. 23 before finishing third at that venue Jan. 26; unraced Safta (Dialed In), a $150,000 juvenile purchase at OBS last season; and Lutsky (Yes It’s True), campaigned by Down Neck Stables and Jeffrey Lutsky, a first-out winner for Jason Servis before joining Magner.
“We’re pretty excited to get him running,” said Magner of Lutsky. “He won a maiden at Belmont last year the right way, needed some time off, but he’s back here now. He’s training well, and maybe I’ll start him in an allowance at Gulfstream. But he looks pretty nice horse, and he’s pretty exciting to have.”
Already off to a solid start with a pair of victories under his belt early in the new year, Magner plans to build off that momentum through the ensuing season.
“Rolling into 2019, [the plan is] just to keep working and keep building up the string,” he said. “I guess we’re all looking for that one good horse that can make a career.”
While the search for that singular horse ensues, the saying ‘the best indicator of the future is what’s been done in the past’ appears to sum up what’s next for Magner.
“I always had a horse at the end of a chain,” acknowledged Magner.
And that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.