'I Was Dreading Doing That Interview All Week' – Big Day for Small Owner

Ladies Church | Racingfotos.com

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When you have a limited number of bullets to fire, you can't expect to hit the target too often, let alone on Irish Oaks day at the Curragh, but Ronan Fitzpatrick, racing manager to Mark Dobbin, sensed something special was in the offing on Saturday.

So much so, Fitzpatrick, full sure that either Cairde Go Deo (Fr) (Camelot {GB}) or Ladies Church (GB) (Churchill {Ire}) were going to do something special this weekend, had worked himself into a tizzy about doing a post-race interview with RTE's Brian Gleeson.

He needn't have fretted so much. Shortly after Ladies Church carried Dobbin's increasingly recognisable green silks to victory in the G2 Sapphire S. for Johnny Murtagh and Ben Coen, Fitzpatrick took to his media duties like a seasoned pro.

It was only after Cairde Go Deo earned Classic and Group 1 black type by rattling home for third in the Juddmonte Irish Oaks that Fitzpatrick could pause for breath but, even then, the achievements of his small but select owner had barely sunk in.

Fitzpatrick said, “I was dreading doing that interview with RTE all week. I said to my wife that, if they ask me, I am saying no. Brian Gleeson insisted so I'd no choice.

“I was expecting a big run from the fillies, more so from Cairde to be honest. Ladies Church was beaten in a handicap at Royal Ascot but Johnny said straight away afterwards that he'd aim her at the Sapphire and that she'd be better suited to a Group 2 than a handicap. I was thinking, 'how does that add up,' but he was right and I was wrong.”

An elated Fitzpatrick added, “I wasn't really expecting much from Ladies Church but Ger was really sweet on Cairde Go Deo. I was hoping that we'd be in the first three but then when Emily Upjohn (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) came out of the race yesterday I started to think it could happen for us.”

Dobbin, a native of County Down, who runs the Highline Construction company in New York, couldn't make it to the Curragh on Saturday. That's not to say he's not making his presence felt in Irish racing.

With a small but select approach to owning racehorses, he has quickly built up a talented team to go to war with, and the long-term dream of making the breakthrough at the highest level is fast becoming a reality.

Fitzpatrick explained, “I spoke to Mark and he's over the moon, he's absolutely delighted. When he got involved in racing back in 2017, he gave me a five-year plan, which was to win a Group 1 race within that time period. We have a Group 2 winner today and we have Group 1 and Classic black type now, so we're nearly there.

“He is from County Down and is big into his GAA. He was a very good footballer when he was in his early 20s and, when he went to New York, he captained them for five years.

“It was in 2017 when I got a phone call from a friend of his to say that he was interested in getting involved in horses. He asked me to get him a horse and luckily enough I had a store horse by Dubai Destination and I sold him that–didn't charge him enough, mind you! That horse turned out to do well for Joseph O'Brien.”

He added, “Mark's next idea was to buy foals. I went to the November Foal Sale at Goffs and, while he gave me a decent budget, I didn't buy anything for him. He was a bit annoyed about that and wanted me to go to Newmarket to buy a foal for him afterwards.

“I admired one particular bloodstock agent, Cathy Grassick, and always liked the horses that she bought, so I decided to give her a call. Cathy went to Newmarket and bought a New Approach (Ire) filly foal for 32,000gns and that turned out to be New York Girl (Ire) who won the G3 Weld Park S. here in 2019 before being sold.

“Cathy also bought a beautiful Champs Elysees (GB) filly, called Brook On Fifth (Ire), who won her maiden at the Curragh but got injured. So, from those two foals, Mark got two very smart horses and it took off from there.”

Fitzpatrick, whose late father John was a permit holder in Northern Ireland, enjoyed great days as an owner himself with Kempes (Ire) (Intikhab) before selling the horse to JP McManus.

Although there was a brief sabbatical when his brother Edward died in 1999, the self-labelled “small-time” estate agent returned to racing in 2005 and, through his association with Dobbin, has enjoyed some of his greatest days in the sport.

He said, “We spread them out between Ger Lyons, Johnny Murtagh and Joseph O'Brien and we also had a National Hunt filly, Lady Breffni (Ire) (Yeats {Ire}), who has done well with Willie Mullins. It's a very selective approach.”

Has there been a bad one?

“If there is a bad one, I usually blame the trainer! But, if we just stick to our plan and be selective–and Cathy has been a massive help–we can do well. I actually had a couple of question marks over Cairde Go Deo but Ger loved her so much that I said to go ahead and buy her. The same with Ladies Church, Johnny bought her for us as well, so sometimes trainers buy for us as well.”

He added, “Today has been an amazing day and hopefully there will be more to come. Johnny is always upbeat and he's looking at Group 1s for Ladies Church so maybe the Flying Five here on Irish Champions Weekend could suit. Ger absolutely loves Cairde. I've actually never seen a trainer love a horse as much as Ger loves Cairde. He thinks that she could be even better over further and may even be better next year. It's just an amazing team of people to be working with and it's great.”

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