Irishman Hore Is Derby Dreaming Again

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Charlatan is among the favourites for the Kentucky Derby | Coady

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Most Irishmen that go to Kentucky didn’t plan to stay there.

And yet, the story seems to be ripped from a template that is repeatedly recycled: they knew someone working on a farm there and decided to go for six months to a year. And then made it another year. Then 10 or 20 more. Many end up staying their whole lives.

Dr. Michael Hore may have followed a well-trodden path from his birthplace in County Wexford to Lexington, but in the ensuing 15 years he has set himself apart as one of the Thoroughbred industry’s most renowned veterinary surgeons with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. And while he serves an admittedly privileged list of clients, it would be hard to look past the buying team of SF Bloodstock and its partners as being among the tops. The group controls three of the best colts of their generation in the recent GI Arkansas Derby winner Charlatan (Speightstown), unbeaten GII San Felipe S. winner Authentic (Into Mischief) and six-length GI American Pharoah S. winner Eight Rings (Empire Maker), and Dr. Hore was a key member of the selection team that left all three colts on the shortlist at Keeneland September two years ago, and Justify on the list two years before that.

Unshakably humble, Dr. Hore is quick to insist that he is privileged to be able to learn from the SF team, and he credits the opportunities of his adopted homeland for putting him in the position to work alongside them.

“People will say, ‘you have the best veterinarians in Kentucky,'” Dr. Hore said. “But I think Kentucky makes the best veterinarians because there is so much here and you get so proficient and confident by seeing the things day in and day out that would take you years to see somewhere else.

“When I came here initially, the first thing you notice is that the caseload is so big and you learn so fast and you really build confidence even after several months of being an intern, staying up all night with colics, dystocias, fractures-you name it. You see so much and it’s a very steep learning curve early on but you develop great confidence. Even to this day the volume of cases here is so large that you never stop learning.”

Dr. Hore has been with Hagyard since graduating from University of College Dublin in 2004, but his informal education in the equine world began long before his formal one; he grew up working alongside his siblings at his family’s Wexford farm.

“We were a big family-four boys and a girl and my parents,” Dr. Hore said. “From an early age we didn’t have much of a choice other than to be out on the farm, and it was mainly National Hunt racing that we dealt with when I was younger. My brother has developed some flat mares in the last 10 years or so but when I was a kid it was all jumps racing. That’s what got me hooked early on, was being involved on the family farm, learning how to ride and going hunting and racing. My dad did some pre-training and I was involved with that, too.”

In another development not uncommon among the Irish, Dr. Hore decided at an early age that he wanted to carve out a career with horses, and around age 16 he set his sights on the veterinary field. He was accepted into the veterinary medicine program at the University College Dublin, and in the midst of his studies he decided to take the opportunity to broaden his horizons.

“When I was in my third or fourth year of vet college I wanted to travel more,” Dr. Hore recalled. “A friend and I decided we’d come to Kentucky; we had a couple connections here, family friends working on farms. We came out to travel America and we spent some time in Kentucky, Virginia and New York. I spent a month in Kentucky on the farms, especially Castleton Lyons where I worked as a student on a J-1 visa. It was there where I met a few people who turned out to be mentors, mainly [Hagyard’s] Dr. Spirito, and once he found out I was in vet school he told me, ‘when you graduate, why don’t you come back and apply for an internship?'”

A year later, Dr. Hore was back in Lexington for an internship with Hagyard.

“I came out for what I thought was going to be a year,” he said. “The year went by and I decided I’d ask them if I could stay for another year, so that turned into two years. I never had any great plans that I was going to stay here but after a couple of years I started developing some clients of my own and started developing friendships around here. It was easy to stay every year and I got the green card sorted out after a couple years, and that helped my decision to stay here as long as I was happy here. Every year my business kept growing and growing and I’ve had great support from loyal clients and fellow Irish people. It’s been a good ride.”

While Dr. Hore said the Irish community was a major factor in his feeling welcome initially in Kentucky, it was a childhood friend that was responsible for his entering the SF fold.

“Tom Ryan and I and my older brothers went to boarding school together,” Dr. Hore said. “It’s a small world that we ended up living in the same town, but that’s how my connection with SF started. For the last 10-plus years I’ve been working with Tom and that group as their vet at the sales helping them buy horses. They’re great people and great to work for.”

If engaging in conversation with Dr. Hore long enough, one will find that it is impossible to trick him into taking any kind of credit, either.

“These guys are the best at what they do and for me, it’s sometimes a learning experience to look at a horse and look for what they see when they put it on my list,” he said. “It’s great to be working for these people and to be able to learn from them.”

While the likes of Charlatan and Authentic are among the leading pretenders for this year’s Triple Crown, they still have plenty of progress to make to measure up to the accomplishments of another horse purchased by the SF team, China Horse Club and WinStar: Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy). While Dr. Hore is often referenced as one of the only vets to have ‘passed’ Justify as a yearling, he said it isn’t about whether an individual meets or doesn’t meet a certain standard, but at what level the client is willing to roll the dice.

“I don’t use the term pass or fail, and most vets that I work with don’t,” he said. “It’s really more of a risk analysis of what your client is comfortable with. The people I work for tend to have a high risk tolerance and it makes my job somewhat easier. I think we’ve learned over the years, certainly as long as I’ve been doing this, that with a lot of stuff we see especially at a yearling and foal age, it’s hard to predict what affect it will have on their future as a racehorse.”

While Dr. Hore admitted it is “certainly exciting” to be associated with Grade I winners and generational leaders, he was quick to point out that it is rewarding seeing his clients succeed at all levels.

“No matter who I work for, if it’s the smallest guy or the biggest guy, I love seeing their enjoyment in winning a race no matter where it is or what status of a race it is,” he said. “Everybody is playing at different levels but I’m trying to do the same job for everyone whether they’re in the Kentucky Derby or in a different type of race. But working on these better horses is certainly exciting and it’s very satisfying to see your clients do well. It’s definitely fun to be a part of it.”

While Kentucky seems to have claimed Dr. Hore as its own, a family back in Ireland-and one still very much involved in the Thoroughbred business, too-means that he still has a strong connection to Ireland. His brother John bred Cheltenham Bumper winner Cousin Vinny (Ire) (Bob Back), while John’s twin Phil bred Goffs Bumper winner Commander Of Fleet (Ire) (Fame and Glory {GB}). Phil has ventured into flat breeding, too, and can lay claim to the 2016 G2 Norfolk S. winner Prince of Lir (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), who has his first 2-year-olds this year. Dr. Hore’s younger brother, Tom, is a vet in Wexford, and the pair often consult each other on cases.

“We work together a lot; it’s kind of easy nowadays to work that far apart with the technology we have,” Dr. Hore said. “I end up consulting on a lot of cases for him and I can get his opinion on stuff over here, so it’s nice to be able to do that.”

Dr. Hore said he thinks the shrinking of the veterinary world due to technology and the ease of exchange of information means that the world’s major horse hubs have reached even terms.

“I think in the last 10 years, everywhere has become a level playing field, especially areas like Newmarket, Fethard, Kildare, Kentucky, Santa Anita; everybody is working at the same level, using the same diagnostic tests and doing the same stuff,” he said. “It’s good to see and there is a lot of collaboration between practices and countries.”

Dr. Hore said, too, that he is looking forward to seeing how some of the newer technologies that have been publicized in America over the last year can further advance the field.

“What we’ve been dealing with here lately is that we’re coming up with new diagnostic tools, which is really exciting,” he said. “Some of the PET scans and MRIs that they’re doing on racetracks here, I’m excited about the future of that. It’s going to be a steep learning curve over the next few years; just doing some of these images on sound racehorses and seeing what lesions they have and how we can learn from that and try to make it a better future by controlling some of these injuries before they become clinical.”

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