02 August 2018

Jessica Harrington continues to astound with her achievements over jumps and on the flat, with Alpha Centauri (IRE) the latest star to emerge from her Moone stable, which she runs with her daughters, Emma and Kate. Adding to the intrigue of her success is her background as a top eventing rider, her reputation as an excellent judge of a horse and prospering in what is thought of by many to be a man’s world. We spoke to ‘Jessie’ to learn more about the workings behind her success and how the racing industry has changed since she started training.


What is your first racing memory?

I went racing a lot as a child, but my first distinct memory was my father winning a four-year-old bumper on New Year’s Day at Baldoyle.


Who was your idol when starting out in the industry?

Vincent O’Brien- he did everything.


Tell us about your first winner.

I was a permit holder to begin with, but my first winner with a full licence was Lady Olein (IRE). She was owned by the late Lord Thady Dunraven won a three-year-old hurdle at the November meeting at Leopardstown. Peter Scudamore rode her.


You were a top three-day event rider before taking out your training licence in 1987. How do you think your eventing experience has influenced your approach to training?

Well, you had three disciplines and obviously, you had to keep your horse right throughout. Keeping your horse’s temperament balanced was important for dressage, while they had to be very fit for the cross country- the old format which included steeplechase and roads and tracks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       But while they had to be very fit, the key was not blowing their mind.


What do you miss about racing since you started training 1987?

Yes, things have changed, but there are more positives now- the prize money is better, the tracks are very well-managed and it’s much easier to get around all the different tracks with the new roads.

Some racecourses have gone and I used to love going to the Phoenix Park during the summer, especially the week of the Horse Show. It was a very social meeting- we were probably there for that aspect rather than the racing! It was always great fun.


Diversity is a growing topic in the industry. As a top female trainer, do you believe there is an element of sexism in the racing industry?

I don’t think there was ever any deliberate behaviour against women, but we’ve always been in the minority. When I started training, all of the officials were men and almost all of the trainers were men, too. That’s the way it had always been- it wasn’t until the 60’s that women were even allowed to hold a licence, I think Mrs Nolan was the first female trainer. Women were only allowed to ride in ladies’ point-to-points.

I never felt that the men saw me as any different, except that after the races I would go home and look after my husband, whereas they went home and their wives looked after them!


What change would you like to see to racing in the future?

They have done a great job with the prize money in Ireland, but I would like to see it increase, so that if a horse won and was placed, they paid for their training fees that season. If you buy a racehorse, you have to write that cost off in the beginning , but it would encourage more new people into ownership if they knew their training fees could be covered by prize money.


You’ve trained numerous top-class horses, from Moscow Flyer to most recently, Alpha Centauri, but who was your favourite?

It has to be Moscow Flyer. What he did was amazing, from his longevity, to the number of races he won, and without ever running in a handicap. He was just an amazing horse.


Three of the Irish store sales have passed, with the August NH Sale left to take place. Have you been busy buying?

Yes, we bought a few- you always have to keep a few in the locker! There were some nice horses, there’s a Presenting that I’m particularly looking forward to.


What do you look for in a horse, be it flat or national hunt?

The main thing is that they have to be very well-balanced and then, reasonably correct. A nice page makes it expensive, but with national hunt horses, I focus more on the dam line, as I feel that too many sires get a bad name for the wrong reasons.


Are there any sires you currently see as underrated?

I love Mount Nelson- I think he puts speed into a slow mare. I also think Burgage Stud’s new stallion, Jukebox Jury, looks an exciting horse. We have a great range of stallions to choose from, as well as these exciting new stallions, we have the old stalwarts like Flemensfirth, Milan and Presenting. Though, if you have a good mare, then you don’t have to worry as much.


You’ve given the All About The Girls Syndicate a terrific start to ownership in Ireland and they clearly enjoy the experience. Is the ownership experience something that’s important to you?

Yes, I believe that owning a racehorse should be fun. Why do something if you don’t get any enjoyment out of it? It’s going to cost you, so you might as well have fun!


Classic winners, Cheltenham Festival heroes…. What’s your next dream?

There are millions of races I’d like to win… The Grand National, the three mile hurdle at Cheltenham... The lots of flat races- the Derby, a Breeders’ Cup... But the main two would be the Grand National and the Derby.

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