Martin Brassil: Forget Cheltenham – Dublin Racing Festival ‘best of the best’

by Gazette Reporter
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BY Martin Brassil

Irish trainer Martin Brassil has talked up the success of the Dublin Racing festival and outlined his vision for how it can compete with Cheltenham amid the strength of the Irish economy. Brassil spoke exclusively to BoyleSports.

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At Leopardstown this weekend, Brassil has Fastorslow in the Irish Gold Cup, with the leading Cheltenham Gold Cup contender taking on the might of Willie Mullins’ stable and Galopin Des Champs in Saturday’s showpiece.

Dublin Racing Festival is a huge event now in its own right – how do you see it?

“It is now huge in its own right. Why shouldn’t it be? We have some of the best horses, best trainers and best jockeys! I’m only half joking! We do have some of the best horses around at this juncture.

“There is huge expectation about Irish horses going to Cheltenham compared with when I started out as a trainer 30 years ago when we’d be lucky to come away with three or four winners. That has totally turned around. The likes of Willie (Mullins), Gordon (Elliott) and Henry (De Bromhead) are picking up an awful lot of the prizes over there, not a singleton like myself!”

26 November 2023; Trainer Martin Brassil of Fastorslow after winning the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Steeplechase with Fastorslow on day two of the Punchestown Winter Festival at Punchestown Racecourse in Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

How tough is it competing against those big three?

“It is very tough. If you have a good horse then it is great. It is tough day in and day out. Wherever you go now you can’t avoid them. Years ago before they got that strong you were always able to gear a horse perhaps towards the summer months; but they have that many customers and that many horses they have to keep a big batch for the summer. It doesn’t matter where you turn up, either one or both will be there!

“It is inevitable, I suppose. But it is totally new to people who have been in the game as long as I have. If you go back 40-50 years no trainer had more than 50-60 horses, the likes of Tom Draper, Vincent O’Brien; none of them had those types of numbers that Willie, Gordon and Henry do – it has changed dramatically.

“It is no fault of the big trainers that they are attracting the wealthier owners who are willing to buy expensive point-to-point and bumper winners. Fair play to them.”

What has been the trigger for the Irish turnaround?

“Our economy has turned round greatly since the recession. There are wealthier people here in Ireland; and the business model that Willie and Gordon have is to find those people with money to spend and attract them.

“People go mad to have a winner in Cheltenham and pay all sorts of silly money. They have proven that they can do the job and win those big prizes; so it has a snowball effect and more and more people want to have horses with them to experience that feeling.”

Dublin: What would be your thoughts on extending it?

“Why not? If we go for three days maybe we can start forgetting about Cheltenham and concentrate on our own and attract the English over here instead.”

Do you think that might happen one day?

“You never say never in this life. You can see something in Dublin that has taken off and is getting more and more popular. The prize money is fantastic. 

“Put on the right races and you will attract the right horses and that is what everyone wants to see.”

Are you surprised more British trainers don’t send their horses over considering the prize money is so good?

“I am and they used to. If you back to the Gold Cup roll of honour, Jodami won it three times for instance. Paul Nicholls won it with Tidal Bay. 

“Because Ireland are currently so dominant, maybe English trainers are struggling to get owners to give that kind of money for point to point or bumper winners. They don’t have the same firepower.”

You have some real firepower with Fastorslow

“Yep. He’s going for the Irish Gold Cup. There’s only five left in. The rest of the week should be nice and dry and the ground should be fine for him. 

“He has been a real standard bearer and stepped up to the mark when I put him into Grade One company. Hopefully he can maintain his form.”

Can he beat Galopin Des Champs for a third time in a row?

“The way Galopin Des Champs won the Savills Chase, I am sure he will use the same tactics to make sure it is a similar staying contest.

“We beat him twice last year. The John Durkan was a short race which wouldn’t have played into Galopin’s hands. The way he won the Gold Cup just proved that is exactly what he is. He will be making sure it is a true run contest and you’ll need stamina if you are to get past him.”

How important is it to have a horse like Fastorslow for the profile of the yard?

“It’s very important. I have been lucky enough to have some nice horses through the years. I had Nickname a good two mile chaser. It’s great to have a horse like “Fastorslow. I never dreamt of ever having a Gold Cup horse. At the moment that dream is very much alive.

“He will certainly go for the Gold Cup and see how he gets on.”

Is there a way of taking on the heavy Mullins battalions when you may be up against five of his?

“Just run your own race. Ride the race to suit your horse and don’t be dragged into what they are doing. We’d have our own plans, but the secret is having the good horses to take Willie on!”

It’s going well this season – could it be your best ever? 

“It gets easier when you know you’re getting up in the morning to look at some nice horses.  As you get older it is easier to recognise a good one from an ordinary one. I am lucky I have family help. My son David was working in France for ten years. Conor, my son, rides out for me. I also have some very good staff.”

Is the Grand National a favourite of yours?

“Yes. Numbersixvalverde won in 2006 and I had the third in 2014 with Double Seven. 

“Winning the National was the best day of my life in racing. It’s a race that nobody lets you forget. You can be winning some of those big races but when you win a National it is a huge occasion and your name is remembered. The National means an awful lot to me.”

Where next for Desertmore House?

“I am entering him in both the BoyleSports Irish Grand National and Aintree. If the ground is too heavy (at Fairyhouse) I will aim for Liverpool. I also have Panda Boy and Longhouse Poet entered for the Grand National.”

Something you’d like to see happen in racing?

“I would like to see racing be more attractive for younger people to go racing.  The cost of living has gone so high that not every young person can afford it. They’ll go to the Festivals but not much more.

“They could get more people to the small meetings by either reducing the entry fee or making it free for young people. I’d let them in for nothing.”

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