Jockey-turned-trainer David O'Meara

Twelve months into your training career and you’ve saddled over 50 winners, bagged a Group 2 and have over 60 horses. Can you quite believe the start you’ve made?
No, I would never have expected things to have gone as well; I’ve been really lucky to have stumbled across a horse like Blue Bajan. Everything seems to have snowballed and that’s down to people like Roger Fell, the Huddersfield businessman who set up the yard, and Liam Bailey, my head man. Together with the team they have kept the wheels well-oiled. I joined the yard in October 2009 and took over the licence from James Hetherton in June 2010 with about 15 horses.

Was training something you always wanted to do after riding?
Riding and being a jockey was all I ever wanted to do when I was growing up. Then, having worked in several successful yards, I was always interested in how they operated. The core routine is quite similar in most stables, but I always used to take notice of how things were done. Training was the natural progression from riding. In 2009 I kept bumping into an owner and builder friend of mine called Dave Lumley, who kept telling me to go and see Roger Fell, who was looking for someone to train for him at Nawton, near Helmsley. Dave and his wife Lynne put my name forward and for that I shall always be grateful.
Having made your name in the jumping world, are you happy to train mostly Flat horses or will you increase your National Hunt string?
When I got the job there were mostly Flat horses here and we just carried on. We’ve had some jump winners and have some dual-purpose horses. Commercially, the Flat seems more viable; horses don’t take so much time to get ready, giving owners more opportunities of a day out and, if they’re lucky, a quicker return.

Is “Get Your Heart Racing”, a much-used slogan on your website, the stable motto, similar to Mark Johnston’s “Always Trying”?
Some of the girls in the yard have it printed on their t-shirts. It is a slogan we may well develop. After all, this business does get our hearts racing, doesn’t it?

Did your parents, in Fermoy, County Cork, help you on your way into racing?
They are both huge racing enthusiasts and have supported me all the way. My dad is an estate agent and property developer, but is also clerk of the scales at Avondhu point-to-point in Fermoy. My mum is a physiotherapist, who has become an equine physiotherapist and is secretary of the Avondhu point-to-point. Dad has bought and sold store horses for years and when I had ponies as a child he encouraged me and took me everywhere pony racing.

You went into the property market when you finished riding. Why did you decide to train when racing’s finances are in such a parlous state?

Dad has bought run down properties and done them up and he always said to me it pays to buy a house, do it up and sell it on. I am quite practical and can plumb in a bathroom, put in a kitchen and I still have some property. But I always wanted to have a go at training and did the necessary courses when I finished riding.

How do you view the prospect of sending out horses to race for £2,000 when costs are rising? Do you agree with the Horsemen’s Tariff and can you be expected to adhere to it?

Prize-money does need to be increased and the Horsemen’s Tariff is doing a good job in trying to remedy the situation. By the same token, horses do need to run and owners like to win, even if it’s a seller at Redcar.
Poor prize-money was one of the main reasons I stopped riding and started to buy and sell houses. I could make more money buying and selling one house in a year than I could driving all over the country looking for rides. It was better for me to have five rides and no winners at a meeting, rather than go somewhere else for one winner. That’s prize-money for you and the problem is deep rooted; it’s all about having a Tote monopoly with betting machines in shops all over the country, like they do in France and Hong Kong.

Syndication is a popular way of entry into ownership. Is this your focus? How do you attract owners?
Syndication is a part of our operation, but we haven’t specifically focused on it. But it can be great fun, bringing a number of people together to enjoy a good day out. We have plenty of private individuals who own horses here. We haven’t made a concerted effort to go out there and find new owners, they have come to us as a result of any number of factors, first of all winners, or us having a good strike-rate, or a winner at a high-profile Saturday meeting. Interest is also coming through our new website,, put together by Ian White, one of our owners.

Has the rejuvenation of the nine-year-old Blue Bajan and his victory in Sandown’s Henry II Stakes attracted more owners, horses and interest?
Yes, I think so. His Sandown win in May has certainly elevated our profile and people have shown interest in us since then. For that I am mighty grateful to his owner Dr John Hollowood for sending Blue Bajan here.

Multiple winner Powerful Presence, bought for £800, is an advert for your ability to spot a bargain. Do you have a specific policy at the sales, and who advises you?
We look for value and buy quite a lot of second-hand horses out of other yards. We don’t have a huge budget and don’t want to be left with expensive horses that are no good; that could kill us. I don’t think I’ve had an individual order for a horse; we buy and then try and find an owner, though recently the odd person has started to approach me and said if I find something suitable to let them know.
We saw Powerful Presence at Doncaster Sales, a nice big horse who didn’t appear to have anything wrong with him, but had been a very expensive yearling. He was very athletic, walked well, so I started bidding and got him for £800. His first six races for us yielded four wins and two seconds. I don’t use an agent and Roger Fell and I buy most of the horses between us, though Kevin Everitt bought the Newcastle winner Kool Henry.

Would you like to compete with the big owners and trainers at the sales as well as on the racecourse? Would you feel comfortable spending £250,000 on one horse?

Absolutely. You go there and see horses you like but they go for five times as much as you can afford, or even more. So the time comes when you have to stop bidding. I’d be comfortable spending £250,000 on one, as long as I had an order for it.

Do you find you are always trying to get inside the minds of your horses?

Yes, we do, even to the extent of moving a horse from one box to another. Anything to keep them calm, happy and stress-free. We usually turn them out for a few hours after they have worked.

Would you have any plans to get more young people involved, such as stable visits for schools or holiday jobs for students in the yard?
Russ Garritty’s son Jack, who is 15, has been coming here for a year. He rides out and gets stuck in on Saturdays and in school holidays. He’s very good and could be a champion apprentice in the making. Jack is very good at all sports and I am told his younger brother Billy, who’s 11 and equally good, is also going to be sent to me. It’s important to encourage the young. I was very well looked after at that stage of my life and was often allowed to follow the string on my pony, which was a great thrill.

Does your wife Sarah have a hands-on role in your operation?
Sarah has a full-time job herself as a fitness instructor and is busy with that. But she loves her racing and she comes to the races when she can. She gets people fit and I get horses fit.

You’ve worked for Jim Bolger, Michael Hourigan, Philip Hobbs and Peter and Tim Easterby. What did you learn from such respected figures?
I went to Jim Bolger when I was at school and rode out for him, and when I was at university I was with Michael Hourigan and rode a lot of point-to-point winners for him. Michael taught me about race-riding while I was studying for an Equine Science degree at Limerick University. I took a gap year and rode track work at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, and from there I joined Philip Hobbs, then Peter and Tim Easterby.
When I retired from riding I went to Kevin Ryan’s for a few months. Kevin was training loads of winners and I wanted to experience something different. The common denominator among all these successful trainers is keeping things very simple and getting their horses very fit. Simplicity and routine were the hallmarks of all those yards.

Give us a couple of horses to follow for the second part of the season…

Desert Romance, a mile or mile and a quarter handicapper, and the former Henry Cecil-trained Spiekeroog, who hadn’t been out for two years when running really well for us in his comeback race. Blue Bajan is likely to be back for the Doncaster Cup.

Silvestre De Sousa has ridden a lot of winners for the yard. What are his qualities and is he champion material?
He is incredibly strong, horses run for him; he is rarely in the wrong place in a race and makes few mistakes. Of course he’s championship material because he is right in the thick of the race with Paul Hanagan and Ryan Moore. He’s also a thoroughly nice guy; people like him.

How do you divide the rides between Silvestre and Danny Tudhope, who rode Blue Bajan to win his Group 2?
Silvestre goes back quite a long way with Roger Fell and was involved in the yard before I was. Last year, after he returned from India, we started to put him up on everything and he rode a lot of winners. Danny is a good friend of Silvestre’s and when he was struggling a bit with a knee problem Silvestre asked him to come and ride out for us. We said come and help us out and we’ll help you.
Silvestre is now in demand a lot with Mark Johnston and Danny rides out every day here with Sean Levey. So if at all possible we try not to look outside the yard for jockeys.

You completed on all five rides over the Grand National fences and rode high class chasers like Turgeonev and Mister McGoldrick. Do you miss the thrill of riding over jumps or is the feeling of training a winner better?

Training a winner is more satisfying than riding a winner, but I do miss riding good chasers like Turgeonev and Mister McGoldrick. So much more work goes into training, while as a jockey you just turn up, ride them and go home.
Turgeonev was very special to me and there’s nothing like riding a horse like him round Haydock or Wetherby. While I was riding it was brilliant, but the time comes when you’ve got to do something different. I certainly don’t miss trudging to some of those smaller jump tracks for bad rides.

What would you like to achieve in racing?
Simply carry on doing what I am doing – trying to train winners. If I was told to choose any job in the world, this is it. It’s not a job, it’s a love.