Harnedy hop­ing Em­pire will rule

Sean Harnedy bred Em­pire Of Dirt and is dream­ing of more glory at this year’s fes­ti­val

Irish Examiner - Racing - - CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2017 - Jordan McCarthy Jordan McCarthy

For ev­ery breeder, the thought of pro­duc­ing a horse good enough to win on the grand­est stage of all is what sets the pulse rac­ing. And Sean Harnedy wit­nessed that dream be­come a re­al­ity 12 months ago.

Em­pire Of Dirt, bred in East Cork by Harnedy, now goes in search of a first top-level win at this year’s Cheltenham Fes­ti­val. The Gig­gin­stown House Stud-owned run­ner landed a hat-trick of valu­able hand­i­caps last year, the high­light of which came at Prest­bury Park, when he stormed to vic­tory in the Brown Ad­vi­sory & Mer­riebelle Sta­ble Plate. That suc­cess came on the third day of the 2016 meet­ing and it was a proud day for his breeder.

‘‘It was a dream come true. A bit un­ex­pected, though,’’ said Harnedy.

‘‘Lads were ring­ing me up and I thought, maybe just put a cou­ple of bob on him each­way. He was 16/1. And it was great to see him win there.

‘‘I sold him as a foal at the Novem­ber Sales in Tat­ter­salls for €66,000. Lady Jane Grosvenor, an English lady, bought him. He came back then as a three-year-old at the Derby Sale and he made €325,000. It was a record at the time.’’

Em­pire Of Dirt has gone some way to­wards jus­ti­fy­ing such a fig­ure.

A sec­ond place ef­fort in the Ir­ish Gold Cup last month sug­gested the 10-year-old would not look out of place in Fri­day’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

How­ever, the Westerner geld­ing could also line up over the shorter trip of the Ryanair Chase — ex­actly one year on from his big­gest win to date — and his breeder feels that there’s a good chance of a re­peat suc­cess over course and dis­tance.

‘‘In a maiden hur­dle, Em­pire Of Dirt was only beaten four lengths by Faugh­een. That was over two miles and four. I think why they (Gig­gin­stown and Gor­don El­liott) have opted against the Gold Cup is be­cause they were jug­gling with horses.Out­lander is prob­a­bly bet­ter at three miles, whereas he can race quite well at two mile five. He’s up against a cou­ple of very good horses, in­clud­ing Un De Sceaux of Wil­lie Mullins. Again I would say have a few quid each way. If he was to win a first Grade One, oh, that would be a real dream come true,’’ Harnedy said, the ex­cite­ment in his voice ris­ing.

The dam of Em­pire of Dirt, Rose Of Inchiquin, gave Harnedy the owner, and his fam­ily, some mem­o­rable days on the race­course.

Be­fore go­ing on to be a suc­cess­ful brood­mare — she foaled Ir­ish Grand Na­tional fifth, Pan­ther Claw, as well as Em­pire Of Dirt — she recorded four wins on the track, which in­cluded vic­tory in the Grade Two Lis­mullen Hur­dle at Na­van. The Gortroe res­i­dent has fond mem­o­ries of that time.

“I was look­ing for a brood­mare,” Harnedy ex­plains. “A man once said to me that there should be a horse al­ways in ev­ery farm — so I went along to Goffs with Frank Mother­way, of Yel­low­ford Stud. We were look­ing around, and we couldn’t see any­thing we liked. We met a friend of Frank’s and he said ‘go down to box 201 and keep your hand up un­til the ham­mer goes down’. So, we bought her for 21,000 guineas — that was in 1997.

‘‘We brought her home as a four-year-old. We broke her, and sent her train­ing down be­low in Bor­ris,

Co Car­low, with Sean Treacy. That’s where it all be­gan. We had great days and we had av­er­age days! The kids were young at the time and it was great bond­ing re­ally be­cause we’d take off, whether it was to Naas, Na­van or Thurles or wher­ever she ran — we’d go. There’d be five or six car­loads of neigh­bours go as well.’’

Rose Of Inchiquin, their pride and joy, passed away three years ago. Her mem­ory lives on, how­ever, and with her son bid­ding for fur­ther glory at the Cotswolds this week, it will be an emo­tional day in the Harnedy house­hold. As it al­ways is when a horse that Sean has bred is run­ning in a high-pro­file race.

‘‘You’d be at the end of your seat. The whole fam­ily would be watch­ing. You’d be watch­ing no other horse in the race only your own one, more or less. And when it’s com­ing to the fin­ish you’d be roar­ing him on as if you were there your­self! It’s very ex­cit­ing.”

Harnedy will cer­tainly be cheer­ing home Em­pire Of Dirt, if Gor­don El­liott’s run­ner jumps the last, still in with a chance, in Thurs­day’s Ryanair Chase. Although he has al­ready seen some of his stock make the frame in big races be­fore, this is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sce­nario.

If the mar­ket is any­thing to go by, then a first Grade One suc­cess at Cheltenham for the breeder could be well within


Pic­ture: INPHO

<< Bryan Cooper cel­e­brates after win­ning the Brown Ad­vi­sory & Mer­riebelle Sta­ble Plate on Em­pire of Dirt at last year’s fes­ti­val.

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