Harnedy hoping Empire will rule
Sean Harnedy bred Empire Of Dirt and is dreaming of more glory at this year’s festival
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
<< Bryan Cooper celebrates after winning the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate on Empire of Dirt at last year’s festival.