Racing-A new trainer on the Curragh
THE SPORT OF KINGS is a McCormick family tradition. The late R. J. ("Dick ") McCormick was a wellknown and long-established Irish trainer, whose own father, Mark, was regarded in his day as being one of the most brilliant huntsmen in the country. Dick McCormick learned his training art during a twenty-year spell with the legendary "Atty " Persse at Stockbridge and, later, with Steve Donoghue at Epsom. The latter of racing's all-time greats-rode the winners of six English and four Irish Derbys. McCormick was one of the few men ever allowed to ride The Tetrarch at workouts-a signal achievement, for that horse was apparently the nearest thing to a bullet ever seen on a racecourse and one which Donoghue called" the fastest I ever rode."
As a trainer, operating from Summerhill House on the Curragh, McCormick had a highly successful career, winning most of the major flat races in Ireland (including a couple of Phoenix "1500"s) and a number of Classics. He was a specialist with fillies and proved expert at preparing them for the racecourse.
"Don't call me Dick..."
On his death in 1963, his sixteenycar-old son Richard became the world's youngest racehorse trainer, left in charge of a 22-horse stable that included two horses owned by the (then) Minister for Justice, Mr. Charles J. Haughey. Within twelve days of taking out his liccnce, the young trainer had saddled two winners. A few months (and several winners) later he gave up training to study for a veterinary degree at U.C.D. Last year, complete with degrce, he left for a year's practical experience in the U.S.A. He returned in June, immediately applied for a licencc, and set about preparing his Curragh stables for the 1970 flat racing season.
Born in Meath and educated at Newbridge College and U.C.D., Richard McCormick (" Don't call me Dick: I can't stand it ") is, at 23, an articulate and committed young man with definite aims and ideas. His university veterinary degree and his American stay have afforded him valuable know-how and experience in many aspects of racing. Both should stand to him in the future.
Racing across the Atlantic
In America he worked at the New York race tracks of Belmont and Aqueduct, and at Hialeah in Florida with Dr. William O. Reed, one of America's top veterinary surgeons.(Reed recently imported Pampered King, sire of two big U.S. stakes winners-Czar Alexander and Ludham-to America from Kildare's Milcrstown Stud.) He also worked with the Tartan Farm Corporation, a breeding farm in Ocala, Florida. The experience gained he regards as invaluable, but it was not easy; "I was working twenty hours a day, losing a lot of weight and getting little money... "
How did he find the racing industry in the U.S.A.?
"It's very businesslike. People in America race horses for one of two reasons: either to win money or to lose it by writing it off. Consequently there is a tremendous pressure on trainers to run horses. That's why their horses run so frequently. There, they can live out of horses-perhaps just out of two or three. They are often accused of running them too often and breaking them down."
Betting five million
"Racing executives in the States do everything to make the average punter important. They even insist on a fixed number of work-outs for horses so that up-to-date information is brought to the notice of the punters via the form sheets. Betting, of course, is very big over there. On a Saturday at Aqueduct, 50,000 people will bet five million dollars (£40 a head)."
"Americans are now favouring grass"
I would like to see dirt tracks introduced here in a small way. We've been racing here for three hundred years. There, it is comparatively new. Consequently, there aren't so many diehards around and they will accept new ideas. In a few years time if I have a horse good enough, I'd like to take him out to the U.S.A. for six weeks or so and race him a couple of times in some of their big stakes races as our Irish horses are more than comparable to their grass horses. The tendency used to be to go to England. Now it is France. I think, soon it will be the U.S.A."
McCormick believes that the average Irish racegoer experiences a lot of discomfort because facilities at some race meetings are not all that they should be. He is in favour of centralised racing: concentrating racing at a few of the bigger and better courses with a programme arranged to suit particular types of horses. He believes that more could be done to increase public interest in racing and to entice racegoers but that, under the circumstances, the Racing Board" are doing a fantastic job."
A boost from the Tote
The issue on which he feels most strongly is that of tote monopoly. He sees its absence as the root problem in the Irish racing industry."A tote
monopoly would definitely benefit Irish racing by increasing the stake money and giving an all-round boost to owners, trainers, stable lads, etc. In the States owners don't even have to pay an entry fee for certain races-the stake money comes from the gate and the tote."
"A tote monopoly would also straighten the game out by making betting coups more difficult to bring off and by discouraging" springers ",
thereby enhancing the chances of the average punter. If money is being ploughed back into racing because of a tote monopoly then certain trainers would be discouraged from compulsive gambling. A tote monopoly doesn't discourage betting but it does mean that trainers don't have to bet to live because the stake money would be higher. The big punters can still bet against the pool. "
McCormick feels that Irish racing has made enormous progress in recent years. "The sport has been cleaned up considerably by patrol cameras, efficient stewards and dope testing. This is a very good thing, for the racing public are after a square deal and they deserve one." He considers that Irish trainers-particularly Vincent O'Brien, Paddy Prendergast and the McGrath family - have done a tremendous amount to advertise Irish bloodstock in the last ten years. He would like to see positive steps taken to assist the development of Irish jockeys (such as Australia's apprentice schools) for, as he accurately points out, most of our top native jockeys have, in fact, had foreign experience. (In his opinion, the best jockey currently riding in these islands is Ron Hutchinson.)
A filly for Mr. Haughey
Over the winter, McCormick will be training about a dozen horses at his Summerhill House stables in preparation for next year. Following on his return to Ireland he had discussions with his owners who include Mr. Haughey, bloodstock expert Bertie Kerr, and English owner Mr. C. A. B. St. George (whose Lorenzaccio has achieved success in England). He attended Goff's autumn sales at Ballsbridge last month and made two purchases; for Mr. Haughey (whose racing colours are black and blue) he secured a yearling filly by Sea Hawke II out of Novitiate for 2,200 guineas; he also paid 1,750 guineas for a Tesco Boy yearling colt out of The Chaser. (The colt is a half-brother to Sinn Fein; its dam was trained-with great successby the late" Dick" McCormick for Mr. Haughey.) His buying certainly appears astute, for one of the highest prices paid at Goff's was the 13,500 guineas advanced by English trainer Staff Ingham for a Tesco Boy colt out of The Veil (the dam of Novitiate).
McCormick cherishes no illusions about the amount of hard work and the number of problems that will face him in the course of his chosen profession. He is up and about each morning at an hour when most citizens' alarm clocks have still plenty in hand. The challenge, however, appeals to this quiet, determined young man and he can shrug off the thought of the sport's inherent insecurity: "I've got a degree behind me now as well as a farm and land." On the subject of marriage he pauses, grins, and professes that his immediate concern is for four-legged fillies; he avows, he has" enough problems now without marrying them! "
If Vincent O'Brien is half as good a judge of a young trainer as he is of a thoroughbred then Richard McCormick is assured of a bright future. Talking to NUSIGHT last week, the worldfamous Baldoyle maestro said: "I have no doubt that Richard gained valuable experience from his father whom I knew very well and admired greatly as a capable and most efficient trainer. He is sure to do well. And his experience in the United States is bound to prove of great value to him in his training career."