INTERVIEW: JONATHAN SWEENEY
16 June 2017
This week we talk to trainer Jonathan Sweeney, who has developed a reputation for over-achieving with his small string of horses based in County Cork.
What is your background in racing?
I started off with ponies at home and began hunting with them. Next, I spent time working for James Burns on the Curragh and Paddy Coakley at Kilworth.
Tell us a bit about your set-up in Cork.
I’m based just outside Rathcormac in County Cork. The yard is relatively new, about five or six years old. It’s not overly big, with 12 stables and a two furlong gallop but I have good neighbours with access to plenty of land around me. The area is very quiet and the horses have a nice view, which I think makes a difference. I often bring them down our quiet roads and through the woods, which is good for their minds.
Your home-bred Lighthouse Warrier (IRE) impressed when winning a Punchestown bumper by nine lengths at the end of May. What’s next for him?
He’s a very exciting horse and took that win in his stride. I’ve taken his shoes off and he’ll enjoy a bit of a holiday for the next three to four weeks. After that, I imagine we’ll go for a winners’ bumper, which Derek (O’Connor) thinks he’s good enough for. In the long run, he’s an out-and-out chaser, and a very smart one at that.
Do you have any other progeny out of the mare to look forward to?
We have a three-year-old filly by Arctic Cosmos out of the mare, who is just being broken at the moment. I have one other mare, Barnahash (IRE), who won a couple of point-to-points and comes from the family of Cooldine (IRE). She’s been sent to Arcadio.
You must be a fan of Arcadio, presumably due to the success you’ve had with his progeny, such as Arch Dancer (IRE), who won a maiden at Liscarroll by 15 lengths.
He’s a lovely horse and could be anything. Arcadio’s can be very hardy horses, but once they get stuck into training and get some individual attention, they can be very nice. Mentally, they need more time, and perhaps that’s when a set-up like mine helps, whereas they might not suit a larger yard.
Is there another sire that you see as under-rated?
I think Vinnie Roe (IRE) is very under-rated. He is, of course, the sire of Minutestomidnight (IRE).
Her Grade 3 victory at the Punchestown Festival was brilliant, which was obviously followed by the unbeaten mare selling for €200,000 at the Goffs Punchestown Sale. Would you see that as the highlight of your career so far?
I suppose so. To be honest, you don’t get much time for it to sink in. You’re back riding out the next morning and focusing on your other horses. I try not to get too carried away.
She was originally bought for a bargain €5,500 at the Goffs Land Rover Sale. What did you see in her then?
Larry Murphy actually bought her, but I suppose she had an attractive pedigree- she comes from a good mares family. She’s also a great walker, which would catch your eye, and wasn’t overly big, but grew and developed very well. I suppose you have to have an open mind at the sales if you want some value. Larry actually bought a Sholokhov filly related to Minutestomidnight (IRE) recently, so we have her to look forward to now.
You do particularly well with mares, having also won a Grade 3 with Barnahash Rose (IRE). Do you approach training fillies differently or to what do you attribute your success?
Like what I said about the Arcadio’s, I think my set-up might help. A quiet base with a relaxed atmosphere and one-on-one attention works well. That’s the difference with mares. Personally, I’d prefer a good mare to a good gelding; they’re probably tougher at the end of the day- they would die for you in a finish.
What do you think of the current programme for national hunt mares? Do you have any suggestions of what could be done to improve their market or appeal?
One thing that is a negative is that a lot of the mares’ races are at what you might call the summer tracks. I think they should stage more of them at the bigger, more prominent courses.
Focusing on the point-to-point scene, do you have a favourite track?
I’d like to think I have my horses very fit and well, so I prefer a big galloping track, that’s fair. Athlacca would probably be my favourite- it’s a massive galloping track. I also like Liscarroll and Dromahane.
Give us a horse to follow in the future.
Arch Melody (IRE) is a very nice horse but things didn’t go right for him in his point-to-point, where he unseated. He’ll return in the autumn.
Another is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Cheltenian; a filly by Gold Well which was bought by a syndicate at last year’s Tattersalls Ireland August NH Sale. She was a June foal and has turned into a lovely, big mare.