Curragh trainer James Nash
When one thinks of the modern day horse trainer names that spring instantly to mind are Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Aidan O'Brien, Dermot Weld, to name just a few. Trainers who are at the very top of their trade, known, not just at home and across the pond, but throughout the entire racing world.
There are many trainers in this country, from those with just a handful of horses to many with multiples of that. There are trainers with less then 10; some between 30 and 40 and so on.
In many ways these are the trainers that keep the show on the road sort to speak.
There are a lot of really good trainers around, the fact that they may not be always in the headlines has little to do with their undoubted talent, more to do with the quality of horses that come their way.
All are vital to the racing industry, an industry that employs in the region of 14,000 at the moment.
One of the many trainers that falls into the middle category, not small but not in the Mullins or O'Brien category, is Curragh trainer James Nash.
James arrived in this neck of the woods from his native Kilcornan in Co. Limerick, taking a the role as Dermot Weld's amateur rider.
“We always had a few horses at home” James told the Leinster Leader, adding, “the first winner I ever rode was for my father.”
Like most young lads and girls interested in horses, James spent school summer holidays in a local yard, in this case it was Eric McNamara's establishment, while his first 'real' job was down in Cork with Kelvin Hitchmough.
I'm probably showing my ignorance here but the name Kelvin Hitchmough does not trip off the tongue as a trainer I had heard of before James mentioned him. However back in 1987 he trained the winner of the Irish Grand National with a horse by the name of Brittany Boy, ridden by no lass a top jockey, and former champion, Toss Taaffe.
A real example of how a so-called small trainer, obviously talented, can reach the heights of success.
Leaving Cork, James took up the prime position in
the Curragh when landing the plumb job as no. 1 amateur jockey to no less a trainer than the great Dermot Weld, that in the early '90s.
“That is what brought me initially to Kildare, and indeed Newbridge, where I have lived ever since and even after seven years that I spent with Dermot, when I moved to the Willie Mullins Yard , I remained living in Newbridge, travelling up and down to Willie's ever day, so when the time came and I began training it was only natural that I set-up on the Curragh.”
Working in Weld's was fantastic, a great job, said James, “remember that 90 per cent of the rides I had there would have been favourites; class horses; anything he ran in a bumper was normally a very good horse; anything he ran in hurdle races were all well fancied.
“I rode an awful lot of winners for Dermot Weld; lost my claim when I was with there; not all for him, but the vast majority would have been; they were good times, really good times.”
So the switch from Weld's to Mullins' how come, was it a way of getting more into national hunt or what?
“Not necessarily, Willie was retiring from the saddle and while Dermot at that stage had lots of jumpers, which meant I had lots of rides in the amateur races, but he (Dermot) was beginning to cut back somewhat with jumpers and Willie just said to me one day at Leopardstown that he would be retiring at the end of the year (1996) and wondered if I had any interest in going down to him, so basically I started with him that January some six months before he retired.”
Moving from Rosewell Stables down to Clonsutton, Muine Bheag in Carlow, must have been a big change for you at the time?
Massive, was the quick reply, adding “Willie's was a whole different ball game; going from a shiny boots job; riding out three of four lots of horses daily, and it was not like you would get wet every morning, that was not the way it worked at the Curragh, but in Willie's it was all back to basics, he was deep galloping national hunt horses, most of them young horses at the time, and a lot of bumper horses but they would be young horses just staring, while Dermot's horses were all made; just a different regime really.
“Willie concentrated on getting his horses fit and remember at that time Willie had just 15 or 16 horses, need-
less to say he has come on a long way since” laughs James.
“Willie had a great ability to get horses fit and to know their job, even when I started he had some rats of yokes, but he got them all to win something, he always had it.”
James explains the difference in approach between the Weld yard and the Mullins year and between flat and national hunt horses and how they were trained and prepared.
“Down in Clonsutton, winter or summer, it did not matter, there was just no stopping, regardless of the weather the horses were out on the gallops while Dermot's busiest time would be in the spring and the summer but if it was raining they would not go out, just go to the indoor school and be tipping away; unless it was absolutely necessary, they would not go out.
“That was never a consideration with Willie” adds Nash, “ weather did not come into it, it did not matter what was going on outside the gate, we were all still sent out, regardless.”
And that is still the way it is done in Willie's Yard, and it is also still the way it is done in Dermot's funny enough, says James; you would never see his (Dermot's) lot out on a bad day. But between the two of them, it was marvellous, a fantastic experience for me, absolutely fantastic and experiences I will never forget in my life.”
James Nash rode a lot of winners during his time at both yards, and indeed rode a lot of winners for other trainers at the same time but did he ever have ambitions of becoming a full time professional jockey?
“I was probably too heavy, but I had two very good, really good jobs as an amateur for both Dermot and Willie and I rode lots of winners for both of them; good jobs; rode a lot of really good horses, so to answer your question, no, I never really had ambitions to turn professional.”
So was training always on the horizon, always in the back of your mind that when the time eventually came you would turn to that side of the industry.
It wasn't something I would have set my mind on but it was probably always in the back my mind, somewhere but then when I left Willie's I went in with John Coleman, who was a private trainer on the Curragh.
“He had just seven or eight horses of his own and he wanted someone to give him a hand, basically train them to be honest; we had a great bit of success with the likes of Unhinged, Jonee Joblot and the Cold King and then in my initial year with a full trainer's licence, John let me train a few of his in my name , and that was when Jonee Joblot was my first official winner.”
David Casey rode that first winner and as James acknowledges himself, “I have been very lucky with my jockeys; because I had been in Willie (Mullins) I was great friends with David Casey and of course Ruby (Walsh) not forgetting Katie (Walsh) they all rode winners for me over the years.
“The Kerry National would have been our biggest success with Your Busy in 2014 with Katie in the saddle and we also had a very good flat horse named Luisant, he won Listed races at both the Curragh and Leopardstown; he was our best flat horse, no question.”
That day winning the Kerry National was something very special and Katie gave him a brilliant ride; while Luisant winning in the Curragh was also very special, after being with Dermot (Weld) for so long and living here in the Curragh, that was a fantastic day out, incredible.”
The Nash establishment is set on the edge on the Curragh “Bernard Lodge, bought that ten years ago, it is a fabulous location to train; yet it is nice and private; fabulous location; at this stage I would find it very hard to train off the Curragh, I think there is fabulous facilities here ; the best in the world, or one of the best in the world and if you can't train winners in the Curragh, you're in trouble.
“The Curragh upgraded the gallops recently and there is no excuse when you are training with the facilities we enjoy here, if the horses are good enough, you will have no bother training them and that's for sure.”
And what about pressure, for instance if things are not going well; you had a great run before Christmas and in the New Year, that after a very quiet season the year before that?
“At this stage, I have to say, we know how to do it (train) and if things are not working out you just have to be patient; that would have been different if that was the way when we started out, but now patience is everything; we wouldn't change anything now, or very little anyway; you know what you have done before has worked; so don't change anything, just wait for it to come around and it has come around again.
“We had brilliant wins earlier this year for a small string; but we have lots of nice horses to look forward to but when things are going bad you simply have to ride the wave and put up with it; I am a firm believer that is it worked before it will work again; I'd change nothing.”
And how is the coronavirus affecting you at the minute?
The weather is the only good thing at the moment he says with a laugh, adding “we are keeping things ticking over; we have a lot of horses in now having let them have their break earlier than would be the norm but I intend bringing them back on June 1 and having them for the back end of the summer; they got their break early and it is my intention to bring them back that bit earlier also,” adding, we don't know what is happening with Galway but we would like to think we would have six or eight for there, depending of course.
And can he see racing return maybe sooner rather than later?
“I was very optimistic until the other day, and still I think we proved that we could manage behind closed doors and the government seemed to be happy in what we were doing; I would imagine that racing will be one of the first things to come back, now whenever that is I don't know but we would be very disappointed if we are not racing, even behind closed doors, at some stage in May.”
That would be a boost?
“It would, and I would be very surprised if we are not.
“The building and some of the outside stuff will probably start back first and while I know and realise it is the last thing they want to here but I would expect the pubs and restaurants could be the last things that will come back, but I will be surprised, and having proved that we can operate successfully, behind closed doors, while also remember-
ing how important the industry is, that we start back as soon as we can, especially with those flat horses, I think as soon as there is a little bit of leeway, racing should be one of the first to get back into action, albeit behind closed doors.”
Outside of racing the Limerick native admits that, apart from following Moorefield, he does not have a lot of outside interests, adding “of course we have a good local (pub) here in Newbridge, McDonnell's who are very good supporters of mine, but the racing nowadays is really 24/7 and apart from following the football that's about it really.”