Tom Lacy: ‘I Looked Forward To Persian Force Running As If I Owned Him Myself’

Tom Lacy received a heartwarming reception at the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Awards last week. And rightly so. A legendary figure in Irish racing, Lacy rode 50 winners on the Flat and found only Arkle and Flyingbolt too good aboard Height Of Fashion in two Irish Grand Nationals. 

As a trainer, Lacy sent out 100s of winners from Rhode, County Offaly, including Ingabelle (GB), who later became a hugely important foundation mare at Ballylinch Stud.

His sons Barry and Tony rode multiple winners for the stable down through the years. It is also here where the late, great Pat Smullen honed his craft, before being crowned Irish champion jockey on nine separate occasions. 

While Tony has relocated to America, where he holds the role of Vice President of Sales at Keeneland, Barry remains an integral part of the family breeding operation, and the pair combined to produce last year’s leading 2-year-old Persian Force (Ire) (Mehmas {GB}) from €1,200 mare Vida Amorosa (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}).

Persian Force has recently retired to Tally-Ho Stud, an operation that the Lacys have a close association with, and he will stand for €10,000 in his debut season. 

Tom and Barry sat down with Brian Sheerin for this week’s Starfield Stud-sponsored Q&A where they discussed their rollercoaster year with Persian Force, mating plans for Vida Amorosa and much more. 

Brian Sheerin: It was a special night at the ITBA Awards with you taking home the small breeder of the year award for your exploits with Persian Force.

Tom Lacy: Persian Force was a small foal but, every day we went out to him, we could see him thriving. He grew into a lovely foal but he wasn’t nearly as nice a foal as his brother [Gubbass (Ire)]. The main reason why we went back to Mehmas was because Gubbass was such a brilliant foal. When you think about it, we brought an unraced mare to an unproven stallion, who never had a runner before, and then went back to him the following year as well. We had two foals by a stallion who never had a runner. It could have been a disaster and, nine times out of 10 it would have been a disaster, but Mehmas has worked big time. 

BS: You said before that you broke the golden rule in bringing an unproven mare to an unproven stallion. 

TL: Absolutely. She was a well-bred mare, by Lope De Vega, and a fine big mare to match. Persian Force may not have been a big horse but he was full of courage. Jesus, he gave his best every time he ran. He’d put his head down, his ears back and he’d kill himself trying. That’s number one for me, a horse who has a bit of fight and courage. But because the first foal was a good foal, I went back to Mehmas. Now, if it had been the other way round, and Persian Force came out first, I wouldn’t have gone back. I was talking to Tony [O’Callaghan, of Tally-Ho Stud] who said he reckons Persian Force will end up being 16hh. You have to remember that these are only babies, they are only 2-year-olds when they are retired to stud, so there’s plenty of growing in him. He’s plenty big enough as he is but they reckon he’ll grow, just like Mehmas did when he was retired to stud. 

BS: So who owes who a drink at this stage? 

Barry Lacy: Let’s put it this way, when Mehmas went to stud first, it was the usual craic with everyone rolling in behind the first-season sire. But we didn’t use Mehmas the first year he went to stud because we didn’t have a mare suitable. It was in his second year at stud where we used him and got Gubbass and his third year when we got Persian Force. So, we used Mehmas for his smallest books of mares. Persian Force was always going to be Mehmas’s best 2-year-old last year, because he’d very little else to run for him. He didn’t cover huge books during Covid either, so, he could have a quiet year this year but then we’re expecting to see him take off again next year and beyond because it’s from 2021 when people started sending him the better quality mares on the €25,000 stud fee. So, when you’re asking who owes who a drink, I’d say we’re in front!

BS: Not too many people are in front of the O’Callaghans!

TL: Sure, we’re always arguing. They came over here to look at Persian Force as a foal. The three boys-Tony, Roger and Henry-but they never said a word about the horse, whether he was good, bad or indifferent. They came in here and watched racing for the afternoon and never mentioned the horse any more but then went and paid €75,000 for him at the sales. They were going to buy him no matter what. They gave away the game because, when they say nothing, you know they like them. If they found any hole in Persian Force at all, you could be sure they’d have made a big thing about it! It was the same with Gubbass. They came over to look at him and never said a word, went to the sales and bought him as well. They are great men. 

BS: Between Gubbass and Persian Force, ye have had a lot of fun over the past few years. 

BL: I’d say that one of the biggest kicks we have gotten in racing was watching Gubbass winning the Super Sprint S. at Haydock. He was in the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale, which took place at Newmarket because of Covid. I asked Roger [O’Callaghan] if we could sell him under the Tally-Ho banner and he said it was no problem if I went over and helped them out at the sale. The morning that we’re loading up Gubbass to bring him over for the sale, a call comes through to say that Pat Smullen has sadly passed away. Pat had worked here for years and is obviously a local hero. Roger told me that, if I couldn’t go to the sale, he would understand completely. I gave Roger my word that I’d help him out at the sale and it’s not like I could go to the funeral in any case because of Covid so we continued with the plan. We thought he was a 50 grand yearling all day long but he only made 26 or 27 grand at the sale. We always felt that he was a racehorse so when he won first time up and then went on to the Super Sprint, we were delighted. The other thing is, we are a small operation and if we approached one of the bigger outfits to do a foal share, they’d just tell us to go away and not be annoying them. So what do you do? We can’t go spending 30 or 40 grand on a proven sire as we had an unproven mare at the time and, the only thing we had to go by on the pedigree is that her half-sister Queen Of Power had an Acclamation colt who made €130,000 as a foal. He ended up being a good horse for Charlie Hills and is probably a major reason why we went to a son of Acclamation (GB) in Mehmas with Vida Amorosa (Ire). 

BS: It’s often the case that a mare catches fire just when she’s gone too old. You don’t have that problem with Vida Amorosa.

BL: She’s just turned nine and is in foal to Starman (GB). It was this time last year when we were over in Tally-Ho and Roger said to me, ‘Bar, this 2-year-old [Persian Force] could be the real deal.’ I said, ‘great, let’s send the mare back to Mehmas.’ He says, ‘No, you won’t, you’ll go to Starman.’ You hear it time and time again, that this horse is good and that horse is good, but you want to see them go and prove it. I thought, fine, let Persian Force prove he’s a good one and, if he is as good as everyone says he is, then we can always go to Mehmas the following year. 

BS: We’re busy putting together our mating plans pieces in TDN, so what plans have ye made on that front?

BL: The bottom line is, if Vida Amorosa goes in foal to Mehmas, whether she has a filly or a colt, it doesn’t matter. In actual fact, the filly is probably worth as much if not more to us. It’s the logical choice. If you don’t go to Mehmas, where do you go?

TL: As I said to Barry, you could go to Acclamation, the sire of Mehmas. It’s the same line. He’s had a great run as a sire. 

BS: How many mares do you have to make mating plans for?

BL: We’ve only got two mares to foal this year, the smallest bunch we’ve ever had. We’d a lovely Danehill Dancer (Ire) mare, whose first foal ended up being Different Gravey (Ire) for Nicky Henderson, but she’s retired now. She looked like she was going to a very good National Hunt broodmare at one stage but it was a total disaster. We bought a lovely Australia (GB) mare last year but she died foaling. That’s why we’ve the lowest number of mares we’ve ever had between retiring mares and just a bit of bad luck. 

TL: Some of them just weren’t up to scratch. They were only ordinary and you don’t want to be breeding ordinary mares. If they’re not good, they’re a waste of time. 

BS: Getting back to the awards night, John O’Connor of Ballylinch Stud presented you with your trophy, which is quite significant given he purchased Ingabelle off you. Of course, Ingabelle has gone on to be an important foundation mare at Ballylinch. 

TL: We bred Ingabelle and sold a half share in her before she ever hit the racecourse but, when her racing career was over, her owners didn’t have any interest in breeding from her so we sold her. If we didn’t sell the half-share to begin with, we’d never have sold her ourselves, but we couldn’t hang on to her. I saw Ballylinch put up a lovely picture congratulating me on the award on social media the other day and they mentioned Ingabelle and how she became an important foundation mare for them. We go back a good few years.

BL: She was a very significant filly. I used to ride her out every morning before school. She was a great barometer for me. For years afterwards, you’d ride something and you could say, ‘yea, that’s nice, but it’s no Ingabelle.’ I was very lucky that I was able to sit up on something so good at a young age. It’s like sitting into a good car. The good horses are very hard to find and the problem is, for a place like this, once you stumble across one, you have to sell to keep the whole thing going. They are hard to hang on to. Dad would have had 10 people working here through the ’70s to the ’90s. That’s lots of wages and lots of owners to look after. There were 40 or 50 horses riding out here every morning for over 30 years.

TL: We had some great times. It’s a great lifestyle and you get a great kick out of when things go well. 

BS: When did you retire?

BL: You haven’t had your trainers’ licence for over 10 years now, Dad. 

TL: Staff was the biggest problem. It was impossible to get staff. If you don’t have good riders, you’re at nothing, because a bad rider would ruin a good horse. You need good lads riding out.

BL: We had some great people working here and, during the mid-’90s, Pat Smullen was our stable jockey. Every lad in his 60s or 70s around here, they either worked here or in the bog during the summer at one stage in their lives. 

BS: Do you miss the training, Tom?

TL: You miss good horses. I remember I needed a companion for Ingabelle so I went and bought a horse for 1,200 pounds at the sales. He turned out to be Welsh Bard and he was as good as Ingabelle. He was a late foal, which is why we got him cheap, but he won a 2-year-old race in May at Down Royal. I can remember Declan Gillespie rode him to win at Down Royal and, when he got down off him, he said, ‘how good is Ingabelle!’ He’d been riding the two of them work so he knew exactly what we had.

BL: That was the Monday and Ingabelle was running at Tipperary on the Thursday. I can remember looking up at the boards when I was leading her around the parade ring and she was 14-1. By the time they got down to the start, she was the 5-2 favourite. She bolted up by five lengths. Days like that were brilliant. 

BS: Could you sum up your emotion for being recognised by your peers at the ITBA Awards?

TL: Honest to God, no. None, that’s the truth now. You work hard and enjoy the whole year and I looked forward to him running the very same as if I owned him myself. I looked forward so much to seeing him run. We went over to see him win at Newbury and got to speak to Richard Hannon before the race. He told us to come into the winner’s enclosure three hours before the race, unbelievably cocky.He knew he had a good horse. It’s very difficult to get a good mare, very difficult. Go to the sales and try and buy a good mare, the majority of them are no good and, the ones you want, you can’t buy them. 

BL: The dam sire is hugely important. We’d been on the lookout for a Lope De Vega mare for years before we bought Vida Amorosa. 

BS: Has there been many inquiries about the mare?

BL: There have been enquiries but no real offers. 

TL: A few people rang to see if we were interested in selling her but we’re not. If you were to sell a mare like that, it would be very easy to flutter away the money and you’d have nothing to show for it, whereas you’d find it hard to find one as good again. Never say never, but we’re not thinking of selling her. 

BS: Have ye got a mare to send Persian Force this year?

BL: There’s a Red Clubs (Ire) mare out there called Style (Ire). Her son, Pagan (Ire) (Sir Prancealot {Ire}), won twice for William Haggas and is doing well out in Saudi Arabia now. She could go to Persian Force. 

BS: You touched on Pat Smullen, Rhode’s most famous son, earlier. You gave him his first winner and I’m sure you’ve many fond memories of him.

TL: He used to come up here every Saturday and Sunday and go racing pony racing on the Sundays as well. He’d get a fiver a ride and ended up being a champion pony race rider. When he was old enough, I brought him up to the Turf Club to get his licence. I remember that they were slow about giving him his licence because pony racing was against the rules but, anyway, after his first or second race riding for me, I knew he was good. He rode like a good jockey from an early stage. After he rode in two or three races for us, he rode everything for us, because we felt even back then that he was as good if not better than the rest of the other jockeys. And he was. He never rode a bad race for us. You could never blame the jockey when Pat rode for you. 

BL: He was here about two years before he had his first winner on the track which was May 1993. I remember going up to Dundalk with Pat where he rode one for us to finish fourth. He was beaten three short heads, it was a blanket finish, but Mick Kinane wouldn’t have rode our horse any better. You often see the ride of the month going to a winning ride but this ride, to finish fourth, was as good a ride as there was. I remember coming down off the stand and thinking that Pat Smullen was brilliant. He was claiming seven pounds but he was a stone ahead of any other apprentice out there.

TL: He was heavy as a claimer and he used to live in the sauna here. I remember thinking he would be a good bet to be champion jockey. I would have got great odds. 

BL: There was no Curragh messing with Pat. His parents kept his feet on the ground and he was champion apprentice here twice. He went from here to John Oxx’s and then, after a year there, went riding for Dermot Weld. 

TL: I used to tell him to communicate what he thought after a race and he was brilliant at it. Tell the trainer, truly, this fella wants further or whatever. That’s what you’re being paid for. Don’t just jump down. Tell them exactly what you think. 

BL: That’s what Pat was renowned for. He was able to explain and he understood how to talk to trainers and owners. That’s why they loved him.

BS: Rhode has punched above its sporting weight for years with Pat flying the flag for the village and then last year La Petite Coco (Ire), Minzaal (Ire) and Persian Force, all of whom were bred in the area, recording major successes on the track. You must be proud of the village.

TL: There’s three group winners from a five-mile radius. There’s four stud farms in the area, with Frances Smullen there as well, and it’s only a matter of time before she produces a real good one. 

BS: There’s plenty more to look forward to with Vida Amorosa. Has there been any reports on her Inns Of Court (Ire) 2-year-old?

BL: He was bought by Amo Racing. He was a lovely horse. Physically, he was probably the nicest foal out of the mare but he won’t be as precocious as the other lads. 

TL: He won’t be early, he’ll take a bit of time. 

BL: He looks as though he’ll be at his best at three. Even at the Orby, he looked a little leggy. 

BS: It’s obvious that you both have a great relationship with the O’Callaghans.

BL: They’re brilliant. A little horse we bred, Roundabout Magic (Ire) won a little race at Lingfield on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago. He is only a pony and Hollie Doyle looked big on him. Anyway, he hadn’t crossed the line five minutes and Tony rings, asking if he had a half-brother. ‘He does,’ says I, ‘but he’s by Morpheus.’ ‘Sure I’ll come down and have a look at him,’ Tony says. On he comes, to look at this Morpheus yearling. We had gelded him because Morpheus was a complete disaster and we were half thinking of sending this lad to the store sales. But Tony came looking at this lad with a view towards breezing him after his half-brother won a little Class 6 at Lingfield. They didn’t buy him because we gelded him, but that’s how game he is, he’d come here on New Year’s Eve to look at buying a little Morpheus of ours to breeze. They’re brilliant people to work with.

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