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My Racing Story

My Racing Story

Gary Bannon

Gary Bannon pictured with the Midland's National trophyGary Bannon pictured with the Midland's National trophy

I’m from Swords and I got interested in racing by going to meetings with my grandfather and uncle. They brought me to Fairyhouse, and on Fridays I’d rush home from school to go with them to Dundalk. I enjoyed the atmosphere around the parade ring and seeing the horses and jockeys. I was a decent footballer at the time and played at a good level for Shelbourne’s underage teams until I picked up a foot injury.

A friend of the family, Colm McGuinness, organised an opportunity for me to go to Ado McGuinness’ yard when I was 15 and I started going there as much as I could on weekends and school holidays. I knew I’d be a bit heavy to be a jockey but I was always intrigued by the training side of the game. After finishing my Leaving Cert I worked full-time for Ado and in all I spent eight years with him. He taught me how to ride and, although he was a hard taskmaster at times when I was learning the ropes, overall he was brilliant to me as was his assistant Stephen Thorne. I travelled horses like Bubbly Bellini and Roca Rojo to Britain for Ado and I enjoyed having that responsibility and also learning how to engage with owners when representing the yard before races. It’s wonderful to see Ado and his team having such success at the moment and no-one deserves it more.

About two and a half years ago I took on the role of assistant trainer to Bill Durkan at his yard in Glencullen. It’s an historic yard where Ferdy Murphy trained back in the late seventies and some great horses have been stabled there. It was fantastic to reward the Durkan family for the chance they gave me by winning a prestigious race like the Midlands National. I travelled over to Uttoxeter with Screaming Colours on the Wednesday before the race when all the focus that week was on Cheltenham. He was fourth in the race the previous year and we felt he had every chance. He won in great style by ten lengths and some of the Durkans, including Bill’s son Niall who helps me with the horses when not working with the family construction company, were there to enjoy the victory. Last Saturday we paraded the horse up at Johnnie Fox’s pub which would be local to us and I brought the trophy to my grandfather’s grave as well. He passed away last year and was a great supporter of mine. This would have meant a lot to him. I put a couple of the horse’s racing plates on his grave.

The horse is entered in the Irish National and the Bet 365 Gold Cup at Sandown. I would have a preference for the latter but we’ll see what the weather does as he likes a nice ease in the ground. We were actually getting him ready for the Welsh National this season but he had a slight setback just a week before the race and had to miss it. That might be on his agenda next season. He’s eleven but hasn’t had an awful lot of racing and has been very consistent since going into long-distance handicaps.

We have a small team of horses and we’re always hoping to improve the quality. Fallen Forest won twice for us on the Flat last year and was touched off at the Galway festival. He’ll be back in action this year and Siobhan Rutledge gets a good tune out of him. Still Standing won a maiden hurdle at Gowran on his first start for us and is another nice horse while we’re looking forward to seeing what Favorite Moon can do. He’s a horse who we acquired in the autumn and he had some very smart form for William Haggas. We’re hoping to start him off in a conditions race at Gowran next week and, if all goes well, he could be a horse for some of those big staying handicaps on the Flat and we’ve the option of going over hurdles with him as well.

Conor Orr is Screaming Colour’s regular jockey and he does a lot of the schooling with our jumpers and Shane Kelly does a lot of work with our Flat horses. We’ve a great team of lads in the yard and have schooling hurdles and cross-country obstacles on the farm. There’s a river there for cooling off and I bring the horses to Laytown sometimes to give them a change of scenery.

Bill is in great fettle and still rides out on his hunter every day. The Durkans are from Bohola in County Mayo and we have a great bit of slagging about football as I’m a big fan of the Dubs. They’ve been great supporters of racing over the years and they really appreciated being back in the limelight with Screaming Colours. Of course losing John just as he was about to start out on his training career was a terrible blow to the family and he’s still sadly missed.

Screaming Colours jumping a fence at Punchestown in 2020Screaming Colours jumping a fence at Punchestown in 2020
© Photo Healy Racing

I got loads of text messages of congratulations from the likes of Arthur Moore and Jessica Harrington because I’ve pre-trained horses for them in the past and that meant a lot to me. And Ado McGuinness was the first person to text me to say well done.

I’m very happy with my situation at the moment. Looking to the future I would love to train under my own name even if that means going overseas. We’ve all seen how hard it can be for people who start with ten or fifteen horses here. It’s difficult to make it into a viable business but there might be opportunities in Britain or further afield. and it’s something I wouldn’t rule out in the longer term.

I just think some young people, for example those who might be keeping horses in, shall we say, difficult areas, might find my story inspiring. I didn’t have any background with horses or racing but fell in love with the game. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and my story shows that you can succeed in this sport if you believe in yourself and put in the work. There are opportunities in racing for young people from any type of background and it can be a very rewarding way of life.

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