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Outsider Lynam crashes the party

WHEN Sole Power blitzed a high class field in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York’s Ebor meeting last August at the eye-popping price of 100/1, his trainer Edward Lynam was catapulted into the limelight. “A typical Dub” as he describes himself, he dealt with it all readily.

Sole Power and Johnny Murtagh enter the winner's enclosure at Royal Ascot after winning the King's Stand Stakes in 2013 (Photo: Caroline Norris)

Winning a first Group 1 is a significant milestone though, especially when you’ve waited 27 years. In just 57.14 seconds, Lynam became what must surely be the longest overnight sensation ever.

The Dunshaughlin-based handler is, in his own words, an “outsider”, with very little racing pedigree. While his uncles, Jimmy and Eamon O’Connell were trainers, it was the fact that Lynam was born and reared beside Phoenix Park racecourse that was piqued his interest. As a child, he was bitten by the bug.

When he was 12, his father bought Sir Hugh Nugent’s Lohunda Park Stables with the intention of developing  the property. While waiting to do so, he rented the premises to a newcomer named Jim Bolger, who did very well there before moving to Coolcullen. Lynam had spent time with Bolger learning his trade and took over in 1983.

Soon afterwards, he placed an advertisement in The Irish Field looking for staff. A young female who had ridden as an apprentice for Charlie Nelson answered and within a few years, the young trainer had, not just a work rider and an assistant, but a wife.

“Lucky for me” he admits, acknowledging the massive role Aileen has had not just in the business, but in his life. He has always needed that support because there have been many dark days where only his love of the game kept him involved.

“It’s always been a bit of a struggle because of being an outsider” says Lynam. “When I started training I relied on help from my mum and dad, who gave me my first couple of horses. Then I had a bit of success and gradually built up owners over the year.

“We would have been selling horses to go abroad. I’ve been selling horses to Hong Kong since I started. Financially, I’m in the same position as the economy. I wouldn’t be making any money. I love it and I do it.

“My daughter wants to do it now, after graduating from Trinity College. She just told her father she wanted to become a horse trainer and I went ‘oh Jesus, do you know what you’re letting yourself in for?’ But it’s a kind of an addiction. I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to make money but it’s a great way of life.”

Sarah is currently learning her trade with Willie Mullins (“a proper trainer” deadpans Lynam), but his two other daughters appear likely to steer clear of thoroughbreds, with Amy in the fashion business in London, although Emily is studying photography and may be the future Jacqueline O’Brien.

Lynam’s first winner was a grey by Sexton Blake called Silver Lark in Navan in 1984. Silver Lark was subsequently sold to Hong Kong, where he campaigned successfully as Silver Shadow. The impact of the victory on the 22-year-old rookie was immense.

“I could tell you what was second and third, who rode and who trained them” he admits now, having taken in everything about the day. And believe me, he can.

Four years later, he thought he’d made it when his two-year-old colt Tantum Ergo followed up a victory in the Sportmen’s Challenge Cup by garnering the Group 3 CL Weld Park Stakes on Cartier Million day. Both victories came at his local track.

“We thought we’d cracked it then. We had a very good two-year-old around that time as well called Gregory Peck who beat one of those three million horses of Vincent O’Brien’s. They were nearly horses really. I suppose the best horse I had in the earlier days was Rolo Tomasi.”

Rolo Tomasi won three races, including the Listed Testimonial Stakes in 1999 and was second four times. Lynam was showing that he could train them but he just didn’t have enough of quality.

“The whole secret is sourcing good owners and good horses. That’s far more difficult to do than to say. The way the game is now, you need to be going worldwide. The Irish economy doesn’t have the people to compete at the sales. You need to be able to attract the foreign money but I don’t have many of them.

“But then you look at someone like Jim Bolger, who started from nothing and he’s self-sufficient. He does it all himself. They’re nearly all his own horses.”

Lynam’s sense of humour is renowned and he’s not afraid to be self-deprecating. He was happy to tell people about the text he’d received from Ger Lyons after Sole Power’s victory that read “what clown decided to geld the horse?”

“You have to be able to laugh at yourself. You’ve got to enjoy the good days because there’s loads of bad days but we’re dreamers in racing and that helps. We can dream walking. We don’t need to go to bed to dream. We’re optimists.”

Maybe that’s why he says he was “pretty cool” after the Nunthorpe. Even though it might have come as a shock, there is no way it was a fluke.

“It was one of the fastest Nunthorpes in recent years and when they analysed it they couldn’t find anything flukey about it. It was beautiful racing ground, he slotted in mid-division, crept into the race and quickened away well. It wasn’t as if he got four lengths lead at the gate and they didn’t catch him, or it was atrocious ground. On the day he brought his A game to the race.

“He’s an incredibly fast horse but he hasn’t learned how to gallop properly. The more those sprinters race, the more they learn to gallop. They get better with age and it’s not so much to do with strength but learning how to race properly. I think his best is ahead of him.”

Thus there is plenty of optimism for the campaign ahead that should include the Palace House Stakes on Guineas weekend, the Temple Stakes at Haydock, the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot, possibly the July Cup and definitely a Nunthorpe return.

“Every day’s a Cup final with a horse like him” the avowed Manchester United fan enthuses.

It was the exploits of Duff that gave him the confidence to go for these types of races. The eight-year-old will continue to race this year but as a winner of a Group 2, two Group 3s and four Listed races, he owes connections nothing.

“As a trainer you need a few of them to slot in right in right when you go with them. And when you do, you get a bit more adventurous. When an owner has a good horse, they should race them and train them, because you don’t know how long you’ll be waiting for the next one.”

He enjoyed the recent trip to Dubai even though Sole Power never got into contention.

“It’s a fabulous race track, fabulous prize money but it’s basically a beautiful city dropped in the middle of a desert. It comes at a funny time, before the season starts in earnest. I’ve had runners there and Hong Kong and they’ve treated me well and I’ll go back but the places I like are York and Royal Ascot if I had one good enough.”

While he isn’t too hopeful about his three-year-old crop for the season ahead, there are plenty of prospects amongst his two year-olds and the older generation. Apart from the stable star, Duff will continue to operate, albeit in lower divisions than he used to, while his half-sister Tweedy will begin her season in May. Denny Crane is “the trainer’s favourite horse, he’d talk to you” and will be aimed at the premier handicaps.

Of his “nice team of two-year-olds”, Slade Power (a home-bred colt by Dutch Art), Khyber Pass (bought very cheaply in England) and the filly Merkel are three that Lynam really likes.

“We’ll keep dreaming, we’ll keep hoping. The high that you get… if you ask the owners of Sole Power to put a value on it, they couldn’t. They had a box at York with all the family over. The buzz is massive and when you get it, you want to get it again.”

This article was written in April 2011.

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