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Trainer Fergal O’Brien in good form as he looks ahead to Cheltenham Festival

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Thursday, 13th February 2020, 09:00

“The horses and everyone here, they’re all very happy,” says Fergal O’Brien of his new training location “The horses and everyone here, they’re all very happy,” says Fergal O’Brien of his new training location

Fergal O’Brien had a smile as wide as the gallops his horses were running on when The Local Answer called in to see his new training base midway between Withington and Compton Abdale.

And it’s easy to see why the 47-year-old is so pleased with life because the winners have been flowing since he left Temple Guiting for his new home at the back end of last summer, so much so that he seems certain to smash his season’s best tally of 60.

He’s sent out 56 winners in the current campaign and O’Brien and his team – there are 22 full-time staff – are loving life at Ravenswell Farm.

“It’s a game-changer even though we’re a long way from it being finished,” he said of the new set-up in the heart of the Cotswolds.

There is indeed much work still to be done but O’Brien, the one-time head lad for Nigel Twiston-Davies, is in it very much for the long haul.

He has a 20-year lease on the 70-acre site that belongs to businessman and one-time chairman of Southampton Football Club, Rupert Lowe; a site which houses 80 refurbished stables as well as an all-weather hillside gallop and a circular sand gallop.

An office, owners’ room and staff accommodation area are also being built and although work is ongoing it has not got in the way of the main business which is, of course, producing winners.

“The horses and everyone here, they’re all very happy,” O’Brien told The Local Answer earlier this week.

“It’s a bitterly cold morning but it’s a fantastic place to work whatever the weather. If it’s tipping down with rain we just shut the doors in the barn and everyone is working in the dry. It’s a great place, we’re very lucky to find it.”

O’Brien’s business partner Chris Coley is a key player, of course, and as a racehorse owner for many years Coley admits it would be a dream come true if the stable were to have their first winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

And they’ve certainly got plenty of entries for the four-day spectacular, which gets under way on Tuesday 10th March.

“We’ve got a few entries,” said O’Brien. “I’m not sure how many runners we’ll have but the ones who do go will hopefully go there with chances.

“We’ve been lucky over the last few years. I think early doors when I first started training seven years ago, we ambitiously went there with horses that didn’t have any chance but the last few years it’s been a bit better, we’ve gone there with horses that have place chances so it’s been going well.”

So who would be his big hope this year?

“Champagne Well will probably be one of our better chances,” O’Brien continued. “He’s battle hardened, it’s his second season over hurdles. He’s won round Cheltenham, he’s been placed, his form is rock solid.

“He probably didn’t quite stay the three miles at Doncaster in the River Don but it was still a very good race so we’re really pleased with him.”

Champagne Well is entered for both the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on the Wednesday and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on the Friday and O’Brien, like every other trainer, owner and jockey, would love to be in the winner’s enclosure at some stage at the Cheltenham Festival.

“Of course you do but it’s not the be-all and end-all,” he insisted. “I don’t wake up at night worrying that I haven’t had a Cheltenham Festival winner. There are more high profile trainers than me who haven’t trained Cheltenham Festival winners.

“We’re all about trying to train as many winners as we can for nice people and giving everyone a good time and always doing our best.”

And O’Brien’s best is clearly very good indeed.

He’s won well over £500,000 in prizemoney in 2019/20 and currently sits 12th in the trainers’ championship.

That’s rich reward for the personable O’Brien who works pretty much seven days a week, even though he says for the most part he doesn’t consider what he does to be a job.

His partner, Sally Randell, is his assistant trainer and O’Brien said: “It’s a great way of life but it’s a very tough sport whether you’re a trainer, jockey or an owner. It’s all about survival really, but we want to have plenty of winners and just strive for even more.

“We’re not a million miles away from where we need to be. We need to be consistent and not have those dips that we get sometimes and I think this location, Ravenswell Farm, will help us to do that.”

The evidence would suggest that’s very much the case.

But although the sport of horseracing is all-consuming, O’Brien, who was born in Tipperary in Southern Ireland before moving across the Irish Sea to this country some 30 years ago, does find time to enjoy other sports.

He is a keen football fan, likes his boxing and also watches a bit of cricket – he sponsored last year’s Cheltenham Cricket Festival.

He’s also a big rugby fan and has a couple of tickets for the Six Nations showdown between England and Ireland at Twickenham later this month.

As an Irishman through and through – he hasn’t lost his accent! – he’ll be cheering on the men in green, of course.

And it could, just could, be the first leg of what would be a very special double for O’Brien – a win for Jonny Sexton and his boys followed by his first ever Cheltenham Festival winner. Now that really would be a dream come true!

Other Images

Fergal O’Brien
Work is ongoing at Fergal O’Brien’s new training base
Everybody is happy with the facilities at Ravenswell Farm
The Fergal O’Brien team moved to their new set-up at the end of last summer
Fergal O’Brien’s team celebrate Goodbye Dancer’s win at Cheltenham in December last year

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