Over five months on from the dreamworld of Aintree and Cheltenham and the wonderful Minella horse racing double, matters have calmed down now and the dedicated team responsible for that incredible success story are busy preparing for a new season.
The Minella Racing team at Lavally outside Clonmel are just getting on with the job, doing what they have been doing for over thirty years, working with and looking after horses every day of the week at the now globally-renowned yard.
The work routine is exactly the same as it always has been, as staff gather in the early hours of the morning as they prepare for the start of another point to point season, which is crucial to the survival and the success of Minella Racing every year.
Everything is measured by performances at point to point meetings and that is where the work of John Nallen and his team will be judged after years of patience and hard work with the horses that are ready to make their point to point debut.
Some adjustments have taken place, most notably the arrival of articulated truck loads of sand from Wexford for the laying of a new surface in the main track, and there are more people turning up to observe what is going on at Lavally since the glorious performances of Minella Indo and Minella Times last March and April, bringing Cheltenham Gold Cup and Aintree Grand National glory.
Parents and their children wander around the yard getting an up-close view as Johnny Barry, ‘Corky’ Carroll, Heather Walsh and John Nallen’s two nephews Conor and Sean, go about their business feeding the horses, schooling them and washing them down.
“One huge change since April has been the interest residents at the Minella Hotel have taken concerning what happens at Lavally. About 50% of the hotel residents now come out here to Lavally to have a look at what is going on, they want to see where Minella Indo and Minella Times were reared,” said John Nallen, the man who became an international celebrity overnight and will now be forever known as the man with an eye for horses that turns ‘rough diamonds into jewels’.
John’s focus and that of the team at Lavally is now firmly fixed on the beginning of a new point to point season, the arena where all their hard work is put to the test with the season, starting in the last week of September.
“That is the bread and butter of it really, it is all geared to preparing a horse to win at a point to point and then moving them on.That is the way it is, that is the shop window, that is where you sell your goods,” said John Nallen.
Anybody that visits Lavally will quickly realise the 24/7 work ethic that is required.
While what happened last March and April was, as John describes it, “fairytale stuff”, the Minella team have been doing the same work every day of the year for the last thirty years with significant success but nothing compared to the magic that occurred earlier this year.
“You went from trading stock to trading stock with a world brand, to have produced two world brand leaders changed everything,” said John.
Hard work is a given in the industry and a combination of good judgement, knowledge and care for the animals with a bit of good fortune is also required.
The picture can be very bleak one minute and change very quickly, as happened in the build-up to the Aintree Grand National success.
On the Friday night before the Grand National, John was having a very difficult time and the Grand National was very far from his mind.
The Minella team were due to bring Minella Crooner to a point to point in Cork on the morning of the Grand National but the night before was a difficult one.
“We castrated a bunch of yearlings on the Friday and one of them bled and was shook enough. On the Saturday morning he was touch and go but came through and then we headed to Cork and Minella Crooner won, and on the way home I stopped to watch the Grand National in John Harney’s house and from then on it was just unbelievable,” said John, as his whole world changed in seconds.
Since the spectacular success, John said he did not have many horses to sell on over the last few months but he expected a good bit of activity over the winter.
Asked if, after putting so much work into the horses, if selling them on was difficult when he and his team would have become so attached to a horse;
“No, that is the game, that is what we do to survive, it’s a game for the big boys.
“You cannot afford to keep them, they are toys for the big boys, you can’t drink all your own beer and eat all your own grub,” said John.
“You have to wait until you get form on them, then they will get sold. You put in a batch every year and hope they work out, some years it works out more than others and that is the way it is.
“They find different levels and find their new homes. We will be starting off 15 to 20 for the first time in point to point, the level they find dictates the market and where they end up,” said John.
John said that the team and himself would have an idea of the level each horse would get to, that you could pick out the really special ones.
“You would have an idea, the real ones show their natural ability very early.
“We buy them as foals, seven or eight months old. We work on them then rear them, feed them every day of their life, keep them healthy, as two-year-olds, we break them and school them and get them going, keep graduating them up from jumping a small pipe to a fence,” said John.
“We work to just get form and get them sold, getting them to the right place is very important. It is where they end up is important, where they go to and how they are handled afterwards. The team here adds value to them and try and make a few quid.
“Anybody can buy steak or a strip of beef but they all can’t cook it like we do in Minella, it’s where they end up is the most important,” said John.
The work of the team at Lavally is now more closely monitored than ever, with visitors present every day.
“People come, they want to see, they want to take a picture, some horse people, some betting people, all kinds, some people don’t know what a horse is but they saw it on television and they want to see it,” said John.
“It is great to bring them to the area, most of them will never buy a horse, if they pay for a bed and buy their dinner that will do me,” said John.
First and foremost it is a family business but one horse is not for sale, and John says that is the most valuable horse they have at Lavally.
That horse belongs to his son Jack, who works side by side with his father every day.
“Jack knows what is going on with the horses. He would know by you whether you had a fancy on one. Jack has a cob Bell, that is the most valuable horse here, one that will never be sold,” said John.
Last year some very special moments were witnessed all over the world, Minella Indo winning the Gold Cup, Minella Times winning the Grand National, with John’s emotional video of him watching the race going viral, leading to endless interviews on Irish and English radio and television.
The most special moment of the most incredible year for John and his wife Bernadine, however, was watching Jack ride around the track at Lavally with Rachael Blackmore, who visited shortly after her Aintree triumph.
“That was our Grand National really, absolute dream stuff to see Jack going around with Rachael,” said John.
To cap it all off Rachael made a special presentation to Jack of the goggles she had worn for the Grand National .
“Fairytale stuff” said John.
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