Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Remembering Michael

It has been a week of terrible sadness within the racing industry, with two much liked and respected men choosing to end their own lives. One of them, Michael Quinlan, lived here in Newmarket, where he trained for a number of years before handing over the licence to his brother, Noel. In effect, the brothers always trained together, it's just that in this county, unlike Australia, only one name can be on the licence.

Most people seemed to refer to Michael as Mick but when I interviewed the Quinlans for the Racing Post in 2008 following the Queen Mary victory of Langs Lash, Noel always referred to his brother as Michael, a style which I followed for the piece.

I have posted the story in full below. It gave me great pleasure to write it at the time, and I have always been very pleased to bump into the Quinlans ever since meeting them on this occasion. We've also had Noel's son Jack, now a conditional for John Ferguson, ride for us several times, and he too is a really nice young man.

I hope this piece goes some way towards illustrating what a decent and lovely person Michael was, and what a terrible loss he is to his family and to Newmarket's horseracing community.

©Racing Post, June 2008

IT’S midsummer’s day and while the temperature is hardly sizzling, Michael Quinlan has the sausages coming along nicely in his home overlooking Tattersalls in Newmarket as his younger brother Noel holds court at the kitchen table.

Though Michael’s name is on the licence, the training operation, run in partnership with Noel, is universally referred to as ‘the Quinlans’. The brothers had plenty to celebrate last week with their first Royal Ascot winner, Langs Lash, which was followed up by a first-time-out victory for Le Brocquy, who got the better of a Luca Cumani-trained odds-on favourite at their adopted home course on Friday evening.

Noel, left, and Michael Quinlan with Langs Lash
“It was hopping,” says Noel of the atmosphere after Langs Lash’s win, which did not come as too much of a surprise to the team.

He continues: “Alan Munro rode her the Thursday before Ascot and she worked well and he came back and said he thought it was his best chance of a winner at the meeting. We were really happy with her and knew she’d run well. We couldn’t be confident that we’d win the Queen Mary, not in a month of Sundays, but there was no way the Bell horse (Bahamian Babe) could beat us again on any course and she was 8/1 and we were 25/1.”

The neat Noverre filly, who was unsold at Goffs’ Kempton breeze-up sales in March, can now look forward to a short break before resuming training ahead of her next planned outing in York’s Lowther Stakes and looks likely to be racing in America next season for new owners.

“She came to us from Willie Browne when she failed to sell – all our best horses have been those that haven’t sold at the sales or that have been bought cheaply, such as Frank Sonata, who was bought for us by David McGreavy for 10,000gns,” says Noel.
“When she came off the lorry I was surprised at what a nice filly she was considering that she was unsold. She used to hang on the gallops and we had her checked out completely by the vet and then the dentist but we couldn’t find anything wrong with her. We ended up putting a rubber bit in her mouth and two days later we knew she was good.”

Noel’s lively post-race celebrations were captured by the BBC but his more reticent brother was notable by his absence.

“I went to Royal Ascot once and it wasn’t really my scene. I like Aintree or Cheltenham,” says Michael, preferring to concentrate on breakfast preparations rather than the interview, happy to let his brother and the horses do the talking.

It was Noel who first came to Newmarket from their native Tipperary 25 years ago, with Michael, who rode as an amateur and trained “in a small way” in Ireland, joining him 14 years later.

“We used to do breeze-up horses and we were sent some Italian horses to pre-train one year and they left us with two,” explains Noel. “Obviously we couldn’t train them because we didn’t have a licence but they ended up running that summer and they both won so the Italians promised to send us some more and asked if we could get a training licence. Michael took out the licence and off we went training by accident.”

With 45 horses in the yard, the brothers have some decent ammunition in both codes. Notable runners in recent years include the aforementioned three-time Listed winner Frank Sonata, who took the scalp of Scorpion at the Curragh and is now back in training after a year off through injury, and Group 3 heroine Dixie Belle. Friday night’s Newmarket winner Le Brocquy is a smartly bred individual, being a full-brother to Lord Howard de Walden’s unbeaten Yorkshire Oaks winner Catchascatchcan, whose first foal was Antonius Pius. Le Brocquy is the second horse the Quinlans have trained for Dermot and Perle O’Rourke, owners of Plantation Stud, with the other, hurdler Virginia Preuil, also scoring on his debut for the yard.

“Michael likes his jumpers but I don’t care, I just want winners. A race is a race to us wherever it is – we’d go if they started racing on Blackpool beach, “ says Noel, who is responsible for entries and book work while Michael looks after the horses. Noel’s son Jack, one of the leading riders of the pony racing scene, has recently turned 16 and has had three rides for the yard to date. He is set to partner Banjo Patterson at Warwick on Thursday.

“We’re trying to find him a winner,” says his father. “He’s a good lad and has done a lot of work on Le Brocquy. We’re lucky that we have a great team of good riders, headed by our long-standing head man Andy O’Connor.”

Athnid Stables, which is named after Michael’s farm in Ireland, forms part of a Celtic enclave on the Hamilton Road, with young Irish trainers David Lanigan next door and Ed Vaughan and Simon Callaghan opposite.

“I couldn’t train in Ireland again, I had to travel 60 miles to use good gallops,” says Michael, who has now served up a delicious breakfast which has momentarily stopped Noel’s flow of conversation. “I can’t understand why there aren’t more National Hunt horses in Newmarket because the facilities are absolutely fantastic. It took me 12 months to get used to the place but someone said to me ‘you try going away from here and you’ll always come back’ and they were right.”

Noel’s finished his sausage and agrees with these sentiments: “In Newmarket, the best thing is not to bother about anyone else and do your own thing. Where in the world could you go to have two racecourses, the best sales complex, a big airport 20 minutes down the road, the best gallops, a great nightclub – and even a lapdancing club!”
While the two brothers now count the town as their permanent home, Ireland has not gone short of Quinlans, as they are but two of ten children.

“There were six boys and four girls; one of our sisters died from cancer a few years ago but the rest of us are still alive,” says Noel. “God knows how because we drink and we smoke and use too much sugar, too much butter, too much everything.”

For many people, working so closely with family members might also prove to be too much but this is not the case for the Michael and Noel.

“It’s a marriage made in heaven – we never fight,” grins Noel.

For once, Michael seems determined to have the last word: “You couldn’t fight with him,“ he says nodding at his brother. “He’s such a nice fella.”

As the trainer-cum-chef sends your reporter on her way with a loaf of homemade bread and a plate of food for later, it would seem the same could be said for both Quinlans.

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