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“Racing and bloodstock, while a cutthroat business, is in fact one big dysfunctional family”

Where did your interest in racing and bloodlines come from – is there a family connection or did you just get into it yourself?

There’s no family connection to racing at all, I’m a complete slam on that front. I knew little or nothing about horse racing or breeding until I was 17 and to this day my parents still have little idea what I do.

It wasn’t until I was studying civil engineering at University College Cork and happened to be living with Kate O’Donovan who bred and sold a point-to-pointer named Doctor Phoenix that I got into racing. Around that time, AP McCoy was chasing 4,000 winners, which I followed eagerly on At The Races, and I was totally enthralled. From there I started helping John Mullane, a small local point-to-point trainer, on the weekends. He used Mick Winters’ canter and it also happened to be the same year Missunited went to the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. In many ways it all happened by accident; I was just in the right place at the right time.

The following September I changed courses and went to University College Dublin to study Animal Science, where I became involved with the UCD Horse Racing Society. It was then that I started to realize that I could pursue racing and blood cattle as a career path.

Which experiences of both were of particular benefit, as graduates of the Irish National Stud and Godolphin Flying Start?

One of the great benefits of taking both the Godolphin Flying Start and Irish National Stud courses is the wide range of industry people you meet. While I learned so much academically on both courses, from thoroughbred reproduction to blood stocks and everything in between, the biggest benefit for me personally was the network I created.

The Irish National Stud course is a brilliant place to meet like-minded ambitious young people in the industry. We learned a lot from each other during the six months, everyone had their own experiences and niches to teach each other. Many of the class are still good friends of mine, who work in all aspects of the industry.

Donncha McCarthy (center back row) with his fellow Godolphin Flying Start graduatesCredit: Andy Davies

During the Flying Start, you will be exposed to industry leaders around the world and get placements on some of the best stallions and racecourses throughout the program. The Flying Start alumni network is a very tight-knit community and all past graduates are great mentors to recent graduates and current students of the program. It is an unparalleled opportunity in the industry that allows you to travel, learn and develop yourself. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tell us about your time down under, how did it come about, who did you work for and what did you learn?

After completing the Irish National Stud course in 2019 I traveled to Australia to do a stud season at Newgate. I was also lucky enough to bid on Magic Millions and New Zealand Bloodstock while down there, and also spent some time at Snowden Racing before returning home due to Covid. That year gave me tremendous exposure to the blood cattle and racing industry down under.

My second stint was on the Flying Start where I reconnected with people I had met before; and this year I went to help Bennett Racing for three months during the sales of yearlings.

In three sales we obtained 11 yearlings. I was based in Sydney where I helped communicate with the owners and manage the Sydney horses for Nathan Bennett. I spent several mornings at Annabel Neasham’s going to trials and races during my time there.

Annabel Neasham was one of the personalities that made Donncha McCarthy's down under satisfying

Annabel Neasham was one of the personalities that made Donncha McCarthy’s down under satisfying

Australia is hands down the best jurisdiction in the world and the prize money is outrageous! I love the whole product. Racing in Sydney is great fun and I have loads of friends in Sydney who are not involved in the racing industry and wouldn’t dream of going to Curragh or Newmarket but love to race there.

The Australian racing experience is second to none. There are many things we can learn from Australian racing beyond the prize money argument. I believe race days for students are a great way to introduce young people to racing and events like post-race concerts, if organized correctly, can be great. For example, a version of ‘Newmarket nights’ in Curragh could attract a younger target audience. I also strongly believe in promoting syndicates and race clubs; they enable a younger generation to get a taste of ownership at an affordable level.

Is there anywhere else in the world where you would like to work/live in the future?

I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively during my career so far and I am very pleased to have landed a position at Castlebridge, based in Ireland. My long term plan is to be based here and travel to all European outlets. Going to Australia or America once a year for a sale or racing would also be on the agenda. I have yet to visit Japan or Hong Kong, so hopefully in the next few years.

Who have been the biggest influences in your career?

I have been fortunate so far to work with some brilliant people and minds who have given me fantastic opportunities and instilled faith in me.

The one that stands out the most and to whom I will be forever grateful is Bobby McCarthy of The Beeches Stud in Waterford. I first went there for my internship at UCD. I was green as grass and extremely naive, but Bobby gave me so much time and advice and taught me many life lessons during my three summers there. Anyone who has met Bobby knows that no matter who enters that yard or how many mares they have, everyone is treated the same.

Bobby McCarthy 'treats everyone the same'

Bobby McCarthy ‘treats everyone the same’Credit: Tattersalls Ireland

Since then I have worked with Henry Field, Ed Sackville, Bill Dwan and Stuart Boman, all of whom have played a major role in my career and continue to be mentors I rely on on a regular basis.

It really is a brilliant community; if i was in trouble i know i could call any number of people who would be happy to help. Racing and bloodstock, while a cutthroat business, is in fact one big dysfunctional family.

You already have a history with Castlebridge Consignment – what does your role as Irish Sales Manager entail?

I previously worked on Bill Dwan’s Castlebridge farm and was involved with Castlebridge sales concepts last year. My current role in Ireland is to meet with people from across the industry on behalf of Castlebridge, promote the benefits of using a professional consignor to new clients and act as a liaison with existing Castlebridge clients.

At the sales you see me a lot front of house together with my English counterpart Patrick Diamond. Castlebridge Directors, Bill Dwan and Andrew Mead, expect us to engage with the new generation coming into the blood business, and hopefully push them to become Castlebridge customers of the future.

Bill Dwan:

Bill Dwan: CEO of Castlebridge looks to Donncha McCarthy and Patrick Diamond to connect with customers of the futureCredit: Laura Green

Is there a particular type of sale that you love more than another?

The Tattersalls December Mare Sale is probably my favorite sale of the year. It’s a little different from any other sale and the atmosphere starts to pick up a notch as the lights fade and the floodlights are turned on. There is a great sense of opportunity. The ring becomes an amphitheater of sorts as the mares begin to move toward seven figures. It just hits different from all the others.

We are lucky enough to have clients in Castlebridge selling high quality mares and fillies at this auction, and when you sell some of the best lots it becomes very exciting. Hopefully we can continue that this year.

The other sale I particularly enjoy is Magics in January. For anyone who hasn’t been to Magic Millions on Australia’s Gold Coast I would highly recommend adding it to the bucket list as it’s a blast!

Do you have a favorite sire and/or racehorse, past or present?

Racehorse – Missunited. She was instrumental in developing my interest in racing as a locally owned and trained horse. It would be a dream to own a filly as strong and versatile as she is. She mixed with the best hurdlers and flat horses and almost won an Ascot Gold Cup which was a training feat – for anyone who can’t remember, watch it back. I keep a close eye on all her offspring these days.

Missunited and Robbie Power win the Galway Hurdle

Donncha McCarthy’s beloved Missunited wins the Galway Hurdle under Robbie PowerCredits: Patrick McCann

Sire – there are plenty of stallions that I like or prefer for various reasons. For example, Oasis Dream, Farhh and Sioux Nation are all stallions I would like to breed or pinhook with, but my favorite stallion is Mahler.

Slightly left of what most readers would expect, I know, but he’s a horse I enjoyed working with. I was delighted to see he had a winner at Cheltenham this year and I hope he can continue his success in the years to come. Although I mainly work within Flat Racing, I still closely follow the National Hunt and point-to-point industries.

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