Cheltenham Festival 2023: Ex-hedge fund manager eyeing upsets over training juggernauts – The Mirror

Barry Connell made his money as a Dublin hedge fund manager but in his third season since starting training his own horses has two leading candidates for Cheltenham Festival honours
Barry Connell is making training look easy.
In only his third season since setting up his own jumps yard he has three graded victories to his name, two at Grade 1 level courtesy of Marine Nationale and Good Land.
He is taking on and beating the training juggernauts of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott and he hopes to do it again at the Cheltenham Festival.
Success has not come overnight as Connell, 63, has learned the ropes through a long apprenticeship as an amateur rider and owner and put the knowledge gained into establishing his own operation where he has 25 horses, 15 minutes from the Curragh.
Until he changed profession Connell’s day job was in finance as a Dublin hedge fund manager.
Even then he had a sizeable racehorse string, enjoying numerous big race successes including at Cheltenham where Pedrobob won the 2007 County Hurdle and Martello Tower the 2017 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Now his focus has shifted.
“I had horses in training with a number of the leading trainers in Ireland and England before,” he says. “I rode as an amateur jockey for about ten years when I had the opportunity to go into a lot of those yards and was keeping an eye out and picking up ideas.
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“It was always in the back of my head to have a go at training. So what you are seeing in the last year or two is the benefits of that starting to flow through in terms of the winners. We have managed to come across a couple of high quality horses in the process.”
Connell’s approach as a trainer is not to rush his horses. Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle winner Marine Nationale, who lines up in the Sky Bet Supreme, is six and Good Land, who won the Grade 1 2m novices’ hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival and contests the Ballymore, is a seven-year-old.
“We have had Good Land four years and Marine Nationale three years,” he explains. “Because we are not a commercial operation we are under no pressure to run them until we believe they are ready. That’s to maximise their longevity.
“It’s kind of a throwback to the old days when Tom Dreaper and Captain Forster were training. Horses then didn’t run till they were five or six.”
Connell was bitten by racing as a child when going to the races with his father who liked a bet. He started owning horses in the eighties, took out an amateur licence in 2000, riding winners at Cheltenham and participating at the Festival.
He has a good eye for a riding talent too with Marine Nationale and Good Land remaining the mounts of 22-year-old conditional jockey Michael O’Sullivan, even though he cannot use his claim.
“His first ride for me was when Marine Nationale won the bumper in Punchestown,” says Connell. “He rang up for the ride. I was very impressed with him and he’s part of the team now. He’s an exceptional talent.
“He is going to ride the two at Cheltenham. They will be my first runners as a trainer. I think both of them are good enough to win.
“We have two Grade 1 winners, one for the Supreme and one for the Ballymore. They are very good jumpers and have very good temperaments.
“I think they have all the ingredients to go over there and run really good races and with a bit of luck hopefully one or both will win. “
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