Retirement for some means throwing in the towel and putting one's feet up for a long-overdue rest. For others it's just a case of changing tack. When the racehorse trainer and jockey Tom Taaffe announced his retirement, calling time on his 27-year career, earlier this month, he was not putting himself out to pasture. Instead the man who handled the career of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kicking King is chatting about his home aboard a tractor while "harrowing a gallop" on the 43 acres that surround his home in Straffan, Co Kildare.
He describes winning the Gold Cup at Cheltenham as “the highlight of my career” in a love of horses that has spanned four generations of his family. His father, Pat, won three gold cups in the saddle with Arkle, the bay gelding owned by the Duchess of Westminster whose Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser.
“If you want to be successful you have to put the hours in, but racehorses are delicate animals and require 24/7 care. You are up at 4.30am to check on them before their morning exercise and you’re still checking on them at 11 at night before you go to bed,” explains Taaffe, on the commitment required to train thoroughbreds.
He is now engaged as a consultant with the bloodstock agent Goffs, in addition to keeping an interest in sales and breeding, after riding 400 winners as a jockey and training numerous Cheltenham winners.
The home that he shares with wife, Elaine, and their children was constructed 20 years ago on an elevated site where “you can see seven counties on a clear day”. It was designed by Ross Cahill O’Brien, the architect who provided a backdrop to the Dublin social scene with his noughties hotspot designs, including the Kitchen nightclub, Café en Seine and Zanzibar. Cahill O’Brien’s preference for a natural flow in a structure is clear in the design for Portree House, as the rooms meander into each other in a rather inviting way.
Small details give the property a unique feel, such as a line of glazing tucked under the roofline that surrounds the entire house. “I had seen this in Adelaide and thought it was lovely. I mentioned about incorporating it into the design to Ross, and he loved the idea, so we went with it,” recalls Taaffe.
Despite lying on 43 acres of post- and rail-fenced land that is divided between paddocks, gallops, stables and mature gardens, the house is situated just four miles from the K Club for golf, dining and spa treatments after a day in the saddle. It is also just seven miles from Hazelhatch train station, should new owners prefer a more relaxed 35-minute trip to Dublin.
While Taaffe trained horses at Portree, he had access to an adjoining farm that provided a vast area for training racehorses, so the more concise 43 acres (in terms of racehorse training) on Portree could suit a family with equine interests, as all the facilities – including six stables – for keeping ponies are built and ready to go.
For others, they might just appreciate the peace and quiet on grounds as far as the eye can see. Due to their acreage, “it felt just like normal” for the Taaffe family during lockdown.
The 269sq m (2,900sq ft) property is now on the market through joint agents Coonan Property and Goffs Property seeking €2.3 million.