Jessica Harrington thinking big as a year of opportunity beckons

Having won it all over jumps, renowned trainer has developed a powerful flat operation and has classic ambitions

Jessica Harrington has English classic glory in her sights with the Group One winner Discoveries although the renowned trainer’s big-race goals have a global sweep.

“In terms of ambition I want to win more classic races and races abroad. There are a lot of things on the hit-list I haven’t done yet,” she declared on Monday. “I’d like a Breeders Cup winner. I’d like to win big races in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, all sorts of places.”

At a stage when many are contemplating a more leisurely tempo to life, the pioneering 75-year-old is, if anything, stepping up a gear.

Having won practically every race worth winning over jumps, Harrington has transformed into one of the country’s most powerful figures on the flat.


Last season’s Moyglare winner Discoveries is a 12-1 shot to give the trainer a first English classic in the Newmarket Guineas at the start of next month.

It is only four years since the filly’s full-sister Alpha Centauri confirmed Harrington’s arrival at the top table on the flat when landing the Irish Guineas.

So, while Discoveries was the headline act at a Monday morning media event in Moone, perhaps it was the make-up of a massive team of 75 two year olds that underlined the scale of the transformation.

Progeny by blue-chip sires such as Dubawi, Frankel and Siyouni gives Harrington a depth of raw material she hasn’t had before.

That Ocean Quest won the very first juvenile race of the season just over a week ago was hugely encouraging for what’s to come.

Another youngster, It’s Showtime Baby, also scored at Dundalk last Friday so it’s little wonder any twinges from a knee operation three months ago couldn’t prevent a spring in the Harrington step on Monday.

“I’ve got some very nice flat horses now, with proper pedigrees. They are very exciting. You just don’t know what they’re going to turn out like. It’s the fun of it,” she said.

Logistical stresses

The logistical stresses of being responsible for a full house of 185 horses being ridden out at a yard that has morphed from little more than south Kildare farmland during a ground-breaking 35 year career are casually dismissed.

Harrington says her daughters, Emma and Kate, divide up much of the draining organisational responsibility between them. Her son-in-law, Richie Galway, is heavily involved in buying. That leaves her free to train.

A crammed CV taking in Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase success at Cheltenham, as well as practically every big jump race in Ireland, including the Irish Grand National, is proof of how effective the system has been.

The scale of the mutation involved in translating it to the super-rich international flat game however probably isn’t fully recognised given how effortless Harrington has made it appear.

“No more boxes,” chorused both daughters at one point on Monday when the subject of even further expansion come up. “No more than 200 anyway!” their mother laughed.

The current divide in numbers between flat and jumps is 70-30 and Harrington will be at Aintree on Friday where Sizing Pottsie and Discordantly tackle the Grand National fences in the Topham.

Ashdale Bob will run over hurdles at Aintree on Saturday before the trainer returns on home duty at the Curragh a day later.

Classic success though is the pinnacle and Discoveries boasts the pedigree and profile to make her a proper Guineas prospect.

“I won’t run her [at Newmarket] unless the ground is quick. She’s like her sister. She doesn’t like slow ground and the quicker the ground the better she goes.

“The family all got a mile and her half-sister, Alpine Star, got a mile and quarter so you’d imagine she’ll get a mile perfect,” Harrington said.

Same mistake

“If the ground is soft that’s that and we can go to the Curragh. I’m not going to make the same mistake I made with Alpha, running on soft ground then realising she couldn’t walk on it,” she added.

Alpha Centauri was Horse of the Year in 2018 on the back of four Group One wins in three countries and the presence of her first foal by Galileo, Saturn, underlined the quality now at his trainer’s disposal.

“He’s very mature in his mind and he does everything very easily,” Harrington reported.

Not even one of the biggest operations in the country is immune from wider considerations though. Rising costs all-round mean just one element – a monthly feed bill of €25,000 – is going to rocket, not least because Ukraine is the biggest grower of sunflowers which are a vital ingredient in horse-feed.

Much closer to home, four long-serving Ukrainian members of staff are also dealing with much more pressing concerns about family members in their war-torn homeland. Racing concerns and worries about costs are trivial in comparison.

But at a time of year when possibilities are endless, few in the game appear to be thinking bigger than Jessica Harrington.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column