Horse, Dog & Sports Changing of the Guard at Thomastown Castle


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There will be a new name on the trainer’s license at Thomastown Castle Stables in the New Year, and if James Stack doesn’t sound familiar to some people, that’s because he has been known as ‘Fozzy’ for pretty much as long as he can remember. Stack officially takes over the baton from his father Tommy, who partnered the legendary Red Rum to his third Grand National victory in 1977, and who has been based at the picturesque Thomastown Castle in Tipperary since taking over the yard from the late Phonsie O’Brien in the mid-eighties. The passing of the reins will not see a seismic change in operations; Stack junior has played a pivotal role in the business since his father got struck down with meningitis in 1998, an event that forced his son to abandon his then-role as assistant to John Dunlop and return home at the tender age of 19 to oversee the training of one of Ireland’s leading flat stables.

The year of 2016 hasn’t been one of the more successful seasons, with Stack bemoaning the fact they had “more seconds than winners,” and he said he is hopeful that among the fresh intake of 30 or so yearlings they might in 2017 unearth another Myboycharlie (Ire) (Danetime {Ire}), the now-respected stallion that the Stack team trained to win the G1 Darley Prix Morny in 2007. To offset a small decrease in the number of winners, Stack continues to augment his business through trading horses to countries such as America and Hong Kong.

“We had quite a good year selling horses,” he said. “A recent example being Tooreen Dancer (Ire) (Vale Of York {Ire}), who won her maiden first time out at Dundalk last month. A California-based agent rang me about her soon after and she has gone out there to be trained by Phil D’Amato.”

As a €6,500 yearling, one can be sure Tooreen Dancer enhanced her resale value significantly through her Dundalk victory. Stack isn’t shy either about traveling his own horses abroad if he thinks they can be competitive. Success for Alexander Tango (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) in the GI Garden City S. at Belmont in 2007 and a win for Waltzing Matilda (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) in the GII New York S. also at Belmont in 2015 are two prime examples, and he came close to plundering another nice pot with Diamond Fields (Ire) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) earlier this year. The Mary Slack-owned 3-year-old was a model of consistency throughout the summer, and following stakes placings over six furlongs at Navan and over a mile at Royal Ascot in the Listed Sandringham H., Stack sent her to Saratoga, where a slipped saddle ruined her chance on her first run there in the GII Lake George S. in July. Turned out a month later in the GII Lake Placid S., the filly finished a good third to Time And Motion (Tapit). Stack then pointed Diamond Fields to the GII Sands Point S. at Belmont Sept. 16 and she again acquitted herself well, finishing second to On Leave (War Front).

“She’s back here now and stays in training next year, which is great,” Stack says. “Obviously it would be great to win a stakes race with her, so that will be the objective and if we have to travel to do so then so be it. I’m not sure she fully got the nine furlongs in Belmont, so it may be a case of limiting her to a mile, but we’ll see, she’s quite adaptable.”

Another benefit of racing them in America is the prize money,” Stack adds. “Diamond Fields won $130,000 out there and even though it costs a bit to ship them, the gains are still significant. With fillies, they are also adding value to themselves. If the owner was a seller she could have gotten a lot of money for her over there.”

That owner, South Africa-based Mary Slack, has half a dozen horses with Stack, a link that came about through Stack’s friendship with Mike De Kock. This in turn has also led to the trainer receiving patronage from another significant South African figure, Gaynor Rupert. In addition to the above clients, Stack can also count on support of owners from New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Britain and of course Ireland, where he has a number of syndicates on board as well as the Coolmore team maintaining historic links with the yard, even more so now with the recent retirement of his friend David Wachman.

“Thank God we’re not too heavily reliant on one owner, we have a good mix of clients and fingers crossed it continues that way,” he says.

In addition to a strong squad of juveniles, Stack’s team for 2017 is also bolstered by a few smart older horses, headed by Onenightidreamed (Ire) (Footstepsinthesand {GB}), a soft ground-specialist who is a dual Group 3 winner on his favoured surface. Given he won the Irish Lincolnshire on the opening day of the flat season in 2015, Stack already has one eye on the 2017 opener, though it will be staged in Naas due to the The Curragh redevelopment. “He might be a bit high for the Lincoln this year so we’ll have to see,” Stack said. “As long as the ground is soft he’ll run away in whatever he can.”

Another one the trainer is keen on is Son Of Rest (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), who remains a maiden after two promising juvenile efforts this year. Second at Tipperary on debut, he certainly wasn’t disgraced when making eye-catching late headway to finish fourth to Churchill (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the G1 Goffs Vincent O’Brien National S. at The Curragh in September.

“He’s not a bad horse and could end up being a smart sprinter. He might get a mile, but I would say we will go down the sprinting route with him,” Stack explains.

Stack will also begin the new season with a new stable jockey, though he will have to share him with one of Ireland’s senior statesmen Kevin Prendergast. “Chris [Hayes] will start when he gets back from Dubai, he’ll come down here Tuesdays and Fridays, the days we do fast work,” he says. “There shouldn’t be much overlap with Kevin, only I suppose if we both run something we really fancy in the one race, but I can’t imagine that’ll happen too often.”

In conjunction with a thriving racing stable, the Stacks also run a breeding programme that has produced some stellar results in recent years, though the new trainer will be the first to admit that it could have been more beneficial to their training enterprise had some different decisions been made.

“We sold both The Wow Signal (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) and The Last Lion (Ire) (Choisir {Aus}) as yearlings in recent years so I guess that mightn’t have been the smartest thing in the world to do,” he notes. “Although we did well out of a Power (GB) yearling half-brother to The Last Lion that we sold this year in Goffs, so that made up for it a bit.”

The family also made up for selling The Wow Signal by cashing in his dam, Muravka (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}), after the John Quinn-trained horse won the G1 Prix Morny. The Last Lion, bred by the Stacks in partnership with Barronstown Stud, is out of Mala Mala (Ire) (Brief Truce), who hails from a family that the Stacks know well, being a half-sister to Tarascon (Ire) (Tirol {Ire}), who they trained to win the G1 Moyglare Stud S. in 1997 and the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas the following year.

“Mala Mala has been a great broodmare, producing eight winners from eight runners, including three black-type winners,” Stack said. “She’s in foal to No Nay Never, but unfortunately she’s not young so we could do with a filly from her at this stage.”

In addition to this year’s G1 Middle Park S. winner and now Darley stallion The Last Lion, Mala Mala has also bred the stakes winners Contest (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) and Russian Rock (Ire) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire}), as well as the 16-time winner Silvanus (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}). In total her progeny have won over 40 races.

Training, however, remains the major focus for Stack, and recalling his baptism of fire into the training game all those years ago he reflects, “I didn’t think I was going to be back in Tipperary at 19 years of age; I had literally gone straight from school to Dunlops via the yearling sales in Newmarket. I always thought I’d do a year or two in Australia or America, but it was needs must at the time. I suppose I was always going to be a trainer anyway, so when my father got his setback it just fast-tracked it a bit.”

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