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‘I Was Skeptical But Social Media Has Been Brilliant For Our Yard’

The landscape of Irish racing has never been so competitive and, in an era where even the bigger handlers have admitted that trading horses has become a necessity to balance the books, Gillian Scott has bucked the trend by returning to the family yard in Limerick in a bid to get her training career off the ground.

A sister to the top-class Flat jockey Billy Lee, Scott spent seven years working in Australia where she rode trackwork for the Brisbane-based trainer Chris Munce before returning home to Ireland with her husband Caolan in 2019.

Scott had trained a handful of winners under her maiden name before emigrating and, while she is keen to keep a lid on expectations upon her return, things have been going well since An Fearchan (Ire) (Double Eclipse {Ire}) provided her with a first winner back on home soil when landing a three-mile maiden hurdle at Cork in 2019.

She now has 14 horses riding out at her base in Ballingarry, with shares in the latest recruit to the stable, Racing Royalty (GB) (Fast Company {Ire}), purchased by agent Colm Sharkey on behalf of the trainer for just 6,000gns at the July Sale at Tattersalls last month, still available.

Racing Royalty is from a family Scott knows well. She has done a good job to win two races with his half-brother Inventor (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), who also started his career in the Godolphin blue, and the hope is that Racing Royalty can provide his new owners with a lot of fun for a small sum.

Scott said, “We haven’t done much with Racing Royalty but he seems to be a nice horse. He’s a different type to his brother from him, who has been a very good horse for us. He’s won twice for us and he’ll be back out in a couple of weeks so hopefully there will be more to come from him.”

She added, “Racing Royalty is not filled yet. There’s still about 40% left in him but social media has been brilliant. I was a bit skeptical about putting myself out there at the start but, actually, I have become very good friends with a lot of the people I have met through social media so it’s been great for a yard like ours.”

Along with that winner over jumps, Scott has sent out six winners on the level from a relatively short supply of ammunition. Speaking about her decision to return home to Ireland and setting up training in arguably the most competitive environment there is, Scott said, “I never really planned on training but, when I came back, I started out with two horses; one fella won and the other was useless, so I couldn’t really do much about that!

“An Fearchan was the horse who got the ball rolling for us. I got a couple more horses after him, including Starting Monday (Ire) (Raven’s Pass), who has been brilliant for us. He won at Galway last October and then he won at the Curragh on the first day of the season last year.

“We got a lot of publicity for that win because it was the first day of the season and my brother Billy [Lee, jockey] had to walk him all the way down to the start before the race. People have been coming on board through unions ever since.”

Scott added, “I didn’t set out to train 20 horses. I said I’d see how I go and play it by ear. I said I’d build it up gradually. I came back to the home place in Limerick and we had been training horses here before. The facilities were here already. I couldn’t imagine setting up from scratch as, with the price of everything, it would have been ridiculous. You’d need a serious backer or a lot of investment behind you to start from scratch as it’s so competitive.”

“We were training our own horses at the start and my view on it was, if we can do well with the horses we have, we might be able to attract owners and more horses. It’s primarily unions that we have now. It makes it cheaper for them and it’s not as hard-hitting on people’s pockets. As long as the horses are running well, people are seeing the return and are getting enjoyable days out.”

Starting Monday | Racingfotos.com

There have been plenty of enjoyable days out but, by and large, frustration has been the main emotion hovering over the stable in recent weeks. Flag-bearer Starting Monday enjoyed no luck in running at Galway last week while the ball has not bounced in the favor of a few others. Scott is hoping that things can pick up in the second half of the season.

“Everything seemed to fall right for us last year but things have been a bit head-wrecking at times this season,” she explained. “Take Starting Monday at Galway last week for example, he was trapped wide and didn’t have much luck in running. Hopefully he can enjoy a change of luck at Tipperary on Friday. He was like a demon after Galway-if ever a horse could tell you how they were feeling, he’s one of them, and he was not one bit happy after Galway. If there’s a bit of juice in the ground he should run well on Friday.”

She added, “We have 14 horses riding out at the moment and I think there’s three or four to come in for the National Hunt season.”

Having a brother like Billy Lee has its advantages. The rider is operating at a whopping 39% strike-rate this season and is just three winners behind Colin Keane in the championship.

While a breakthrough championship will be difficult to achieve, according to Scott, the fact that he is within shouting distance speaks volumes.

She said, “Billy works hard. So does every jockey, but I suppose we see the work Billy puts in and we’re very proud about the season he’s having. He comes home late from the races most evenings, is up at the crack at dawn to go to Paddy Twomey’s or the Curragh or wherever he’s needed that morning, and then does it all over again.

“He’s riding in France today and I’m pretty sure he has a ride in the German Oaks this weekend as well. Even to be in with a chance of winning a championship is fantastic for Billy as he is tall and has to manage his weight from him.

“But he’s just riding so well this year and all of his trainers have been in terrific form which is a bonus. If he can continue this way, fantastic. I’m delighted for him.”

Much like the world-class jockey, renowned for being one of the most relaxed men in the weigh-room, which is evident in his riding style, Scott has a realistic outlook.

That shouldn’t be confused with a lack of ambition, as Scott has a real hunger to achieve her goals, but is realistic about how she is going to get there.

She explained, “We’d have two 2-year-olds at the moment and we wouldn’t mind a few more in time as I enjoyed working with them in Australia where they were very good at preparing them to be ready first time out .

“We’ve one, a filly by Kessaar (Ire), who is quite nice. We got her out of the breeze-ups and we’d be hoping to have her out of her by September. She’s a nice type but a bit of a slow learner–I’ve actually nicknamed her Blondie! It’s starting to click with her. She had been doing everything upside down but there is talent in there.”

She added, “If we could get numbers up to 20 for next season on the Flat we’d be delighted but we won’t put any unnecessary pressure on ourselves either. It would be nice to get your name out there a bit more and have horses ready to run–that’s the beauty of handicappers.”

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