Alfirak An Appreciation 12-2-20

Well, they say in life if you do something long enough you will eventually see it all. So it came to pass The Galaxy Horse Racing Syndicate announced the retirement from racing of Alfirak this week. I first met Alfirak on a cold November day at Hilltop Stables in 2017. I and my wife Siobhan were visiting Mokhalad (who at this time had not even won a race). Craig English was showing us some other horses as you do with new owners. I was, of course, new to the yard. I was keen to meet the icon that is Geological we went into Geological's box with enthusiasm. It was apparent very quickly that Geological had a similar policy to a Doberman you can come in however you can't leave. With Geological having successfully blocked our exit. A friendly chestnut stuck his head over the gate in the next box he gave us a supportive lick his name was Alfirak. After freeing ourselves from our jailer Geological's grip, we asked Craig English could we see Alfirak. Although initially reluctant Craig showed us Alfirak. He told us someone else was supposed to buy Alfirak but had backed out.  Alfirak was a big baby a work in progress etc. Craig said his family would race him, however like most horses he was for sale at the right price. Alfirak made a good impression on myself and Siobhan there was just something about him.

I told John Maher, my fellow co-founder of the syndicate I had seen Alfirak. I thought he was a nice horse. John had a look at him one day with James McAuley. After John saw Alfirak he thought he was nice as well, we put him on the list as a potential syndicate horse number two.  We both liked his breeding and chart. Like with most things with John and me, we have very different ways of working but we quickly turn our minds as to how we can get a deal done. However, we still had not had a winner with Mokhalad and shares weren't flying in Mokhalad either at that time. The syndicate was only two months old so talk of a second horse while being our ambition was a little premature. Mokhalad won in December 2017 landing a decent punt giving us the confidence to drive on. We bought the rest of the available shares in Mokhalad from the English family. We then with our core group from Mokhalad decided to actively pursue Alfirak. The pursuit of Alfirak started in earnest from late February 2018. This involved being guests of the English family at the races when Alfirak was running with a view to learning about him and trying to buy him.

After several attempted deals we finally came to an agreement on April 4th, 2018. There was only one snag Alfirak was down to run on the 6th for The English family. They fancied him to win and had paid for five runs to be fair. It was agreed to leave him with The English family for the race on the 6th. They agreed to hold the purchase price for Alfirak if he won. It also meant we could back Alfirak. It turned out to be an epic race with Alfirak winning by a short head backed in from (18/1-10/1). The English family and ourselves went up to collect the trophy together. It was job done for everybody. Alfirak was registered to The Galaxy Horse Racing Syndicate the following week and found himself as our second syndicate horse.  We also found ourselves with 6 new members of the syndicate.  Mokhalad won at Navan on  23rd April landing some nice bets and 15 grand for his win prizemoney. Our tails were up. The following Sunday there was a photo taken of Derek McGeehan, John Maher, Craig English, Mokhalad and Alfirak. We did not know it at the time, the photo would end up in The History Of Dundalk Stadium book. It would become an image/symbol of our syndicate that we would become recognized for.

Alfirak started the life of a Galaxy horse finding himself being part of a Horse Racing Ireland commercial called " This Is Our Team" to promote syndicate ownership along with Mokhalad. Alfirak played a full part in the commercial causing several cuts with jacket biting and licking of heads to the very unsuspecting duo of John Maher and Derek McGeehan his alleged co-stars. Despite taking a long time, it was great fun. I and John formed a bond with Alfirak on the day which would ultimately last forever, to be honest. Media commitments over, time to get Alfirak on the race track in Green and Black silks.

Alfirak missed his first target at Dundalk getting a knock on the Friday before the race which was due to be Sunday, May 6th. Alfirak was the forecast favorite so that was a setback. We then decided to wait for fast ground on the turf with the meeting at Bellewstown on 4-7-18 it was marked in a red circle. That's is where we were going end of discussion. I and John Maher walked the track on Saturday afternoon before the midweek meeting it was lightning quick we were delighted. The July Bellewstown meeting has become very important to our syndicate since, however, it was this night that started our special relationship with this fixture. Alfirak's Army as they would become known turned out in force on a summer Thursday night that could have been dropped in from the Algarve. We were twenty handed outside the Yellow Sam Bar. There were Wives, Girlfriends, children, hangers-on, and well-wishers all out in force. We fancied Alfirak big time so did Damian English. We opened our wallets (10/1 -5/1) the local punters getting behind Alfirak as well. We also opened our hearts to Alfirak, this was a big night we were going to two horses. The race itself was highly competitive as they always are in this grade in Ireland. Alfirak broke well getting in the position to attack going down the hill. Stamp Of Authority surged to the front taking four lengths out of Alfirak. Rory Cleary galvanized Alfirak. The duo gave chase Alfirak finished second beaten a length and a quarter giving Twenty pounds to Stamp Of Authority. Alfirak tried his heart out to reel in Stamp Of Authority roared on by his enthusiastic army, as well as the local punters. Damian English had some choice words with Rory Cleary back in the parade ring, however, the truth of it is we were delighted with Alfirak. Alfirak's Army treated him to a hero's reception in the second-place podium. It was a wonderful night for the syndicate.

The dust settled on Bellewstown, Damian English phoned said the handicapper was going to stick Alfirak up and we would be best going to Roscommon five days later on a Monday night. The away games in the syndicated racehorse world are a strange business you have an army in Bellewstown you have three guards on the beat in Roscommon. That is the way it is. However it is very important the horse, trainer and jockey are supported it has to be done and always is by our group. I, John Maher and Gerry Murphy took the Roscommon trip. John Maher has no love for Roscommon and that was not about to change. Alfirak started 6/4 fav drawn four. Alfirak turned into the straight 8 horses wide under Oisin Orr (before he was famous). Alfirak could not win from that position.  Alfirak did bravely pass six horses in the last 300 yards.  It was not Oisin's finest hour and we had to settle for fourth. We were frustrated however Alfirak was competing. A trip to the famous Galway races followed Alfirak found himself a media darling again this time in an RTE feature on syndicates. The ground was against Alfirak his highlight was rescuing a loose horse with Rory Cleary brilliantly captured by Pat Healy. The human costars of the RTE feature were saved by Mokhalad who ran a blinder in third again landing some good bets. It gave RTE a feature they were delighted with the full range of emotions. In fairness to Alfirak's owners a runner at Galway in your third start not so bad!! We had a great time at the Galway races our first as owners.

There were then two trips to Leopardstown best forgotten. Including an x rated moment when Alfirak launched an unsuspecting jockey, Stephen Mooney, across the parade ring. Not a moment any of us would care to relive. It was a head-scratching time. The next assignment for Alfirak was Laytown the famous day on the beach. We had secured the services of Patrick Mullins if you don't mind for a qualified rider's race. There was a major obstacle in the shape of the 90 rated Waqaas for Jamie Osbourne and the Melbourne Ten. Our Alfirak rated 64 gave Waqaas plenty to think about finishing third beaten under three lengths giving Waqaas three pounds. It was a great run from 29 pounds wrong at the weights. The opening night of Dundalk was the target 21-9-18. We felt Alfirak was ready to win and so it proved. Alfirak was drawn seven and had cheekpieces on for the first time. A loose horse took us along Alfirak tracked him through. Alfirak and Rory Cleary always had control of the race. The duo made no mistake a comfortable three parts of a length win from Path Of Silver. The result was never in doubt from a long way out. When you listen to the video back you can really hear us roaring from the stand.  There was a brilliant photo taken of Rory Cleary and John Maher in the parade ring the emotion on both faces is superb. John and I led in Alfirak back to the winner's enclosure, my mind went back to the November day when Siobhan and I met Alfirak in Hilltop Stables. Alfirak had only gone and done it. I never wanted the walk to the parade ring to end. There were plenty of us in Dundalk, we got some nice bets it is a very much cherished night in the history of the syndicate. We headed back to the Balscadden Inn with Damian English and we drank long into the night as a squad. Magical moments shared with Siobhan who was pleased as punch for Alfirak.

The win for Alfirak was hugely important for the syndicate, up to this point people used to say Mokhalad was a half million-pound racehorse at one point why wouldn't he win? Alfirak changed all that. We were heading for the sales in Newmarket to spend €25,000 on new recruits. Alfirak nudged potential believers into actual believers. We came back from Newmarket with Stanhope and Trading Point the rest is history. The Alfirak win was a pivotal moment a moment never lost on the leadership team of the syndicate. Alfirak headed to Dundalk on 26-10-18 over basically eleven furlongs. Alfirak traveled like a really good horse through the race checking out late on to finish fifth having looked a winner for a long way. We gave Alfirak time to recover as we had a pre-Christmas race in mind. The race was on 14-12-18 back over a mile it was a fowl night weather-wise howling gale driving rain. Alfirak was joined on his mission by fellow Galaxy Horse Stanhope (who had won on debut for ourselves) the previous week. We were mob-handed at the races with syndicate member's family and friends. The each-way double was on Alfirak (8/1-5/1) got out and made the running in horrific winds, running a hugely courageous race to finish third. Stanhope (15/2) did his job finishing second to Alfredo Arcano. The Galaxy members got the money from the each way doubles. The cherry on the cake came as Twenty Minutes (8/1)  and Confident Kid (10/1) both placed our Damian English trained stablemates landed a few each way Yankees into the bargain.  It was a very happy Christmas.

The joy was short-lived 2019 started badly as Alfirak got hurt 18-1-19 at Dundalk trailing in the thirteenth of fourteen. It was a difficult time. Alfirak started to come back to form just before Clonmel in April. It lashed rain the week of the race we couldn't run due to the ground. Alfirak then got another setback the next week. A period on the sidelines followed. Alfirak started to bounce back during July 19. Damian English and Craig English along with ourselves decided to get him ready for Laytown on 11-9-19. It was a tricky day we had Trading Point running in Listowel. Half the team went to Listowel and a half to Laytown Alfirak got excited in the parade ring, causing a commotion. Alfirak then blew the start fly jumping out of the gate, he was stone last however his competitive attitude got him back involved he ran a cracker to finish fourth.  In the circumstances, it was actually a very good run. Alfirak headed to Dundalk 1-11-19 going off 9/4 fav he ran very well finishing second to the Gary O'Brien owned (from Racing Tv) Crafty Hugo who landed a right punt, we had run into one. Alfie was back in business. It was back to Dundalk on 22-11-19 for what was to prove to be Alfirak's last career race. Alfirak ran a blinder under Ronan Whelan to finish second beaten a half-length by Count Of Carabass. The next target was to be Dundalk on 3-1-20. A gallop in Skryne 31-12-19 changed everything Alfirak won the gallop well however he pulled up lame. There were several of us there including me it was dreadful luck. In our hearts, we knew this could be trouble.

We sent Alfirak to Lisadell and then commissioned a CT scan in Fethard Equine hospital the news was not good. We are blessed with great resources at our disposal who we can call on. We are also blessed with a team of people with varied skillsets who aide our decision-making process. We went back and forth with it, however, we decided to retire Alfirak. We just felt the risk was too high. It was, of course, emotional as you never want to say goodbye to people animals or things you really care about. We really cared about Alfirak. The hardest call is to make to the other owners. I and John Maher manage the syndicate, however, you are also managing people's hopes and dreams along with your own. The spirit and culture of the group are brilliant not a selfish thought in anyone's head get him homed, retire 100%. We will never be the type of group to squeeze the last drop from a horse. It just is not us. Alfirak's career in numbers for The Galaxy Horse Racing syndicate. Alfirak purchased April 2018. Races 13, Wins 1, Places 7. Total Prizemoney won €16,388. Memories made priceless as well as countless. 

 

We found a great home for Alfirak with Ciara Thomas. Alfirak moved to Ciara on Thursday 13-2-20. In the end, it actually was not sadness at all. We waved him off as he went with his new owner. We stayed with him as Ciara collected him. Alfirak was a Galaxy Horse right to the end of his racing career surrounded by our team, who fed him three bags of carrots.  John and Grace Maher traveled with Alfirak to his new home. Grace Maher, did an incredible job on the whole rehoming project. The team came in and backed Grace up as it should always be, however, it is Grace who deserves the credit and our gratitude. We are grateful for Alfirak's contribution to our syndicate every day. We are delighted he has got a chance of a rewarding retirement with Ciara Thomas. We will update on Alfirak's progress in retirement. In many ways, it could be the greatest thing we will ever do as a syndicate. The home Alfirak has got is outstanding. Alfirak will retrain in late summer in the ex-racehorse class however for the next 6 months, its rest recover, get Alfirak to switch totally off. We will remain involved in Alfirak's life. We already have a new WhatsApp group to follow his retirement. It is actually brilliant to watch even in these early days. Alfirak looks so happy.

What was Alfirak like I hear you ask? Alfirak was a great character to be around. Alfirak loved children and they loved him. Alfirak was always the horse people got their photo taken with. Always fun, always honest, always engaging, never dull, as well as naturally very curious. From licking you in the face to eating bags of carrots to fly jumping from his box into the yard during our open day. Alfirak did it all. He was a mentally as well as a very physically tough, honest racehorse who did some brilliant stuff in training. If Alfirak was a human he would give you the last tenner he had in the world. The only slight regret is that people apart from those closest to him never got to see how good he could have been on the track. Sometimes the world does not need to know everything. We know it and in this case, that is enough for us.

One of the really nice things on our social media this week has been a steady stream of ( punters who are the fabric of our sport in fact what we are ourselves) who bet at Dundalk on Friday nights. They loved Alfirak " He always gave you a run"  these types of comments. We thank those punters the words have been much appreciated. We thank Damian, Craig and the team at Grougha for guiding Alfirak through his career for ourselves. We would also like to thank Rory Cleary who was Alfirak's jockey seven times. They were a very good team. We are very grateful to have had the honour of having owned Alfirak. Of course in the history of racing, Alfirak will not be remembered. The fact is though, in our history,  our racing story Alfirak will always be remembered by us. Alfirak did so much for us all, he drove our syndicate forward at a crucial moment. Alfirak gets a fitting as well as the deserved reward of a wonderful retirement home. The next win we get as a syndicate will be very much this one is for you Alfirak.

Thank you, Alfie.

Go Well Old Friend