Trainer Profile: Harry Dunlop

Frustrated by the lingering vapour trails of the financial crisis, Lambourn trainer Harry Dunlop sought an edge, and found it in France.     That was in 2011, when he ventured to Arqana’s October Yearling Sale for the first time, bought a yearling and found an avenue which, while not untrodden, gave his business another angle, namely buying French-bred horses to race for British owners across the Channel. His yard was conveniently located little more than an hour from the ferry port at Portsmouth. The prize money was good, and the French system of premiums given to horses bred in the country was a very attractive extra.     Seven years later, after steadily developing the process, Dunlop’s string includes some ten French-bred horses with which to target races on both sides of the Channel. Brexit could cause a few bumps along the way, but with an experienced shipping company on side, and his growing knowledge of racing in France, he is optimistic of a bright future.     Dunlop says: “Whatever Brexit throws up we will take of it, and on that score owners do not need to worry. Luck Greayer handles our shipping and excels at sorting out matters and getting across borders”.     Reflecting on that exploratory cross-Channel buying trip, he says: “In 2011 the recession was still having an effect and things were quite tough; we felt we had to do something different. I made my first trip to Arqana for a yearling sale, aiming to buy a horse on spec with a small budget. We bought an Astronomer Royal colt [for €16,000], and I managed to get seven people to form a syndicate with the promise of some racing in France.     “Named Sir Patrick Moore, he turned out to be a really nice two-year-old, who won first time out at Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes meeting, teeing up the option of running in Royal Ascot’s Coventry Stakes. Instead of that, we took him to Compiegne for a Class B race which he won, earning the equivalent of finishing second in the Coventry. That opened our eyes to how profitable it could be to race in France, and, no less importantly, we were seen to be trying something different.     “Sir Patrick Moore went on to be placed in a Listed race at two and in the [Gp3] Greenham Stakes the following year, and the owners all enjoyed going to different racecourses and enjoying some good lunches. We later sold him very well to race on in Australia.     “It steamrolled from there; we went back to Arqana the following October and have since bought four Stakes horses from that sale. The pound is weaker against the euro than when we started, but most of the horses we have bought would probably have cost more in Britain or Ireland”.     Dunlop is a family man, with two young sons (Tom and William) who know which way to place a saddle on a horse’s back. William is becoming a pony-racing rider to note, and Harry’s wife, Christina, plays an important role in the business which cannot be overstated. A horsewoman who has ridden since childhood, Christina is involved at the yard on several fronts, not least as head of public relations.  Six years working for PR specialists Johnno Spence Consulting, with the Epsom Derby as her key client, Christina polished a naturally easy style that would make her invaluable in any trainer’s yard. Yet Christina is a grafter too, willing to tackle anything from office administration to intractable colts, while organising staff discussions and outings and spending time on the road. Saying, with a barely-veiled side-swipe at her husband, “I do a lot of travelling—Harry says I’m very good at it”, she adds: “I have been across to France with runners on many occasions, and my French is certainly not fluent, but I’ve found that when I ask for help—be it from trainers, their assistants or staff—everyone is very helpful. We have always been welcomed”.     To anyone who has been following racing in recent decades, no matter how distantly, the name Dunlop must ring bells, for Harry’s older brother, Ed, is a Classic-winning Newmarket trainer who has successfully raided big races around the globe, while their late father, John, was a champion trainer who sent out the winners of 10 British Classics.     Harry says: “Ed and I chat a lot, and he’s very helpful. Newmarket is the centre of flat racing and therefore it’s nice to hear what’s going on up there, and I stay with him during the yearling sales.     “Dad was very proud of our achievements, and Knight To Behold winning last year’s Derby Trial gave him some pleasure just before he died. He had won the race on a number of occasions, and the following day we chatted on the phone several times about where to go and what to do next. He always loved to know about the good horses. This is not an easy business, but it’s very rewarding, and Dad recognised that when both Ed and I wanted to go into training”.      From Paradis to Paradise in Lambourn      When John Dunlop’s sons entered the world of racing, there was probably an assumption that one of them would eventually take over his yard at Arundel in Sussex. Yet Ed set up business in Newmarket, and Harry did likewise in Lambourn amidst the rolling downs of Berkshire.     Harry says: “When we were looking to start on our own I sought Ralph Beckett’s advice on yards that might suit us, and he said, ‘Why not come to Windsor House?’ [where Beckett was based]. Ralph was heading to Whitsbury, and the Lambourn gallops, which had been managed privately, were about to be taken on by Jockey Club Estates, which was a bonus.     “Arundel was a huge yard with a large rent, and given the number of horses we hoped to train at that time, it wasn’t viable. My father was still training and showed no intention of stopping, and we were keen to get started—Christina and I had been married in 2004 and started training here in September 2006”.     Dunlop is unequivocal in his praise for the service Jockey Club Estates gives to Lambourn trainers, saying: “The classic example of why Lambourn is such a good place to train came as recently as February, when we had nearly a foot of snow in a day, yet the Jockey Club cleared it all away and enabled us to continue to train. They are continually updating things, the gallops are always well harrowed, and in terms of safety you can be confident horses will come back to the yard.  “We also have a fantastic choice of gallops—it is very rare for our horses to arrive at a gallop and find another string about to go on. That means no queuing and fears about horses boiling over. Owners have visited and said it is so peaceful and tranquil, yet we are close to the M4 motorway”.     If John and Susan Dunlop had doubts their youngest son would follow a racing career, they were probably expelled once he started decorating his bedroom. Harry says: “I was 12 or 13 when I decided it would be a racing life for me. I placed posters on my bedroom wall of horses like Salsabil and Miesque; and  Pacemaker  was my favourite magazine—although I also had a poster of Vanessa Paradis.     “It was the heyday at Arundel, with Sheikh Hamdan’s involvement resulting in horses like Salsabil, Derby winner Erhaab, Marju and many others. I went to school in Dorset but was not a great scholar, and while I got through it, the prospect of training horses was my goal”.     His route took in some race-riding experience: a school holiday job at Jessie Harrington’s led to a first bumper ride at 17, and while studying agriculture at Cirencester, he rode in point-to-points on a couple of horses owned by his father and trained at Arundel. Talk about a shock to the point-to-point fraternity when the champion flat trainer turned up at venues such as Tweseldown and Parham.  With a hint of pride, Dunlop adds: “I won three points on a horse called Local Manor, and later won a bumper at Cheltenham on Shagreen, who also carried me to victory in a hurdle race at Uttoxeter”.     A stint in New Zealand and Australia with trainers Dave and Paul O’Sullivan—“that was a real eye-opener”, he says—was followed by the position of assistant to Nicky Henderson. Dunlop says: “There was plenty of jumping action in my early days, and I look back on them fondly.”     From top jumps yard to iconic flat trainer, he then spent two years with Sir Henry Cecil and recalls: “During my time there Henry became quite ill, and a group of us took on the yard. Jane, who was secretary at the time and later became his wife, plus head lad Frank Conlon and I came together to keep things ticking over. [At this point Christina interjects and says, ‘That probably mucked up the handicaps for the following year’.]     “Then my father became very ill with an aneurism and I returned home, spending four years there. Dad recovered, and at the conclusion of that stint we came to Windsor House”.     Christina adds: “We arrived here with a nine-month-old baby, four chickens, a carload of our possessions and found a house that was full of builders. Harry went to Goffs’ yearling, and I remember sitting with my head in my hands thinking, ‘What are we doing here?’. We didn’t have a single horse, although we were promised some, and eventually we started with 12. It was quite a different start to that of other members of Harry’s family. His father had been a private trainer for the Duke of Norfolk, while Ed had been thrust into the role of trainer by the sad death of Alex Scott [who he had been assisting]. We were starting on zero”.     Harry says: “We went through the Directory of the Turf, wrote to a lot of owners, printed a flyer and did lots of PR. Some of my father’s owners were kind enough to say they would support us, including Prince Faisal who sent us the lovely Festoso. It was quite a gamble, nonetheless”.     Didn’t his family’s role in racing prove a benefit? Christina says: “The name Dunlop can open some doors, but it shuts others. There is expectation with the Dunlop name, and so there is an assumption you will have 100 horses and Classic winners, but the reality was we started with zero and grafted it like the majority of other trainers. We would like more horses and more good-quality horses, and hopefully we are building towards that”.      Quick-fire with Harry and Christina       Stable star   Harry: “Robin Of Navan was bought for us by bloodstock agent Matt Coleman at Arqana’s breeze-up sale. He’s won a Gp1 and been placed in two Gp1’s, and has won in the region of €750,000, including premiums. He’s six, but he’s racing on for a partnership that now involves original owner Richard Foden plus Kevin Freeman, who owns Jackfinbar [who won the Gp3 Prix de Lutece in September]. Kevin is a hugely enthusiastic owner who lives in Singapore, and we have nominated Robin Of Navan for a race in Hong Kong. He will begin the season in France with some Gp3’s, but Hong Kong would be a nice aim for the end of the season”.      Top-class sponsor   Christina: “Our new stable sponsor is Class One Personnel, a recruitment agency which is headed by Daniel McAuliffe. He and Anoj Don own Fighting Irish, who was third in the German 2000 Guineas last year, becoming our first Classic-placed horse”.      Buying horses   Harry: “We do not always buy horses by top-of-the-pops stallions, but I do like the mare to have produced a Stakes horse or at least a very good horse—look at the success Mark Johnston has enjoyed by following that method. I like an athletic horse and will forgive a minor physical issue”.      A foot in France   Harry: “You cannot have a licence in France and Britain, but you can leave a horse in France for up to 92 days a year, and we have left horses at Deauville racecourse during August when there is more or less continuous racing there; and at Clairefontaine, quite a lot of trainers from the south of France do the same thing. We have considered a satellite yard”.      Italian plan   Harry: “My father won all the Group races held at The Capannelle, and last year they held a race in his memory. I was invited over to present the prize, and while there attended a yearling sale. We duly bought a Kingston Hill colt we named London Calling and syndicated to a group of owners who had horses with my father. The plan is to take him to Italy for a sales race in the autumn and to have lunch at The Ribot, a restaurant where my father would often take owners. It is sad that Italy has no Gp1 races now, and I just hope the Ministry can sort it out, because Italy is a wonderful place to go racing”.      Staff focus   Christina: “With a young family of our own, we understand how it is for staff in the same position. We pay a bonus for staff who turn in for the full week and do a really good job, and we introduced a [rota] system whereby every other Wednesday staff work until about 10.30 a.m. and then have the rest of the day off, and that is working well. We have regular staff meetings where we can discuss issues, and Harry is aware of the need to work to deadlines so staff finish on time”.     Tip for a prospective trainer   Harry: “Take good, sound financial advice. It’s a business”.      My secret weapon   Harry: “Christina—who you may not know is a breeder of Gp1 pigs. She enjoys telling me she won a Gp1 before I did”.      Fond memories   Harry: “My oldest brother, Tim, was 21 when he was killed in a car accident. He was destined to start training from Dad’s second yard. I was 11 and away at school, but it was a tough time for the whole family. There is a National Stud scholarship named in his honour, and also an assistant trainers’ scholarship which funds the opportunity for a person to work abroad for a leading trainer. That fund was set up by Sir Francis Brooke, Richard Pilkington and my brother, Ed”.      Pedal power   Harry: “We have two syndicates, the Windsor House Stables Partnership and Velocity Racing, which revolves around cycling. Members come here to see the horses and then go for a bike ride; and our 2019 highlight will be to cycle along the coast from Cherbourg to Deauville. This is our second year, and the horse this time is called Saffron Lane, who is named after a velodrome in Leicester”.  C: “You will be amazed how many people like wearing lycra! On a serious note, you have to look outside the box because people expect more, and you need to step up. You have to offer something which might get you the next owner”.      Two-year-olds to note   Harry and Christina: “We have Knight To Behold’s half-brother by Dark Angel called Angel On High, and Fighting Irish’s half-brother by Free Eagle—he’s called Falcon. Lord Ardilaun is a son of American Post, the sire of Robin Of Navan, and there is a very nice Golden Horn filly called Cassidy Jo”.

By Carl Evans

Frustrated by the lingering vapour trails of the financial crisis, Lambourn trainer Harry Dunlop sought an edge, and found it in France.

That was in 2011, when he ventured to Arqana’s October Yearling Sale for the first time, bought a yearling and found an avenue which, while not untrodden, gave his business another angle, namely buying French-bred horses to race for British owners across the Channel. His yard was conveniently located little more than an hour from the ferry port at Portsmouth. The prize money was good, and the French system of premiums given to horses bred in the country was a very attractive extra.

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Seven years later, after steadily developing the process, Dunlop’s string includes some ten French-bred horses with which to target races on both sides of the Channel. Brexit could cause a few bumps along the way, but with an experienced shipping company on side, and his growing knowledge of racing in France, he is optimistic of a bright future.

Dunlop says: “Whatever Brexit throws up we will take of it, and on that score owners do not need to worry. Luck Greayer handles our shipping and excels at sorting out matters and getting across borders”.

Reflecting on that exploratory cross-Channel buying trip, he says: “In 2011 the recession was still having an effect and things were quite tough; we felt we had to do something different. I made my first trip to Arqana for a yearling sale, aiming to buy a horse on spec with a small budget. We bought an Astronomer Royal colt [for €16,000], and I managed to get seven people to form a syndicate with the promise of some racing in France.

“Named Sir Patrick Moore, he turned out to be a really nice two-year-old, who won first time out at Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes meeting, teeing up the option of running in Royal Ascot’s Coventry Stakes. Instead of that, we took him to Compiegne for a Class B race which he won, earning the equivalent of finishing second in the Coventry. That opened our eyes to how profitable it could be to race in France, and, no less importantly, we were seen to be trying something different.

“Sir Patrick Moore went on to be placed in a Listed race at two and in the [Gp3] Greenham Stakes the following year, and the owners all enjoyed going to different racecourses and enjoying some good lunches. We later sold him very well to race on in Australia.

“It steamrolled from there; we went back to Arqana the following October and have since bought four Stakes horses from that sale. The pound is weaker against the euro than when we started, but most of the horses we have bought would probably have cost more in Britain or Ireland”.

Dunlop is a family man, with two young sons (Tom and William) who know which way to place a saddle on a horse’s back. William is becoming a pony-racing rider to note, and Harry’s wife, Christina, plays an important role in the business which cannot be overstated. A horsewoman who has ridden since childhood, Christina is involved at the yard on several fronts, not least as head of public relations.

Six years working for PR specialists Johnno Spence Consulting, with the Epsom Derby as her key client, Christina polished a naturally easy style that would make her invaluable in any trainer’s yard. Yet Christina is a grafter too, willing to tackle anything from office administration to intractable colts, while organising staff discussions and outings and spending time on the road. Saying, with a barely-veiled side-swipe at her husband, “I do a lot of travelling—Harry says I’m very good at it”, she adds: “I have been across to France with runners on many occasions, and my French is certainly not fluent, but I’ve found that when I ask for help—be it from trainers, their assistants or staff—everyone is very helpful. We have always been welcomed”.

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To anyone who has been following racing in recent decades, no matter how distantly, the name Dunlop must ring bells, for Harry’s older brother, Ed, is a Classic-winning Newmarket trainer who has successfully raided big races around the globe, while their late father, John, was a champion trainer who sent out the winners of 10 British Classics.

Harry says: “Ed and I chat a lot, and he’s very helpful. Newmarket is the centre of flat racing and therefore it’s nice to hear what’s going on up there, and I stay with him during the yearling sales.

“Dad was very proud of our achievements, and Knight To Behold winning last year’s Derby Trial gave him some pleasure just before he died. He had won the race on a number of occasions, and the following day we chatted on the phone several times about where to go and what to do next. He always loved to know about the good horses. This is not an easy business, but it’s very rewarding, and Dad recognised that when both Ed and I wanted to go into training”.

From Paradis to Paradise in Lambourn….

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