Interview with the.... Horse Trainer
Horse Racing: Catching up with Brian Meehan at Manton
It's a blustery morning up on the Manton downs and following a couple of wet days at Goodwood, Brian Meehan is overseeing another busy day in the race office at Manton. With horses going to 4 different meetings today, there is plenty to do. Nonetheless he spared some time for a chat with The Sporting Blog, accompanied by none other than J.T McCoy, a rare privilege for all.
One of the most recognisable faces in Racing, Brian has picked up numerous Group 1 wins as well as winning two of the most valuable races in the World in the same year, a year that saw him named 'International Trainer of the Year'.
The Sporting Blog: Brian, to set the scene for our readers, how many horses do you have in training here at Manton at any one time?
Brian Meehan: About 80.
TSB: Is that a fairly consistent number throughout the year?
BM: We start the year at about 85 and it dwindles down until the Autumn and then we restock with yearlings.
TSB: What is the average day like for these horses when they haven't got any actual racing coming up? Is every day fairly consistent?
BM: Generally, yes. The idea is to keep them in a routine as most of them are young, 2 and 3 years old and they don't like being out of their comfort zone. We try and keep them in the same routine and have them fed at the same time, exercised at the same time and so on.
TSB: And how does race preparation differ to that? For those that aren't in the know, do you up the workload or reduce the workload...?
BM: Well every Thursday we do what we call 'fast work', where they are on the grass or the all-weather depending on the conditions. Almost every horse will do that each week. That then gives you a guide as to how forward or backward they are, then the next week we'll step it up if they look like they are ready. We had a 2 year old today who stepped up this morning so next week we'll put him in with one that's won a race and see where he is.
They have an inherent fitness level that's there anyway, its really about stepping them up and making them sharper. Giving them more experience riding at home with better horses, sharper horses, ones that have more experience.
TSB: When looking to mix the horses in that way is there ever a tendency to be cautious over the fear of injury or that the step up might be too much?
BM: Yeah, I mean instinctively when you are coming up to a Classic or a Group 1 race you tend to be a little bit more careful but you shouldn't be really as they don't know do they!? I mean they have a certain instinct that something different is coming up but really the important thing is to keep them in their routine.
TSB: Just on the actual training side of things, there is more technology and analysis than ever before involved in watching racing. Has that crept into training at all? Have things changed in over the years?
BM: There are a number of ways you could approach the question really. They say that Veterinary science is always ahead of medical science, so things there have changed for sure. In terms of the actual training, I don't think so. Again perhaps when there is a problem on the veterinary side of things, there is more you can do and more you can find out. Although that is quite dangerous too because no matter what the injury, horses generally need time, so you have to give them that.
In terms of other things, we send the owners video reports once a fortnight, with some dialogue from me which the owners really like. But the actual training side of things hasn't changed too much.
TSB: Talking of the Veterinary side of things, has the nutrition and the way the horses eat changed in recent years?
BM: Yes there is more knowledge and there are more things that you can find out but again it needs to be kept simple. One thing that really has changed, which is significant, is that there is an awful lot more racing. So there is more pressure on us, and the horses. Recovery therefore becomes really important. We keep the feeding simple but analyse more often. The sort of horses I have, it's all about growth so a high protein diet, but simplicity is the most important thing.
TSB: We've been asked about how you might weigh up a horse, or how long it takes before you get a feel for the horse? Can you ever tell early on whether they have got it or not?
BM: It is really about feeling a positive attitude from the horse. Any horse that has a lack of interest or a negative feeling about it takes a bit longer to gauge, and that comes out even more when the pressure is increased. So it's not immediate.
J.T McCoy: In terms of a horses trajectory and how you train it and what races you aim it at, how much of that is down to your intuition as the trainer and how much is down to work guys, jockeys, owners and the like and their opinions?
BM: It's a combination of your trusted lads, daily riders and exercise riders who give important feedback, the pedigree and also the individual himself. As trainers we all tend to follow a routine year after year; you might take the horse to Newbury, if it wins you follow it up elsewhere and so on. There is a routine and pattern there too.
TSB: Talking of the owners, how honest can you be with owners? Do they appreciate the honesty if you tell them one isn't up to it etc?
BM: Across the board everyone wants honest feedback. As we are more scrutinised with the media, social media and the like, we have to be prepared to supply honest information, sometimes more than you like. You might think that instinctively a horse that isn't performing has more to give but because there is more footage, more opinions at an early stage you may have to take it out of training earlier than you like.
TSB: How hard is it to manage owners expectations?
BM: It's more down to the trainer and his expectations. If you can keep your enthusiasm under wraps and be honest the owners normally feel the same way.
JTMc: Do the owners try and lean you towards booking certain jockeys for certain horses?
BM: A little bit. Usually you make the right judgement call anyway. I usually use the best available and I have Jimmy Fortune who has been out most of the season unfortunately.
JTMc: Last one... This week the ground has turned a bit sticky at Goodwood. For those that are new to racing saying a horse "won't go well" on certain ground is something people find quite difficult to understand. How do you tell when training them how they will go on what ground?
BM: Well you've got pedigree to start with. It tends to follow. Then the way they move and lastly if they are actually running it in practice. Those are the key three.
As this post was being written, Brian picked up a winner at Goodwood in the Qatar Richmond stakes (Group 2) with Barraquero ridden by William Buick.