Ger Lyons says that when Prince Khalid Abdullah’s global Juddmonte racing and breeding operation started to support his burgeoning County Meath stables it was “honestly, the proudest moment of my career”.
Like many others, Lyons, 54, grew up in awe of the consistently prolific top-level success of the green, pink and white-coloured silks, from 1980s stars Rainbow Quest and Dancing Brave onwards.
And, as Irish 2000 Guineas winner Siskin puts his unbeaten record on the line in Goodwood’s Qatar Sussex Stakes, Juddmonte managers are doubtless reflecting that in adding Lyons to their lengthy roster of trainers they seem to have made a good call.
“That really meant something,” Lyons told me. “To have pros like that knocking on your door is an acknowledgement that you’re doing it right, and it can’t be taken away from you.
“You don’t get to the Group One stage – I don’t care who you are – unless you get the Group One horse; there’s a serious amount of talented trainers out there who might never train a Group One winner because they won’t get the Group One horse.
“To be at the top table you need access to those horses – every year you watch these big races and almost invariably you could buy only about one, the rest simply aren’t accessible, and that’s why it’s so great to have them.”
Such thoughts were barely even distant dreams when Lyons recorded his first success in racing’s highest grade.
It came over jumps when Big-And-Bold, ridden by Ruby Walsh in the silks of the trainer’s parents-in-laws, Alix and David Stevenson, won the Powers Gold Cup steeplechase at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival, in 2002.
However, it was perhaps because the Stevensons owned a large string of national hunt horses, mainly under the banners of
Edinburgh Woollen Mills and Ashleybank Investments, that Lyons, who had himself been a jump jockey, ended up concentrating on the flat.
He said: “I didn’t want people saying ‘oh, he’s only training because his father-in-law gave him a lot of horses’.
“David has zero interest in flat racing – he calls my sport ‘greyhound racing’ – and I thought that he’s not going to give me a lot of two-year-olds so that’s the way I’m going and I can sink or succeed on my terms.”
And a glance at a ‘formbook’ of jockeys indicates it was probably not a big price that he would keep his head above water: the number of his contemporaries from the late 1980s/early 1990s riding era who have thrived as flat trainers is striking.
“You have Richard Fahey,” he said, “you have Johnny Quinn, Clive Cox, Micky Hammond, Karl Burke, Kevin Ryan – I’m missing lads now – Sean Woods was a very good trainer in Hong Kong.
“That was a talented weigh-room, for trainers anyway.
“I don’t know, but maybe we stopped early enough as jockeys to learn our trade well as trainers.”
As Lyons prepares to travel to Goodwood with Siskin’s jockey Colin Keane, partner of the trainer’s daughter Kerri, he has described the assignment ahead, taking on the four-year-olds Mohaather and Circus Maximus and fellow 2000 Guineas winner Kameko, in what’s being billed as the ‘Race of the Season’ as “scary”.
But I detected a tone of steely assuredness when he argued: “On figures, we have to improve, but physically he’s getting stronger and I think he’s definitely improved again.”
On return to Ireland, under Covid-19 regulations, Lyons and Keane will be required to self-isolate for two weeks – they have a favourite’s chance that it will be two weeks to quietly celebrate another top-level success for themselves and their big-name client.