Liam Clarke has hailed Sonnyboyliston’s memorable Irish St Leger triumph as
proof a big budget is not a necessity when it comes to unearthing Group 1
winners, writes Jack Lacey-Hatton.
Clarke runs Kildare Racing Club, who own the four-year-old responsible for giving Johnny Murtagh his first Classic win as a trainer, and sourced Sonnyboyliston at yearling sales.
It has been some journey since then for the superstar and though Kildare RC have had some good horses down the years, Clarke admits he wasn’t sure a classic would be within their grasp.
But fresh from an unforgettable day at the Curragh, Clarke believes his gelding’s victory should provide hope to others that future heroes can be sourced at reasonable prices.
“If you had asked me before Sunday, I’d have said ‘it can’t happen’ and that you need to spend money,” he said.
“It’s hard on the Flat, particularly.
“It’s a long process but this has shown it really can happen, and I’m delighted for everyone that got involved.
“We’ve had some of the same members for over 25 years. There were times where we had seven or eight horses some years, but that became a little bit too much work.
“We just started it as a passion to be honest, and now just we just like to have a couple of the Flat, and couple in the jumping season as well.
“We do it on the personal touch, so when the horse is running we’d ring every member and tell them the trainers’ views.
“We loved the pedigree on Sonnyboy from the start. Miss Macnamara (Dam) was a good race mare and she was half-sister to two group winners.
“He has turned out well, but I do think next year he could improve even more.”
Next year is also set to be when Sonnyboy goes international, with Murtagh’s ace set to miss the Melbourne Cup.
“He is going home now for a break and we’ll leave him there until mid to late November,” Clarke said.
“He’ll go back to Johnny’s and he’ll train him for the Saudi Cup next February, that is the definite plan with him.
“There is a cup race in Dubai about five weeks later, at a mile and six, he’ll go there as well.
“The Leger would be a target again next year, and possibly then Melbourne Cup next year, we’ll train him for that.
“I thought Twilight Payment was the one we had to beat [on Sunday]. We had to find a couple of pounds to beat him, but I thought we could.
“Johnny (Murtagh) hadn’t had a winner between Sonnyboy at the Ebor and Sunday, so that had me thinking a little bit. I think it was 24 runners between the wins.
“Johnny also thought he had improved, and he found those pounds. We are delighted with him.”
The Kildare Racing Club, one of the longest-running of its kind in Ireland, offers the chance for enthusiasts to buy full and part shares in their racers, including Sonnyboyliston.
Clarke is responsible for sourcing the club’s horses and ahead of the upcoming yearling sales at Tattersalls Ireland (September 21-22) and Goffs (September 28-October 1), reflected on what it was that attracted him to the Classic winner at the beginning
of his journey.
“I always want to see a horse with a bit of size and scope, at least you have something to work with,” he said.
“A good shoulder, hind quarters, correct and good bone – and he had that. Back then we would take him home for a month and build him up again.
“We knew as a two-year-old, we had liked him all along, and in the middle of the season he was still growing and getting bigger.
“He just improved with every run and last year was the big improvement. This year when we started him at a mile and two, we knew it was too short.
“Eventually we brought him up to a mile and six, and now I think he will stay two miles. Next year he will improve more.
“From the first day we had him, from a foal, he has never had a problem. Never any big issue. He is such a laidback horse as well.”
If you are interested in sourcing a horse at the upcoming Yearling Sales, now is your chance to contact a trainer and begin your journey to owning a Royal Ascot or Irish Champions weekend winner. Click here to find a trainer and start your journey.