Denis Hogan has got the scent of a great sprinter and can’t wait to Make A Challenge at the Curragh on Sunday, writes Will Jennings.
The Tipperary trainer is enjoying a thrilling rise this season, watching superstar Sceptical belong in Group One company at Royal Ascot.
He was reeled in by Hello Youmzain that day but now Hogan is eyeing up further glory with Make A Challenge now confirmed to run in the Group Two Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.
Hogan got a taste of the bright Qatar lights as his raider finished sixth in Doha’s Dukhan Sprint, before returning from his winter odyssey to watch him dazzle in his prep run at Naas.
But while Hogan has high hopes for his five-year-old on Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby weekend, it was never the sprinters who first caught his eye.
“Sceptical has loads of class and we’re excited for him, while Make A Challenge is another very good sprinter at the yard,” the 33-year-old said.
“He’s exciting, and we were out in Qatar with him this winter, where there was lots of money involved and the owners were looked after unbelievably.
“But when I started training, the sprint division was never even one I was considering - I was looking for potential jumpers, and it wasn’t until we bought jumpers that didn’t stay the distance we had some success on the Flat.
“We landed ourselves with sprinters like Tithonus, who was bought as a potential jumper but had a lot of pace when we started working on him.
“We kept dropping him back in trip and he ended up winning two big handicaps which got us a couple of trips to York and Doncaster.
"I always really enjoyed training him and after that I started buying a few more like him.”
Hogan’s training journey is an unorthodox one, gaining his permit at just 22 and embarking on nationwide tour that took him from Cork to Clonmel, Laytown to Listowel and Galway to Gowran Park.
But he’s become a household name in recent weeks as Sceptical shot to fame, producing a sizzling sprint at Naas before narrowly missing out in Ascot’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Hogan was unable to emulate the exploits of great sprint trainers Wesley Ward and Edward Lynam but is acutely aware of the footsteps he is hoping to follow.
“Wesley Ward, from the States, was a master of sprints, but closer to home I’ve actually really admired Eddie Lynam over the years,” he added.
“I followed Sole Power and Slade Power and thought they were great stories, and I was at Ascot a couple of times when they won.
“I just thought Eddie was a top, world-class trainer of sprinters, with Wesley of course falling into that category as well.
“There’s so much prize money on the Flat, it’s easier to train the horses, there are fewer injuries, and more sale for them when they’re successful - while they can also go anywhere in the world.
“Would you believe it, I never set out to be a sprint trainer but now we’ve fallen into it, I always look for sprinters at the sales to buy."
While it’s horses like Sceptical and Make A Challenge who have propelled him to stardom, Hogan knows there is still work to be done.
Make A Challenge faces a stern test in Sunday’s six furlong contest, going head to head with the likes of Buffer Zone, Speak In Colours and Forever In Dream on the famous Curragh turf.
And with Sceptical also eyeing up a pair of Group One raids in the Darley July Cup and Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, Hogan wants to make those sort of outings a regular occurrence.
“The dream is to make a horse like Sceptical not so much an exception and more the norm for our yard,” he said.
“I love dealing with horses, training horses, riding horses and anything to do with them - I get a kick out of watching them do well after bringing them along, be it in a point-to-point or a two-year-old sprinter.
“I just love seeing horses 100 per cent fit, healthy and getting the maximum out of them - that’s what I get a kick out of, and hopefully we can hit on some good ones coming up.
“We just want to keep progressing, improving, get better quality horses, and get better facilities all the time - it’s the dream job, I enjoy every minute of it and I don’t think I would do anything else."