Schoolboy fan in Thurles, jockey, trainer – John Quinn has seen Cheltenham from every point of view
THE CLOCK ticked towards three and John Quinn figured that Bobby Beasley must have been saddling up about now. He could picture the parade ring in Cheltenham, the crowd heaving, necks craning, the tip-toe of anticipation that would soon become a roar… and him stuck in school.
There was no Gold Cup roar in Thurles CBS in 1974, only silence, the thought of Beasley and what might happen. Of all the jockeys, Beasley was the one John Quinn admired most.
He was a great horseman, fantastic in a finish; then there was his personal and professional life and the way Bobby rampaged between the two.
He’d been captured by racing long before he was captured by jockeys like Beasley. His granddad had horses and ponies on his farm outside the town and John was much happier there, than here.
In the quiet of the class, he figured there was enough time to make it home to see the race, if he ran — and he did, all the way, his heart still beating fast when Bobby and Captain Christy crossed the line first.
Cheltenham smiled that day.
John Quinn didn’t know it then, but his own winding journey there had already begun. In the years that followed that race, he’d think of England, of courses like Ascot, Epsom, and Aintree, of races like the Derby and the Grand National. He liked the sound of England because it was homes to all those places and all those races.
It was tough to get a full-time gig in Ireland then so eventually he made the break, hooking up with a trainer called Jimmy Fitzgerald across the water. It was a hard beat — “I was well down the pecking order” — but he was never tempted to look back then, only now, at horses like Danish Flight who eventually went on to win an Arkle.
John Quinn wasn’t in the plate that day, but there were other days in Cheltenham, like the day in 1990 when he rode Past Glories to third place in the Champion Hurdle and there was glory in that because horse and jockey boxed above their weight.
“I gave it a brilliant ride that day,” he laughs. “Ah no, better say it was a decent ride and a very good Champion Hurdle — Kribensis won it and that was the closest I got… as a jockey anyway.”
But as a trainer he’d get closer. It took a while, but then he’s not a major player (“just a small business”) but he dined at the top table last year when Countrywide Flame and Dougie Costello won the JCB Triumph Hurdle at 33-1 and on Tuesday, another significant marker - when Denis O' Regan guided the same horse to a third behind Hurricane Fly and Rock on Ruby in a Champion Hurdle for the ages.
"I knew he’d get the trip and I knew he’d stay. The plan was simple really; to get into the best possible position we could and see how the race unfolded” he said.
Quinn is in his 18th year of training — “I do still enjoy it” — and Countrywide Flame has provided a few red letter days.
Quinn has just 16 horses in jumps training in Malton, Yorkshire and two - Hidden Justice and Kashmir Peak - both run in the Triumph Hurdle; both hoping to emulate Countrywide Flame's success last year.
It’s an admirable return from a small pick, but it only takes one good one and you’re up there competing with the big boys — and last year, beating them.
It feels like a long time ago now that he was running home to watch them, but some things don’t change — the clock is still ticking, this time towards greater achievement.