Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Grogan milking it with Katlaone

One of the beauties of this game is that you cannot, whatever the marketeers insist, construct or predict a narrative, you have to wait for it to unfold.

And sometimes it does to such enchanting effect that you start to believe you have strayed into the realms of fairy tale.

You would swear the leprechauns had a hand in the amazing story of John Grogan, the dairy farmer from Co Tipperary, and his filly Katla.

Grogan milks 60 Friesians every morning and like many of his kind, he has always had a horse or two about the place, as a hobby that might turn over a few euros.

At the moment, the two horses that matter are the broodmare Bratislava, bought cheaply five years ago, and her two-year-old daughter.

The point is, he should not really still have Katla; the idea normally is to sell the horses he breeds as yearlings and move on to the next one

But the little bay's pedigree was so undistinguished when the time came for her to go to market a year ago that none of the equine auction houses would have her.

When he did finally get her into a catalogue in the spring, sod's law decreed the fixture was cancelled.

So, the only thing Grogan, based near Cashel, could do was to take his baby home and try to turn her into an athlete himself.

He could not afford to send her to a professional yard and though he approached a few trainers with the offer of a half-share in lieu of fees, they declined.

But he has a licence from the authorities that allows him to run his own animals, something he had previously done with success. Well, a single success, six years ago.

Katla takes her routine exercise on a circuit ploughed on one of Grogan's 120 acres, ridden by local horseman Christy Ryan, who pops in before he goes off to his day job. For more serious galloping, she goes off in the horsebox every so often to nearby trainers, the Stacks at Golden or the Marnanes at Bansha.

This one horse from a one-horse operation has turned out to be rather good.

In July, she finished second to Misty For Me, subsequently a dual Group One winner and Ireland's best of her age and sex, and on Saturday she came over to York to tackle the Listed Rockingham Stakes, driven across Ireland, onto the ferry, across England, and back, by Grogan himself.

The little expedition left Milestream Farm before dawn on Friday and returned — victorious by six lengths — just as the sun was setting on Sunday. In the saddle had been little-known Irish journeyman Billy Lee.

“Jeez,” he said, “I'd have walked there to ride her.”

Katla has now earned nearly £50,000 and Grogan has ambitious plans for her, a Group Two contest in France. But he is a little dumbfounded by the reaction to his unlikely success.

“When I went into Cashel,” he said yesterday, “a trip that would normally have taken me five minutes took about three hours, there were that many people wanting to talk about it all.

“But what I've done is just what we all try to do. I'd say 80 per cent of Irish breeders are like myself, we're all hoping for that one good horse to come along.”

One of the first people to phone with congratulations was Misty For Me's trainer Aidan O'Brien, whose mighty 200-horse empire is just a couple of miles down the road from Milestream.

“The whole thing is a dream,” said Grogan. “We went to York hoping for some place money. But I've stuck with the horses for 25 years and they do say good things come to those who wait.”

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