EXCLUSIVE WITH DONAL SMITH 

“If you can’t do someone a good turn, don’t do them a bad one” is the modest mindset of Co Down man Donal Smith, who is having “the time of his life” in two of the leading horse racing clubs in Ireland.

Smith is a well-regarded member of both the Michael O’Callaghan and Gordon Elliott’s racing clubs with both trainers having eight horses each in training presently, “We’re under no illusions that we will be going to Cheltenham or Ascot this year with our horses, but that’s not what the clubs are designed for, it’s all about the craic, getting people to the races, meeting new friends and letting ordinary people experience the thrill of a day at the races for a minimal fee” states Smith.

Both Clubs are expected to have plenty of runners throughout the year and will be endeavouring to enter the winner’s enclosure at any given opportunity with the likes of Crack of Thunder and Ring Ben who trainer Gordon Elliott holds in high regards, “Gordon Elliott also acquired for us Shirley’s Gold Well, a winner of her sole point to point. “She’s one to keep an eye on when she appears in the spring” adds Smith.

The one horse from the Micheal O’Callaghan racing club that Smith is eager to see is out again is “Cantstoptherock” who was an eye catching 8th place on his debut recently at Dundalk, “he is one for the notebook” also another horse who should be winning soon is Perfect Soldier who ran credibly recently at Wolverhampton races and is expected to win again soon on home soil.

From as far back as Smith can recall he always had a keen interest in horse racing primarily because his father was an avid fan of the sport, “Dad got us all to stick a pin in one for the Grand National when we were youngsters which was a very fond memory of mine, though seldom my horse was successful” jokes Smith.

Smith was also a well-known figure in The Four Roads pub near Tyrella as he worked there for numerous years. The pub was renowned for always being very busy for the big racing days on the television, well before Attheraces and Racing UK came on the scene, “there were many quality races debated in that pub” adds Smith.

Down through the years there has been so many unforgettable horse racing moments for Smith but one that stands out in his mind is when the Gordon Elliott racing club owned Station Closed obliged twice at Downpatrick racecourse last year. “I was there on both occasions with my brothers Patrick and Stephen as well as loads of other friends and family from the nearby Minerstown Tavern, there’s no better feeling than seeing a horse you’re involved with scooting up the famous Downpatrick hill and that’s something that I personally will always be very proud off” adds Smith.

Having the right contacts in the horse racing scene and the generosity of local businesses enabled Smith to raise over £14000 for the Jonjo Bright Trust this past few years courtesy of the Minerstown Tavern Cheltenham Festival preview evenings. “As I’m sure you’re aware Jonjo suffered life changing injuries at the local East Down point to point meeting at nearby Tyrella a few years ago, so it’s great to give something back to this very worthy cause” states Smith.

When asked if he was going to do more fundraising this year again Smith responded, “I am not sure if we’ll be able to arrange a preview evening this year, but we’re certainly organising a 5K/10K road-race and Family Funday at the Minerstown Tavern later this year with all proceeds raised going to the Jonjo Bright Trust but more details will be released in due course when I have them”.

Away from horse racing how does this highly driven man wind down and enjoy himself? “I’ve recently caught the running/jogging bug, so I like nothing more than taking part in the local races, especially if they’re for charity. I ran my first official 10K at Tollymore Forest Park outside Newcastle yesterday, so I am feeling the effects of that today. Although it’s not golfing weather at the moment, I hope to grace the fairways at Warrenpoint this Summer and take a few quid from my good friend Robbie who works with Pat O’Hare Bookmakers. He’s a bit of a bandit and will have ‘local knowledge’ so I’d be hopeful rather than expectant”.

As the old saying goes “The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes” and one thing is certain Smith doesn’t lack in ambition or determination, whether it be fundraising for Jonjo Bright or getting behind his racing clubs he really puts in the graft and his hard work has not gone unnoticed.