David Marnane is no stranger to Dubai, having moved to the UAE in 1997, where he learned the ropes and understood what it takes to be a successful trainer under Kieran McLaughlin and Doug Watson.
The region means a lot to him as he reflects on the DWC and the subsequent success the Carnival has seen since being introduced.
"I remember it well! "We actually had our first turf winner with our first-ever runner at Meydan, and that was the first turf race they had, and we won it," he says.
Beginnings on the Emerald Isle
Born in Tipperary, Ireland, a region synonymous with horses and many legendary trainers, his father was a farmer who was always interested in horses, and David’s passion grew from there.
"When we were younger, we would have had ponies and that sort of thing, and when he got a little bit older, he ended up buying a racehorse or two as a hobby, which is how I got involved with it."
"I have two brothers, and when we were growing up, we all took a different direction in racing as we progressed in life. My brother Con is one of the leading breeze-up consigners in Europe, and they sell 40 to 50 breeze-up horses every year.
"My other brother Ed is very good at race planning, and he was also Editor for Al Adiyat for many years before returning to join us in Ireland, where he helps out with everything."
As a jockey, Marnane would rise through the ranks as a top amateur rider, recording over 100 winners for trainers that included Dermot Weld, Mick O’Toole, John Oxx, and Noel Meade.
"I only rode for four or five years, and we had some success doing that, finishing as runners-up for the championship, but I always knew I wanted to do something else."
"I was very lucky to get offered a job with Kieran McLaughlin along with my wife Mel to go over for a year, and we ended up staying for ten years.
"He was an absolute gentleman and a great boss, so we stayed there all the way through."
With three school-aged children in tow and after a year working with Doug Watson, the Marnane family would return home to their native Ireland.
David officially got his trainer's licence in 2005, had his first winner on June 7th of that same year with Spirit of Age, and has not looked back since.
"When I started to train at home, it was always something I wanted to do, and we started off with five or six horses."
"We had some success, and five became 15, and 15 became 30, and we have around that number."
He has gone on to train a stable that has included Settle for Bay, Dandy Boy, Nocturnal Affair, and Stuttgart.
It was horses such as Santo Padre, Dandy Boy, and Bangalore Gold that helped to cement his position as a trainer of note.
Dandy Boy gave him his first Royal Ascot winner, and the stable enjoyed a second success at the same meeting when the Billy Lee-ridden Settle For Bay won the Royal Hunt Cup Handicap in 2018.
When selecting and training horses to target for the Carnival and racing in Dubai, the trainer says that it isn’t as much about pedigree as some would believe.
"All of the European horses with us will really only run on the turf." However, three years ago, we had a very good horse named Tato Key, whom we purchased from South America, and he had no trouble running on the dirt.
"He was second in the Al Shindagha Sprint, then third in the Mahab Al Shimaal (two group races at the Carnival), and then he ran on World Cup night." He was a very good horse on the dirt but was bred to race on it.
"So, for us, there aren’t really any major pedigree influences; we're just looking for a type that would want fast ground; size and scope are desirable for us."
"So, you know, horses do improve. But as I said, you need a horse with the right character—one that's happy to train there and is happy and relaxed.
MRC International: A Proper Horse Racing Syndicate
David and his team at Bansha are the brains behind the new MRC International syndicate, which has enjoyed a hugely successful first year of operation.
"This syndicate is made up of people from Australia, America, the UAE, Kuwait, Ireland, and England—from all over the world, really."
"Last year we sat down and had a think about where the good horses had come from—we've had two Royal Ascot winners, Freescape, and some of those good horses that went to Dubai.
"But really, they all came to us as yearlings in the yard originally, and not for a lot of money—anything from ten grand up to €10,000 up to €40,000, and that was the core of it."
"So, we decided what was the best vehicle to get those sorts of horses in and around the yard, and we felt that with a couple of us we could pull together, and we set up a thing called the MRC, the Marnane Racing Club.
"It’s a new concept because we have a lot of horses under one banner." We had 19 horses last year and have sourced 12 so far this year in the syndicate.
If anyone is interested in finding out more, they can contact David and his team for more details (see below). With another launch set for Dubai in the coming weeks, this is a fantastic opportunity to get involved!
"It is great because when you are involved in a syndicate, you are involved with all of the horses—you get to share all of them and get ownership in all of those horses."
"It is a fantastic concept, and I have taken some shares in the syndicate myself." From captains of industry to school teachers, the MRC is a diverse group of owners who have come together with one aim: "to have a like-minded group of people involved in proper race horse ownership and enjoying the great days out."
"Last year we had a very good filly called Lady Tilbury, who was the second first time out, and then she won her maiden very easily before another win she got very easily.
"She was the third choice for the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, and she cost $18,000 as a yearling, so she was a very big success."
"It [the MRC syndicate] worked really well, and we have had great fun." We actually had a launch night in Dubai at the Carnival, and we had about fifty people in the box at Meydan. It was amazing, and we plan to do the same thing this year. "We hope to bring a bigger team of horses to Dubai next year, including some runners for the MRC International syndicate."
Dubai is calling again.
Preparations are now underway in Dubai for the upcoming World Cup Carnival as Freescape has arrived from Mare’s base in Ireland and will have his first race in a few weeks at Meydan. Freescape thoroughly enjoys Dubai and has been a great servant to Marnane, with six wins and eight placings from a 45-year career start since breaking his maiden in August 2017.
owned by McGettigan’s Management Services and Dennis McGettigan, an owner of hospitality establishments and pubs internationally who is also a friend of Marnane and was the owner of Settle for Bay.
"My wife actually bought him a few years ago." I was in America, and they rang me up as he was in a store in Ireland. She wanted to buy him, and he was quite cheap—I think he cost around €20,000 at the time.
"When I got back from America, I loved him, and he was a really nice horse." He has always been straightforward.
"He was fourth the first day and in a good winner's race the first time out as a 2 year old, and he was always a very big horse.So, to run well as a two-year-old, he was always going to progress. In his second race, he finished third at the Curragh, and then he won his maiden, which is always a difficult thing to do in Ireland—if you win a maiden, you are a pretty good horse."
After breaking his maiden in Ireland, he was taken to Dubai as a 3-year-old.
"He went out for the Meydan Classic Trial and finished fifth or sixth, and then he was a very solid third in the Meydan Classic." It was at that point that we knew we had a pretty solid horse and one that loved travelling.
"We train him so his game focuses on Meydan as we know he likes going there and racing."
Freescaping inspires confidence
Marnane is confident in the gelded son of Cityscape and said he thought that recent track and turf changes would further increase his performances.
"I see they have changed the turf at Meydan this year, and I think that will be a positive for us this year." I think it will be good for our horse this season because he is a big horse and he loves having something solid underneath him. Even though he has run well and won out there, he moves around on it a bit, and I have found it really hasn’t suited him as much as it could have.
"He has won a lot of races on the all-weather track, and that is solid underneath him, and he really likes that."
Buying and Training Quality Horses
"Every year since Dandy Boy won at Meydan on the opening night, we have tried to have horses good enough to go back." We try to train good quality horses, and luckily, every year at least one horse returns—some years three, but every year at least one.
"Which I think is a pretty big feat because that is going on ten or twelve years, and we have had a lot of success." One year we brought three and won with all three—it’s a very good hunting ground, and it is important for us to be there.
Freescape is on his way to Dubai, passing through Stansted on his way to his fifth Carnival, and Marnane smiled, knowing that his horse is well aware of his journey and plans.
"When he came out of the stable, he kind of half expected where he was going." "It is three degrees here and raining, so he would be excited about going to Dubai, let me tell you."
"He has had all the summer off to prepare, and you need a quality horse that can come off the horse and move into a new stable and be ready to race but still pretty relaxed."
Once he lands in Dubai, he will be targeted for the track with "Al Rashidiya" pencilled in.
"That’s a race he ran in last year, and he was fourth, with Lord Glitters winning that one, who was a remarkable horse." He will run three weeks after that, again another two weeks later, and then he will race on Super Saturday.
"We have a good schedule set for him." He runs in four races and then he comes home, where he will run in Newcastle, which is our All-Weather Finals, which is very good and is worth a quarter of a million.
"He will go on his holidays after all of that and plan his schedule again from there."
Reflecting Back on the Decade Past
Marnane, who is based in Ireland but is always hungry for international victories, reflects on what has come without forgetting his goals and future success for his career and the team.
"In Europe, it’s Royal Ascot we want to win, but if you’re talking about Dubai, it’s definitely World Cup Night." We were second in the UAE Derby, but I want to win any race on World Cup night, really.
"And I'd love to train a winner on the dirt just for the hell of it!"
Until Marnane can find a winner destined for victory on the dirt track of Dubai, it will be all about
Freescape and his fifth DWC Carnival run—a feat to be admired for both the horse and this great Irish horseman.