FOR a man who has trained more than 350 winners, it’s a surprise that David Christie is not better known in a horse racing-mad county like Fermanagh.
The trainer from Derrylin is well respected in National Hunt horse racing circles throughout Ireland and the UK, and last May he completed a successful raid to Stratford by claiming the big prize as Vaucelet landed the Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunter Chase.
The success came just 30 minutes after Christie had earlier claimed the Champion Novice Hunter Chase when Ask D’Man prevailed in a race that Vaucelet had won 12 months ago.
“It was the first time this double had been done and was quite an achievement,” Christie said.
“The races were televised and it was big news with the racing media at the time, but hardly anyone in Derrylin or Fermanagh knew about it.
“It’s just one of those things. I’m not too bothered about it to be honest.
“We made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to cut numbers, go for quality over quantity, and go for the big races.”
Christie had a brilliant start to 2023 with Rocknrose convincingly taking the 7yo+ Geldings Maiden at Tinahely point-to-point in Wicklow under Rob James last month.
Vaucelet had earlier taken the Hunters’ Chase at Down Royal on Boxing Day, while Ultimate Optimist was impressive when landing the Maiden Hunters’ Chase at Limerick on December 27.
“Vaucelet is ante-post favourite for the Foxhunters’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March,” Christie explained. “His whole season has been geared towards this race, so we’re hopeful that he’ll run well.”
The 62-year-old trainer nearly won the prestigious race last year when his horse Winged Leader was narrowly denied victory after the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Billaway got up in the last strides to win.
“Winged Leader is also ready to go again and he’ll probably run soon,” he said. “We’ll decide after that if he goes back to Cheltenham or we go to Aintree for the Grand National meeting with him.”
In fact, Winged Leader ran last Sunday at Cragmore point-to-point in Limerick and won handily.
Christie did not spend years at other trainers’ stables learning his trade and is completely self-taught.
Originally brought up on a family farm in Bushmills, County Antrim, he was farm manager at Greenmount College in Antrim before coming to Fermanagh in 1997 to be farm manager at Enniskillen College (now South West College), where he was heavily involved in its equine programme.
In 2004, he took the plunge and became a full-time horse racing trainer in Derrylin. He has 25-30 horses at his stables, depending on the time of year. His son David Jnr is the assistant trainer and a major factor in the operation.
“David is a big cog in the wheel here. It’s a very tough business, but we have been doing well so far,” Christie said.
And the future looks bright as his Ferns Lock impressively won the Hunter Chase at Thurles on Sunday, January 22.
“He is a horse for next year. What this horse has over my other three hunter chasers [Vaucelet, Winged Leader and Ultimate Optimist] is a serious kick of gear,” Christie said.
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