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Building success on the turf

RACE DAY PREVIEW - Construction bigwigs Pat Gallagher and Des O'Rourke have another side to their lives.When they're not competing on site they're toting at the race-course.

STABLED deep in Berkshire's Valley of the Racehorses, Leitrim House is a horse that is going places - that's the belief of builders-turned-racehorse owners Pat Gallagher and Des O'Rourke.

The three-year-old is trained by Brian Meehan at his Newlands Stables in Upper Lambourn, Berkshire.

It has won three of six races since being bought two years ago.

Mr Gallagher, owner of £40 million-turnover civils-to-aggregates group Gallagher Holdings, moved to the UK from Ireland in 1966 but grew up in County Leitrim.That is where he first got to know Mr O'Rourke, brother of Ray and deputy chairman at contracting giant Laing O'Rourke.'We're actually second cousins, ' explains Mr Gallagher.

Leitrim House is the latest in a number of horses that he and Mr O'Rourke have owned together.The horse was bought at the sales in Goffs in Ireland and won its maiden race at generous odds of 12/1.This was a sixfurlong sprint at Newmarket with jockey Willie Supple in the saddle, and the win earned Mr Gallagher and Mr O'Rourke £5,122.

A second outing at Doncaster the following month and a step up to a group two race proved less successful.Despite having Frankie Dettori in charge of the whip, Leitrim House lived up to odds of 25/1 by trailing in last and this proved to be the final outing of last season.

This season has started more promisingly, with Leitrim House home first in a nine-strong field in a one-mile listed trial stakes race at Lingfield in April. Steve Drowne was in the saddle.This race's prize money was a heftier £26,000, and the odds were a generous 20/1.

A month later, and Leitrim House continued its winning streak at the Curragh in Ireland, where Mick Kinane won a seven-furlong race ahead of four other horses in the group three Rock of Gibraltar European Breeders Fund Tetrarch Stakes.

The odds had shortened - Leitrim House was the 5/2 favourite - but the race still carried prize money of e58,590, about £40,000.As a result, Leitrim House was entered in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh. Steve Drowne again saddled up and the horse started the race at odds of 5/1.

Despite leading the field with a slight advantage just one furlong short of the line, Leitrim House came home fourth out of eight.

Mick Kinane returned to the saddle for Royal Ascot in June, when Leitrim House started the group three Jersey Stakes at the same odds - 6/1 - as the eventual winner, Kheleyf, but finally ran home seventh in a 15horse race.

'We'll probably have one more race with Leitrim House this year at Newmarket, ' says Mr Gallagher.'The problem is that Leitrim House likes good firm ground and we can't get that in Britain, what with all this rain.'

Mr Gallagher and Mr O'Rourke have owned other horses, including one called Bridge Place, but they sold this one in the summer.Named after Laing O'Rourke's headquarters, Bridge Place started out badly, finishing last in its maiden race at Kempton Park racecourse earlier this year.

The second outing, which was at Brighton in May, proved better, with jockey Dane O'Neill steering Bridge Place to third in a six-strong field.

Frankie Dettori then saddled up to steer Bridge Place one place closer to a win with a second out of 15 at Windsor in June.The prize money of £1,090 was not huge, but the horse's winnings were quadrupled a week later when Seb Sanders won at Beverley.The short odds of 6/4 showed the optimism surrounding the animal, which was again trained by Mr Meehan at Newlands and sold after that race.

Mr Meehan explains: 'Bridge House was a winner and we sold him to the States as there was a profit scenario and it was provident to take it. It wasn't a huge profit but it helped to balance the books.'

Mr Gallagher and Mr O'Rourke have also owned another three horses, which have all been sold abroad. Ridley and Leitrim Lakes did not have any outings and were sold in the US in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

Fiddlers Reach started racing in 2002 and won two out of six races that season. Pat Eddery steered the horse home first in a five-furlong effort at Bath and a six-furlong race at Great Yarmouth.

The odds were a decidedly short 1/20 at Bath and just 4/5 at Great Yarmouth.The following season, Fiddlers Reach failed to do better than third out of 14 in its opening race at Lingfield, again under Pat Eddery.

After another four races, the Canadian-bred horse was sold by Mr Meehan to a buyer in Hong Kong.

Mr Meehan looks for and races horses in Asia, France, Germany and the US, where he helped Mr Gallagher buy another horse last year.The threeyear-old Hermitage Court was bought at the Calder Park sales in Miami.

Mr Meehan, who has worked as trainer for Mr Gallagher since the late 1990s, says: 'Hermitage Court didn't race last year but it has had two outings this year and will probably race again at Goodwood in early September.'

After the race at Goodwood, Hermitage Court and Leitrim House will return to Mr Gallagher's 700-acre base in Kent.'The thing is they are both big strong horses and I like to bring them back to look after them, ' says Mr Gallagher.

Hermitage Court had a stunning debut.With Kerrin McEvoy in the saddle, it ran in first ahead of 19 other horses in a one-miler at Newbury.

The prize money was £5,590, but anyone backing the horse would have been happy with the odds of 25/1.

The odds were slashed to 4/1 for Hermitage Court's second outing, again at Newbury, with Jimmy Fortune in the saddle over one mile two furlongs in the Stan James Teletext P630 handicap.Hermitage Court finished fourth out of 14.

Mr Gallagher's horseracing business, Gallagher Equine, employs its own manager, Murty McGrath, at his Kent base, which also includes a farm, quarries and property development.

Mr Gallagher keeps other horses there, including Enhancer, a five-yearold, which he bought last year after it won three bumper races.

Enhancer is trained out of his own stables by Linda Jewell and improved on its first two outings of this season by finishing third out of 14 in a onemile, three-furlong race at Great Yarmouth last month.

A realist, Mr Gallagher admits his prize money is easily outstripped by his costs, but he hopes to reduce this by building up Gallagher Equine.

'We've got a six-furlong track but we're in for planning now to add another four furlongs to that.We also want to build some more boxes and look after horses for other people.My ambition is that one day I will break even with Gallagher Equine instead of it being a drain.'