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Horse racing is Durkan's true passion

Danny Durkan runs the UK arm of construction firm The Durkan Group, but his first love is horse racing. He talks to Steve Menary

'THERE ARE not many Irishmen whose lives haven't been touched by horse racing, ' says Danny Durkan with a smile.

In their native Ireland, the Durkan family are better known for horse racing than their £172 million-turnover construction business.

Mr Durkan runs the £92 million-turnover UK arm of The Durkan Group, which works as a social housing maintenance contractor and builds new private homes for sale.

He was riding at age of four and his two children, aged nine and five, are already veterans in the saddle.

Mr Durkan's own time in the saddle running amateur races has passed, but he still enjoys the thrill of the race and, with his family, owns half a dozen horses in the UK.

Most of these horses are still young like Orlar, a filly trained by Jamie Osbourne in Lambourne.

'She's well bred and ran three times last year and we thought she'd win, ' says Mr Durkan.

Orlar's first outing this year in June proved even worse with jockey Shane Kelly trailing in last of 16 runners in the Royal Star & Garter Home Fillies' handicap at Sandown Park.

On July 1, Orlar had another run-out at Haydock Park in the Niodini Fillies' Handicap Stakes with Shane Kelly again in the saddle but again trailed in last.

The Durkans have had more luck with Shermeen, another Jamie Osborne-trained horse that came in third out of 11 ent r ies under Shane Kelly in Bath on May 26.

Five days later, Shane Kelly saddled up Shermeen again and justified the tipsters' odds of 11/8 favourite by beating Martian Glow by two lengths to win a five-furlong maiden race at Leicester.

That performance encouraged the Durkans to enter Shermeen at Royal Ascot on June 15.

Shermeen showed good speed before fading at the end to finish ninth out of 17 entries, then moved on to the Weatherbys' super sprint at Newbury on July 16, coming eighteenth out of 25 ent r ies, just ifying pre-race odds of 33/1.

Despite this, Mr Durkan has confidence in the training skills of Jamie Osbourne, who also helps the Du rkan fam ily pick horses to buy.

'Jam ie is a close personal f r iend , ' adds Mr Du rkan.

'In October, the horses go to sales and if we want a filly, we give him a budget and he'll find one for us.' Of the other four horses trained in the UK and owned by the Durkans, a number are young most have yet to run, such as two f illies, Choosy and Pit itana.

Both are being trained by Richard Hannon at his stables in Wiltshire but have not run due to their age or injuries.

'Pititana has just had a chip in her knee and she won't run until next year now, ' Mr Durkan adds.

Another Richard Hannon colt Feu D'Artifice didn't run until July 20 this year, but is giving Mr Du rkan more conf idence.

Feu D'Artifice's debut was at Lingfield in the Go Racing Folkestone Median Auction Maiden and he came in third out of 13 horses.

In the UK, the Durkans prefer f lat racing but have jumpers in Ireland, where most his Mr Durkan's family still live.

His father, William, 67, the chairman of The Durkan Group, is from the village of Bohala.

The McNicholas family came from the same village before settling in the UK, a connection which led to the naming of another family horse, Bohala Flyer.

At 40, Danny is the eldest of nine brothers and a sister ? two of his brothers, Liam and Neil, both still regularly ride point-to-point races in Ireland.

His sister Margaret rode seven times as a teenage amateur rider, but his most famous sibling was certainly his brother John.

He rode 100 horses as an amateur rider, including in races in France, Finland and Spain.

John also rode winners for the Queen and Queen Mother and competed in two Grand Nationals. In 1993, he rode in the infamous event that was reduced to a shambles by a false start. He returned the following year but fell in both races.

'John was horse mad, but he was too tall to tu rn professional and he knew that he wasn't good enough, ' says Danny Durkan.

Unable to fulfil his dream in the saddle, John Du rkan was aim ing to be a t rainer.

He began work ing with John Gosden as an assistant trainer at his stables in Newmarket.

John's big chance came after helping Irish horse racing scion JP McManus, who is a close family friend of the Durkans, choose a horse that John was to train.

Before he could get started with his new charge, John Du rkan was st ruck down by leukaem ia. Despite a year getting treatment in the US and a bonemar row t ransplant, he died af ter 15 months in 1998.

Istabraq, the horse that John was set to train, went on to win the Champion Hu rdle th ree t imes.

John Durkan remains a familiar name to race lovers too as his family stages the John Durkan Memorial steeplechase at the Punchestown course in Ireland every November. The race raises funds for the John Durkan Leukaemia Trust Fund, which donated .2.7 million (£1.8 million) towards a new laboratory at Dublin's St James Hospital that was opened in 2003 by Irish premier, Bertie Ahern.

'He'd have been 39 th is year, ' says h is brother Danny, preferring not to dwell on the subject.

Having retu rned home f ive years ago, Mr Du rkan commutes back to the UK in the week and spends weekends in Ireland with his family and at his father's stables.

In the UK, Mr Durkan is a building contractor, but at home he can indulge his hobbies, including horse racing, and does not want to mix the two.

He says: 'My view about horses is that we pay trainers to train them.

'I might know a lot about horses but I wouldn't pay a jockey to build a house.'