MICHAEL Winters has saddled a number of big-race winners in his career.
One of those was Rebel Fitz, who sadly passed away at the age of 15, after sustaining an injury in retirement, earlier this month.
Often compared to ‘Black Beauty’ by his colourful Kanturk handler, the son of Agent Blue gave Winters and owner, Brian Sweetnam, a number of memorable days, most notably when winning iconic races such as the Galway Hurdle and the Grade One Powers Gold Cup.
Rebel Fitz had a remarkable racecourse record, winning or placing on 26 of his 30 career outings. He ran his final race at Listowel in September of 2015, before being retired. He’ll forever be remembered as an extraordinary racehorse.
Reflecting on his late stable star this week, Winters said: ‘‘Horses like Rebel Fitz, you can point out straightaway in a yard. He was a very special horse, he had a great life and (his connections) are as proud as punch.’’
Whether a horse of the calibre of Rebel Fitz is among the current string in north Cork, only time will tell, but the trainer continues to produce winners. He has sent out Shes Flat Tothemat to two victories this season and he has also been among the winners with Sayce Gold on the point-to-point front.
‘‘(Shes Flat Tothemat) is a handicapper. But she’s a consistent, tough, little mare. (Sayce Gold) is belonged to Trevor Hemmings, she was third in a bumper in Mallow and she won her point-to-point. You’d expect her to follow up. She’s a good jumper and you’d be hoping that she’d win a mares’ maiden hurdle.
“We’ll bring up a nice mare (called Rose Milan) to Belharbour next month. She was second and ran a good race last time (at Aghabullogue).
“We’ll have two more running that day; one in the five year old geldings’ and one other. The three will be in the money, hopefully. Clonmel then after that, we’ll enter the mare owned by Trevor Hemmings and a few more.’’
Winters has moved to a new yard in recent times — which is located just down the road from his original HQ. His operation is a work-in-progress and he’s aiming to nail down a buyer for his former yard.
‘‘We have a nice little gallop at the moment. We are based up at my uncle’s place, he passed away last year, and he was 93. He was the lad who was feeding the furze bushes to Rebel Fitz (when he was racing)! The gallop is only within a mile of our own place, which we are selling.
“If we could get out of where we are now and just set up a nice, balanced set-up, it would make life a lot easier.
“All we want is a customer! So, we are moving to where the gallop is built. We’ll put up a barn and drive on from there,’’ Winters said.
“it’s hard to make ends meet (in training horses but) we have 24 stables and they are nearly all full. But the horses are all at different stages.
“Two or three might be racing and you might have a couple of pointers coming on. You’d never know where the good one will come from.
“A lot of horses are starting at a very basic (level) and they have to show you if they are any good. You have to give them a fair chance.
‘‘My wife has a couple of broodmares and, if you can’t sell a couple of the fillies, you might lease them out to a syndicate. A couple of young horses might step into the plate. There can be a dark horse in there.”
The trainer is gearing up to take part in a series of charity races next month, with the Pat Smullen Legends Race for Cancer at Belharbour (2 Febuary) and the Cork/Waterford Injured Jockeys Fund Race at Knockanard (16 February), where he’ll compete against fellow horsemen such as Liam Burke, Paul Carberry, Noel Fehily and Adrian Maguire.
“I got my knee replaced last May and it’s grand. I ride away all the time so I don’t have a bother in the world. There are no fences anyway! The goodwill means a lot.”