Brian Acheson is Chief Executive of the Dornan Group, a leading mechanical, electrical and Construction Company based in Ireland. He’s had a hugely successful career in business and accumulated significant personal wealth.
Dornan’s interest are flourishing – they turned over more than £450million internationally in 2022 – and with Acheson being a horseracing devotee, he was thrilled and privileged to sponsor the penultimate race at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, the Relkeel Hurdle.
The story that accompanies those facts, though, will show you bottomless pockets couldn’t buy the feelings that washed over Acheson, as the rain began to fall in the Cotswolds and he wrapped his arms around the sleek, bay neck of Bob Olinger.
Acheson knows he is in a fortunate position to have a raft of high-class horses in training, the bulk of which are trained by Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead. They run under the name “Robcour” – a mix of his children, Robert and Courtney – and the silks are black, pink and white.
He’s won plenty of big races and had great days at all the major spring festivals, with stars such as Gerri Colombe, Teahupoo and Irish Point, but there was something very different and incredibly personal about Bob Olinger’s latest triumph.
Brian Acheson was overcome with emotion after seeing his horse Bob Olinger win the Relkeel Hurdle prize on his Cheltenham return
Rachael Blackmore rode Bob Olinger to victory. Acheson called the horse his ‘third child’ after seeing the difficult journey he has been on
Bob Olinger had done a passable impersonation of Pegasus when winning the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham in March 2021. He was handed a second victory at the Festival 12 months later, when benefitting from Galopin Des Champs’s last fence fall to win – fortuitously – the Turners Novice Chase.
His record since then, though, has been patchy. Last winter was miserable, with three runs resulting in three defeats. Even when he returned this campaign with a win at Navan in November, not everyone was convinced that the fire was still burning within.
But Bob Olinger – whose name derives from last man killed by Billy The Kid – has a big fan club in the stands and as Rachael Blackmore brought him through to challenge at the final hurdle, the roar that engulfed the course as loud as a last minute Cup Final winner.
Joy was unconfined (those who are being bogged down in racing politics at present should have studied the scene to see that not everything is wrong with the sport) and in the winners enclosure, Acheson was overcome. Bob Olinger, you see, isn’t just a number in a string.
Acheson summed up his feeling in horse racing, saying: ‘It’s not about the money. It’s about the life experiences’
‘No – Bob is my third child,’ Acheson said, beaming. ‘There’s Courtney, there’s Rob and there’s Bob. To see him back? Ah, Jeez! The day he won at Navan, I watched him on my own and I shed a tear. For 18 months, he had been hurt. He had a muscular issue that we only found last January.
‘He was trying to give his all but couldn’t understand why he wasn’t the superstar. Robbie Power (former jockey) went away and did dressage with him. Then we got his confidence back. Honestly, this is just wonderful. Horses are such emotive creatures. It has just made my year, it really has.’
How Acheson delivered those words told you everything. Yes, he has the finance to holiday where he wants and never have the worry about where he will live or eat, but money doesn’t guarantee you the kind of happiness and buzz these animals can bring.
It was a similar situation for Paul Teasdale, another successful businessman, who turned offers that were in the region of six numbers on the Euromillions to part with his pocket rocket Big Evs, whom Mick Appleby trained to a fairytale success at The Breeders Cup last November.
Paul Teasdale, second from right, is another successful businessman, but turned down gigantic offers for his horse Big Evs
There is more to racing than prizes and trophies. It’s the connection, the affinity and emotion. It’s what makes the sport so unique and why it should have such appeal. Acheson could have used all his fortune and wouldn’t have been able to buy the feelings that swirled around at Cheltenham.
‘It’s not about the money,’ he agreed. ‘It’s about the life experiences. Christ, at some stage, I will be in the ground. You want to go with experiences. I’m here, with my family and my friends. The two lads presenting the trophy are two of my best buddies. How could I buy that? You couldn’t.’
That is what it is all about. Money comes and goes but there is no point sitting on a pile of ten pound notes if you haven’t got memories to warm you and stories to share. And Acheson, you can be sure, will never get tired of recounting the day “Bob” came roaring back up his favourite hill.
Bag searches are common at sporting events now but to confiscate sandwiches? This, sadly, is a new phenomenon. Racegoers at Haydock, Aintree, Warwick, Cheltenham and Kempton have all reported in recent months overzealous stewards not allowing them to bring food in.
This is an almighty own goal on behalf of the Jockey Club, who own those five courses among others. Not everyone who goes to a racecourse is in a position to pay £8 for loaded fries, £12 for a pizza, £10 for fish and chips or £4 for a muffin, especially, say, if they are bringing a family.
The policy of confiscating sandwiches at major racecourses in recent months is nothing more than mean spirited. Not everybody can afford the expensive refreshments on offer
Racing does one thing superbly, which is allowing under-18s on course free of charge, but when we are in a cost of living crisis and all some want to do is have a sandwich while they are looking at the horses, where is the harm? The policy to prevent picnics is nothing more than mean spirited.
The yellow and black silks of Olly Harris are being seen with increasing frequency on racecourses and the 41-year-old fund manager got 2024 off to the perfect start when his Peaky Boy bounded clear in Cheltenham’s opening race. It was his first winner at jump racing’s headquarters.
Peaky boy, trained by Nicky Henderson, is one for the future. He gave owner Olly Harris his first winner at Cheltenham
Support for stricken jockey Graham Lee is still flooding in after he suffered spinal cord damage in November. Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick said he is welcome to watch his team train
Peaky Boy, trained by Nicky Henderson, is one for the future and won’t have any grand plans for this campaign but keep an eye out for his Kingston Pride, who has an entry at Sandown on Saturday, and Break My Soul. Henderson also trains these five-year-olds and Harris sweet on them both.
Support continues to flood in for the stricken Graham Lee and his family – and not just from within horseracing. Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick has made it clear Lee’s son, Robbie, is welcome to watch the team train at any point he wants to. Carrick was a class act as a player and he is the same as a man. If there is be an FA Cup surprise this weekend, let it be at the Riverside Stadium.