Hightstown, NJ — More than 3,000 miles and an ocean separate Amanda and Alan Richardson from trotter Rock Of Cashel, but distance is irrelevant when a horse is close to your heart.
The Richardsons bred, developed, and raced Rock Of Cashel while living in Ontario in the early 2010s. They co-owned the horse with partner Jeff Ruch until Rock Of Cashel was 5, by which time the Richardsons had relocated to Alan’s native Ireland.
Although the Richardsons sold their interest in Rock Of Cashel, they never stopped following him. Ten days ago, they saw the now 12-year-old stallion get career win No. 50 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, and this past Saturday he upped his total to 51.
“We’ve watched every single race since he was a baby,” Amanda said. “He’s a part of the family. Even though you have to sell them and move on sometimes, we watch him like he’s one of our children over there.”
Rock Of Cashel is a son of Majestic Son out of the Richardsons’ mare Fighting Irish. An injury halted Fighting Irish’s career at age 3, but she found success as a broodmare. Rock Of Cashel, who has earned nearly $900,000 lifetime, was her first foal and the remaining five of racing age all made it to the track. Two of those have topped six figures.
When Rock Of Cashel was born, however, there was little in his physical appearance to suggest a career as a racehorse. He was diminutive and possessed hair that Alan said was more in line with a member of the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy than a trotter.
“When we went to get him as a yearling, I’m not telling you a word of a lie, it was like picking up a Shetland pony,” Amanda said. “We wondered how he was ever going to race. But he turned into an absolute iron horse.
“He’s not very big; he’s wide and strong. From day one, we called him ‘Happy Feet’ because he just sprung off the ground. Jeff Ruch told us, ‘He’s small, but he’s never looked in a mirror.’ He’s just so tough and he loves his job. He still just slugs it out, and when he gets an opportunity he just loves to win.”
Added Alan, “He was always a horse that never stopped trying. Every race he came out of, he was always waiting on the next one. He never was sour. I think that’s why he’s lasted so long. When he won (his 50th race) it looked like he still thought he was three years old. He’s a lovely horse.”
Rock Of Cashel, who raced only once at age 2 to give him more time to mature, has won 51 of 275 career races and earned a paycheck 204 times. He was trained and driven by Alan until the age of 4, when Rock Of Cashel was sent to New Jersey and trainer Mark Harder, where his most lucrative victories have come in the Open Handicap at Yonkers Raceway. He has also won an Open and Preferred Handicap at The Meadowlands.
“He came into himself when he got to Yonkers,” Amanda said. “He was always such a good horse on a half-mile track. He could nearly go as fast on a half as he could on a big track.”
Rock Of Cashel has remained in Harder’s stable and has been owned by Ruch and Joseph Jannuzzelli since December 2015.
“When he was 5, he was going so well and we were so far away, so it was time to sell,” Amanda said. “But he stayed with Mark, and he’s had the best life there. It worked out really well. And it doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.”
Amanda named Rock Of Cashel after the iconic site in County Tipperary that features an impressive cluster of medieval buildings and was once the seat of the high kings of Munster.
“I was looking at a map and saw Rock of Cashel and thought it would be a cool name for him,” Amanda said. “Every one of (Fighting Irish’s) progeny we named after something in Ireland.”
Rock Of Cashel’s name proved appropriate. He is king to the Richardsons.
“He’s a gorgeous horse, beautiful,” Amanda said. “He just has character. He will always be our horse. We just love him.”