Taking the precarious plunge into racehorse ownership isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s not quite so daunting an undertaking when you’ve got a Lotto jackpot to finance your passion.
Louth man Simon Fagan scooped €3.6m in 2013 when his Quick Pick ticket struck paydirt, affording the racing and GAA fanatic the chance to become a more active participant in the sport of kings.
Fagan and fellow Louth men Pat Cluskey and Sean Fanning went on to form the SSP Number Twentytwo Syndicate, registering their racing silks in the red and white of the Wee County, with the horse to carry their hopes – Darver Star – named after the the townland from which Hagan hails.
The collective’s name may not exactly roll of the tongue, but it’s of great significance to Fagan, who told RTÉ Sport’s Eamon Horan: “I was waiting on number 22 to come out of the Lotto drum for six numbers to win the Lotto, and number 22 was called out.
“So when Pat came to me about buying the horse or getting involved in it, I said the number 22 had to go in somewhere in the equation.”
— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) February 18, 2020
The trio’s representative has proved to be hugely progressive over the last six months, with the eight-year-old now being targeted at the Unibet Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Quotes for the Gavin Cromwell-trained contender fluctuate between a low of 12-1 and an apt high of – you’ve guessed it – 22-1.
Darver Star was rising seven when he first made it to the racecourse, with injury intervening earlier in his career.
When he finally did make his debut there was little to suggest that Fagan and friends had unearthed a future Champion Hurdle runner.
Beaten an aggregate of more than 100 lengths on his first three starts, more encouragement could be gleaned from his fourth start, where he finished fourth after having been well backed.
Jonathan Moore became his regular pilot and Darver Star shed his maiden tag two races later at Wexford on his sixth start.
He then disappointed slightly at Fairyhouse, but the upward trajectory had already begun and he went on to win four races on the bounce when he returned to action after a 112-day break.
His introduction to Graded racing came at the very top level, but he coped with the massive jump in class admirably, chasing home the unbeaten Envoi Allen and the subsequent Grade One winner Abacadabras in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December.
— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) February 1, 2020
Even better was to come in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival at the start of this month, with Darver Star coming agonisingly close to mowing down winner Honeysuckle in the shadow of the post.
Having claimed last year’s Champion Hurdle with the ill-fated Espoir D’Allen, his trainer can see parallels with his hope for 2020 which are inspiring confidence.
“I’d Espoir D’Allen last year at a similar price and he went and won,” Cromwell said.
“I think Cheltenham will suit him. He stays very well, I think he’ll come up the hill well, he jumps well and, please God, he’s got a live chance.”