This time of year in the racing calendar is usually focused on Cheltenham Gold Cup winners and Grand National hopes, but for Ian Gaughran he only has eyes on one thing, writes Bradley West.
At 5pm on Sunday the likes of Asterion Forlonge and Andy Dufresne will do battle in Fairyhouse Easter Festival’s Gold Cup Novice Chase.
Alongside them, a lesser-known horse bought for £12,500 will also go for glory – I’m A Game Changer looking to live up to his name on the Grade One stage.
Sourced by trainer Andrew McNamara, Gaughran, along with his friends and family, jumped at the chance to invest when asked whether he would like to get involved with the promising nine-year-old.
Thus was born the I’m A Game Changer Syndicate.
“I got a phone call from him [McNamara] in late September/October asking if I had any interest in forming a syndicate for a horse,” Gaughran said.
“I was getting married in December so I was like ‘how much?’ Andrew said ‘do you not want to know the name first?’
“He was a good horse but had lost his way a little bit with niggles, and losing his confidence.
“I got a few friends and family together and, when we weighed it all up, we thought we could have a bit of fun with him because he was rated in the mid-130s.
“12-and-a-half grand, not a bad little purchase. The outlay wasn’t huge and if Andy could get him to something like what we thought he could get him to then we could have serious fun with him.
“With Covid everybody’s been on such a downer but, when I explained what the horse had done and what he could do with friends and family it became almost an instant no-brainer.”
And I’m A Game Changer’s rise from humble beginnings has since been rapid.
An experienced competitor yet rough around the edges, the intervention of McNamara has coincided with a superb run of form which has seen him rub shoulders with the very best in finishing third in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase and fifth in the Irish Arkle.
He then took his next step up with Grade 3 glory at Thurles last month.
“He’s [McNamara] done a brilliant job with him,” Gaughran added.
“Andy has put a load of work in with him to make sure he can actually jump a fence. Now we have a horse who we are in dreamland with.
“Thurles was just fairy tale stuff. First out it was Tramore on New Year’s Day behind Al Boum Photo and Acapella Bourgeois. He was about 100-lengths third but to see our horse’s name on the screen on ITV Racing was an incredible buzz.
“First-time owners, to be in that race, in that company and to finish in the money was sensational.
“We then had a little crack at the Irish Arkle, in what turned out to be the best Irish Arkle in years. He ran above himself and finished fifth ahead of the likes of Darver Star and Felix Desjy. We were running around like lunatics having just finished fifth in a Grade 1.
“For someone to come in, with 12-and-a-half grand and make a syndicate in the middle of Covid for a bit of craic, it’s just unbelievable really. The house was like a madhouse.”
Now imagine what the scenes will be like if I’m A Game Changer can win a share of the €80,000 prize pot at Fairyhouse.
It’s a realistic proposition, if you ask Gaughran.
“He has improved for each run and certainly on good ground,” he added.
“He won at Thurles by eight lengths so he deserves to at least be lining up. My auntie Catherine is thinking we’re going to win the Fairyhouse Gold Cup so she’s getting awful excited.
“But, with a bit of luck, if we could run into a place we couldn’t ask for anymore than that.
“Fifth would do us, fourth would be even better and after that, well…He’s in the best form of his life and you need to strike while the iron is hot. If he places, it’s going to be carnage.”
And the optimism is shared by McNamara, who believes the chance is there for something special to happen.
“It’s a wide-open race and we’ll ride him out the back,” he said.
“He’s quite a difficult ride, he’s quite keen and carries his head high. He’s often in a hurry and he’s only okay to jump, so by dropping him out and getting him settled Darragh [O’Keeffe] gets him into a nice rhythm.
“We will do the same thing again and you’ll be hoping he’ll stay past a few of them. Hopefully he can run into a place.”