The Little Horse with a Big Heat
In September 2006, I made my first visit to the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Ohio to savour a first taste of the most famous harness race in the world – the Little Brown Jug.
Arriving in Toronto the week before the Jug, all the local talk seemed to be about one horse and one horse only – and how fitting that he had a hint of Irishness about him, too – named after a famous golf course on a picturesque part of County Claire on the Ireland’s south-west coast.
That month’s cover of The Sportsman featured one of harness racing’s hottest properties, driver Jody Jamieson, holding a measuring tape in one hand, and his other hand wrapped playfully around a pint sized colt, with blistering speed, named Doonbeg.
Mr Feelgood went on to great things in the older pacing division as five-year-old and ironically has recently relocated to Australia and promptly took up where he left off in the winners enclosure.
The road taken by Doonbeg has certainly been a different one and has led him in a very different direction – literally. His eventual migration to the Emerald Isle owes its origins to a throwaway conversation between Canadian Bloodstock agent, Brian Doyle and Geoffrey Dunne of Porterstown Stud, in County Kildare.
Mr Dunne takes up the story:
“It was around May last year, Brian was over, we really weren’t looking for any horses – we’d more than enough as far as I was concerned. Brian mentioned that Doonbeg was available and only to a good home where he’d be well looked after. The Horners (previous owners, Scott and Clay), were naturally very particualr about that. To be honest, we figured we’d never get a horse with his kind of reputation, but we left Brian with the instructions, ‘If you can get him, get him!’. I was in contact some months later with Scott Horner, first just via email and later by phone, and he repeated his desire for Doonbeg to find a good home. He said the horse owed him nothing, he had done really well for them and he was sound and still had plenty of racing left in him. Brian Doyle vouched that the horse would want for nothing in his new home, and the deal was done. ‘There could be no more fitting home for Doonbeg than the land from which he takes his name’ Clay Horner wrote in an email. While our initial thoughts was to have him frolic for the rest of his life in a paddock in Canada, we realized that Doonbeg is a young and happy six year old and he would enjoy a more active agenda in Ireland. He will race when he’s ready. We won’t rush him one bit. If it took this year to have him right, just the way we want him, then we will save him for next year if necessary. But he looks great, he’s jogging great, so we could not be more pleased. we have had some successful horses in Canada before, a trotting mare, Racing Avans – who we’ve since brought home, retired and is now in foal – and Galaxy Any Size, to name two. But it’s great to have a horse of this calibre here at our barn at home, to race and eventually put to stud.”
Eric Haughan

The People’s Champion
Above the fireplace in Brian Nuttall’s home is a pokerwork plaque which reads: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog!. Brian should know, the breeder of the best Patterdale Terriers in Britain, his dogs never give up. And neither does Doonbeg. A little horse by any standards he is anything but little on the track. Tony Richards the mercurial Welshman measures horses with a stopwatch not a measuring stick and that system makes Doonbeg very big . . . . 1.53.7 for a mile on a less than half mile track.
Born in Canada in 2003 a son of the great Camluck from the talented genetrice St Mattricks Way, Doonbeg (which is Gaelic for Little Fort) was bred and owned by Corporate Lawyers Clay and Scott Horner. Trained by James “Friday” Dean a longtime aide of Stew Firlotte, “Doonie” competed at the highest levels in the USA and Canada, earned a tad short of $1m Canadian and posted a winning time of 1.49.3. His zenith was victory in the Ontario Sire Stakes Super Final defeating nemesis Mr Feelgood and earning Canadian Racings highest accolade, an O’Brien award.
But the rigors of racing on the world’s toughest circuit left a legacy . . . . breathing problems and ulcers. Retirement beckoned and via a chance conversation with shipping agent Brian Doyle a retirement home was found at the showplace farm of Christy Dunne, in Ireland. A longtime (and expert) horseman Christy had his two sons, both of whom can drive a bit, fighting over the horse. Geoff got the girl . . . . the beautiful Faith Kemp, Jonathan got the horse . . . . Doonbeg. The pair hit it off from the start with a few wins in 2009 but something special happened in 2010 . . . . Christy discovered the horse ran better kept not in their state of the art American barn, but in a field!
Training horses out of the paddock is commonplace in New Zealand but not in wet Western Europe. A narrow loss early in the season to “the Queen” Laneside Lexus at Ffos Las in South Wales was turned to victory after victory. In the Crock of Gold Heat at Aberystwyth an unlucky slip cost Doonbeg 50-60 yards, distances you just cannot give to the likes of Crown Manhattan (British Champion on a half mile track) and Earned Income (Irish Half Mile Track record holder) but Doonie caught them at the wire. He got third but showed that he had unbelievable gameness.
At Musselburgh on the 18th July I had persuaded feed magnate Red Mills to sponsor the International Free For All. Dubbed by uber commentator Darren Owen as the best field of pacers ever assembled in Britain, I had an inkling Doonbeg would deliver. Tied up with pre-race testing (including Doonbeg) it would have been unethical to have a bet but I did share my opinions with a few friends who lightened a number of Bookies stachels at 9/1, he smashed the track record, took his revenge on Laneside Lexus and made Connolly’s Red Mills very pleased to have sponsored a great race.
The Crock of Gold, the live S4C televised championship is a goal for all great horses. The heat at Amman Valley was considered a one horse race and that Doonbeg would probably go 2.00 or thereabouts. Very good for an 835 yard oval. I watched on TV and didn’t even bother to record it. When he posted victory in 1.53.7 he smashed Stoneriggs JR’s 1.55.4 posted at Wolverhampton’s 5/8th mile track in the mid 90′s. I had a feeling he had done more than take the British record. A number of emails later, conferring with friends Dean Hoffman, former editor of Hoofbeats and the World’s most respected harness writer and John Peck, editor of the Australian based magazine Harness Racing International, my thoughts were confirmed. Doonie had dethroned Rowleyalla who recorded 1.55 in a Time Trial on the old Harold Park track in Sydney . . . . it being a virtual identical size to Amman Valley. Britain had a World Record!
Hurried phone calls and emails to Wales got photo’s from Graham Rees and the story went everywhere – Canada, USA, Down Under, local and national press, Horse and Hound . . . . the lot.
There is no doubt that this success is owed in a big part to the Dunne’s skill with horses and Jonathan’s empathy with his charge as a driver. Following a horrific accident at Tregaron, JD could not drive so oldtime partner and former World Driving Champion Jody Jamieson was sent for to drive in the Crock of Gold final. Very bad weather and a bad draw hampered our hero and he got fourth. However most experts agree, this horse runs best for Jonathan.
So what does the future hold for “Little Fort”. Already a daddy to a few foals at Porterstown Stud, Doonbeg is now a hot commodity. A brilliant Canadian career, money on his card, fast AND the ability to handle grass tracks, race over extended distances (Musselburgh) race so tough it is untrue, stay sound and break a World Record makes him special. His breeding though makes him very special. Doonbeg is by super sire Camluck, already a “Sire of sires” . . . . Northern Luck, father of Crown Manhattan, and Daylon Alert, the Cam Fella line specialises in gameness. Doonie’s mother is the great broodmare St Mattricks Way. She by Matts Scooter. The distaff line traces back to Carolonda and one of North America’s best pacing families. Indeed, Doonbeg’s powerhouse extended gait is reminiscent of his maternal grandsire Matts Scooter 1.48, the horse who dethroned Niatross and earned over $2m in the process. Doonbeg offers two great opportunities at stud. Firstly he is an outcross stallion, just made for mares carrying Abercrombie, Niatross and No Nukes blood. Secondly for those of you who subscribe to the “Reverse Backcross” theory he is set up for mares from Direct Scooter line stallions, such as Sable Matters, Direct Current and Master Scoot. If you want a bit of “Rasmussen” theory in there, go for a double whammy with Sable Matters mare . . . they both hail from the same immediate maternal line. The choice, as they say is yours! But hurry up, there is a rumour he is being considered by Down Under breeders.
The last word must go to Christy Dunne . . . “He should breed normal sized horses” . . . as the late great John Bradley wrote “the graveyard of failed stallions is littered with the bones of champion racehorses” but could have added “and big buggers too!”. A lot of good stallions have been little . . . Volomite, Good Time, Adios, Albatross, Western Hanover. Not bad company to keep if you want to look at greatness.
Gordon Garnett – August 2010

  • DoonbegAV1
  • DoonbegAV2
  • Doonbeg @ Muss 1
  • Doonbeg @ Musselburgh
  • Doonbeg win at MU 2010
  • Doonbeg @ Muss 2
  • Doonbeg
  • Doonbeg (Trot Magazine) (2)
  • Doonbeg (Canadian Sportsman)
  • Doonbeg & Jody Jamieson