Joe O’Gara

Died April 26, 2016, aged 80

No Song No Supper’s win in the $300,000 Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) at Warrnambool in early May was a fitting epitaph for breeder Joe O’Gara. The Irishman, who owned Tobermory Stud at Braidwood, died just a few days before the win after a battle with cancer.

A brother to Joe’s Sydney Cup-Gr.1 winner No Wine No Song, eight year-old No Song No Supper displayed all the fighting qualities the Irish love in a horse when he slogged through the mud (heavy 8) for a 1.25 length win in the feature steeple. The gelding tried his heart out for Irish jockey Richard Cully (64kg) and jumped faultlessly, completing the journey in 6:49.33. It was his 12th win and took his earnings past $385,000.

The Grand Annual winner and his more illustrious brother (10 wins and $1.4m) are just two of the good horses sired by Song of Tara (IRE) (Sadler’s Wells-Flame of Tara by Artaius) who Joe imported principally to cover mares by his foundation sire Air de France (USA) (Seattle Slew-Allez France by Sea-Bird). Song of Tara covered his first mares in 1997 and both stallions owned superb pedigrees.

Song of Tara, a Listed winner at 2400m in France and Gr.2 placed in England, was a son of 14-times UK-Ireland Champion Sire Sadler’s Wells. His dam, the Gr.2 winner Flame of Tara (Artaius), also left the five-time Gr.1 winner and noted producer Salsabil to a mating with Sadler’s Wells. Salsabil was a rare filly winner of the Irish Derby and also collected the English 1000 Guineas and Oaks and two Gr.1 events in France.

Song of Tara, who initially started on a $5000 fee before it rose to $15,000 in 2009, never covered a book bigger than 34 mares in 16 seasons at stud (pensioned January 2014) and left just 187 live foals. Among his 154 named foals are 121 starters, 74 winners (61.2%) of $9.7m, including seven stakes winners (5.8%). They are Gosford Cup winner Bundoran Breeze (ex Donegal Breeze by Snaadee), Canberra Cup winner Mooring’s Melody (ex Set a Symphony by Western Symphony), Sydney Cup-Gr.1 hero No Wine No Song (ex Deep Time by Kinjite), City Tatts Cup winner Shamrock Shore (ex Loaheeb by Canny Lad), Tatts (QLD) Members’ Cup winner Special Song (ex Lady Special by Alzao), Randwick City Stakes-Gr.3 winner Spirit of Tara (ex Gagoosh by Marauding) (at stud in NZ) and dual N.E. Manion Cup winner The Chieftain (ex Felicity Rose by Aid de France), all bred by O’Gara. No Wine No Song, Shamrock Shore and Spirit of Tara also carried O’Gara’s colours of red with a green shamrock and were among the many good horses he raced.

Joe set up Tobermory Stud at Goulburn after the success of his firm (O’Gara Contractors) in building major roads in the Goulburn area and Air de France (USA), who started equal favourite but was injured in the French 2000 Guineas-Gr.1 at just his second start, after an easy win at 1700m at his first start, kicked off the breeding venture, entering stud in 1988.

A son of Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, he was out of twice French Horse of the Year (Arc de Triomphe, French Oaks, French 1000 Guineas, among 13 wins) Allez France (Sea-Bird-Priceless Gem by Hail to Reason) and his fifth dam is La Troienne. He was at stud from 1988-2004 (biggest book 77 in 1989) and left 440 live foals. He had 303 starters, among them 209 winners (69%) who won 761 races and more than $12m. His 12 stakes winners represent 4% of starters and his advertised fee in his final seasons was $5000.

His first crop contained the Gr.1 winner Air Seattle (ex Latest Melody by Americano), bred and raced by Joe to win races like the Queensland Derby-Gr.1, Gloaming Stakes-Gr.2 and QTC Grand Prix-Gr.2 and with earnings topping $1.1m from seven wins. This success prompted a big offer for Air de France from a major Hunter Valley stud, which Joe turned down.

Triple Gr.1 winner Bomber Bill (ex Lady Special by Alzao) was another star, winning 23 races and $1.89m including the Karrakatta Plate-Gr.1, Goodwood-Gr.1 and MVRC Australia Stakes-Gr.1, while other winners, many out of mares with modest pedigrees, included Air She Goes, Allez Glen, Alouette, Atlantic Air, Best French, Camargue, De France, Garrin, Super Slew and Whistler. His son, Sir Debonaire, runner-up in the Silver Slipper-Gr.2, sired winners from limited opportunity, while Air de France daughters have produced 188 winners (5SW) of $11m, led by Gr.3 winner Kasabian (Choisir).

Joe was a larger than life character who liked to do things his own way, perhaps stemming from his early upbringing in remote Donegal. Always ready with a laugh and a smile when he met friends and clients at the sales, he was sustained by a strong Catholic faith and by his family.

While his success as a breeder won him many admirers, there was more than “the luck of the Irish” to it. Joe was a keen student of pedigrees and of horseflesh. He upgraded his mares as circumstances allowed, and Bomber Bill, for example, was a grandson of brilliant sprint mare Special.

Joe’s wife Theresa, who is known to all as Rita, his children, their partners and his six grandchildren survive him.