Linda Martin from Omagh shot to fame when she won the Eurovision in 1992 with the song 'Why Me', which was a number 1 hit in Ireland as well as several other European countries. Previously she was a member of the band 'Chips' in the 1970s/1980s. Linda has presented the TV series 'The Lyrics Board' and worked as part of Louis Walsh's backstage team on 'The X Factor'. She has also been a judge on RTÉ show 'You're A Star' and 'Charity You're A Star'. More recently, Linda has appeared on stage, in panto and in 'Menopause the Musical'. She is an animal lover and has just bought a horse, although she knows nothing about training or racing. She says she's not afraid of hard work and wants to learn everything she can about the exciting world of horse racing.
Trainer: David Marnane
As a Tipperary native, the odds on David Marnane becoming immersed in hurling or thoroughbred horses were very skinny indeed. As it happened, he chose the equine life and it has proven a very wise call.
From an early age, training racehorses was an ambition and his apprenticeship began working and riding for such luminaries as Tommy Stack, Mick O'Toole, Dermot Weld, John Oxx and Noel Meade. Having won many major pots, including the GPT Handicap at Galway and the Champion Bumper in Punchestown, while accumulating more than 100 winners, Marnane moved to Dubai in 1997 to continue his education.
During almost eight years there, Marnane worked for three-time champion trainer Kieran McLaughlin and Doug Watson, gleaning as much information as possible from these experienced handlers about training, feeding and the general management of racehorses. It was during this period that he married Melanie, who travelled with him to Dubai despite only meeting David at the Irish Derby in 1996. They got married in Italy and had three children.
The desire to settle back in Ireland while also itching to begin his own training career brought David to Bansha early in 2005 and in just six years, he has established himself as one of the country's most progressive trainers.
Francis Brennan is the proprietor of the award-winning 5-star Park Hotel in Kenmare. Francis loves being in the service industry. He grew up in Sandyford where his parents had a grocery shop. He got a job in the Step Inn when he was 14 and he loved it. He worked there for three summers. He was working in the Kenmare Park Hotel when the Swiss company that owned it went bust. He was 24, and his accountant told him he should try to take it on. He re-opened the hotel in 1985 and it has gone from strength to strength.
Francis, along with his brother John, has become a familiar face on Irish TV thanks to their hugely successful RTÉ One series At Your Service. In the series, the straight-talking brothers travel around the country giving advice to struggling hoteliers to help them turn their business round.
The equine world is a whole new departure for Francis who admits being a bit scared of horses, but trainer Joanna Morgan declares 'we'll knock him into shape!'
Trainer: Joanna Morgan
Joanna Morgan has been defying convention all her life. A professional flat jockey at a time when women just didn't ride at that level, Morgan was a pioneer who led the way for the Cathy Gannons and Hayley Turners of today. There were plenty of detractors convinced she'd never make it and though it was difficult in a male-oriented world, she proved them wrong.
The same has applied to training, where she adopts a policy of not stabling her horses. Instead, Morgan's Portlester yard in Ballivor, Co Meath is a testament to the herding instincts of horses and its inmates happily graze and sleep in the open, regardless of the vagaries of the Irish climate. She has long argued that elite athletes aren't locked up in a confined space for the majority of a day and that it makes no sense to do the same with horses.
Again, many have scoffed but there is no arguing with the results as Joanna sends out winner after winner. Owners have taken note, and in recent years, she has bucked the recessionary trend by increasing both the quantity and the quality of her string.
Meterologist Jean has two loves in life: fashion and the weather. She is originally from Tarbert, Co. Kerry. On leaving school she studied medicine but decided it wasn't for her and applied for a job with Met Eireann. She went back to college and studied mathematical sciences at Trinity. She has been an on-air forecaster since 1996. Jean is also an animal lover. She doesn't know much about horse racing but took riding lessons a few years back and plans to take it up again. She is interested in horse psychology and is looking to do lessons somewhere where they take a more holistic approach. Needless to say, she is planning to wear something special for race day.
Trainer: Willie McCreery
McCreery is a racing name and Willie McCreery has been surrounded by horses from the day he was born. However, mention him in any venue other than a racecourse, and the likelihood is that his prowess as a Gaelic footballer is what will be recalled. A tireless midfielder, McCreery was a teak tough operator who starred as Kildare won their first Leinster title in 42 years in 1998. He was a selector when Kildare reached the Leinster final again in 2003 but ultimately, the pressures of work forced him to sever those links. Much as he enjoyed football, and though he is beloved by followers of the All White jersey, racing is ingrained in him. His father, Peter, trained Hilly Way to win two successive Champion Chases at Cheltenham, and Daring Run to claim two Irish Champion Hurdles. His brother, Peter Jnr, took over the reins with immediate success, taking the Irish Grand National with Son of War in 1983 and has continued to prosper since then. Willie had an uncle who as a jockey, won four Gold Cups, two Aintree Grand Nationals and four Irish Grand Nationals. Best remembered as the mighty Arkle's pilot, the legendary Pat Taaffe also trained the winner of the 1974 Gold Cup, Captain Christy. Willie McCreery has clearly been able to put into practice the knowledge he has gleaned from his years surrounded by some of racing's greatest figures, as well as from his own time in the game. His adeptness at placing horses well has also been a significant factor in his early success, and with a keen wit that will always go down well with owners, is sure to remain a success.
Alan Quinlan began playing for Munster in 1996 and captained the youth team before becoming a regular in the first team. Quinlan was voted Man of the Match as Munster beat Toulouse 16-13 on 24 May 2008 to win the Heineken Cup for a second time. He was part of the Squad that won the 2008-2009 Magners League. In total he holds five league medals with Shannon, as well as two Heineken Cup medals and a Celtic League Medal with Munster. Quinlan won his 201st cap against Leinster, equalling Anthony Foley's club record for caps, on 2 October 2010. He became Munster's most capped player in 16 October 2010, against RC Toulon in the Heineken Cup.
In April 2011 Quinlan officially announced his retirement from professional rugby. He played his last game for Munster against Connacht, scoring a try to mark the end of his remarkable career and going off to a standing ovation from the Munster and Connacht supporters.
Trainer: Jessica Harrington
When it comes to the tag of leading dual-purpose trainer in the country right now, Jessica Harrington has better claims than most. In recent years, she has proved equally adept at both disciplines to a remarkable extent.
In the past 12 months, Pathfork gave Harrington her first Group 1 by winning the Vincent O'Brien National Stakes, while Bostons Angel claimed his third Grade 1 of a brilliant season when winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March. Oscars Well landed two Grade 1s as well and was very unlucky at Cheltenham when stumbling at the last.
The team at Commonstown Stables in Moone, Co Kildare continues to be in top form. Apart from the aforementioned, when a trainer can boast the likes of Moscow Flyer, Mac's Joy, Siren's Song, Laughing Lashes, Cork All Star, Space Trucker, Roberto Goldback, Jazz Princess and Spirit Leader amongst your current or past tenants, it's safe to assume she knows what she's doing.
But that is no surprise because Harrington was bred to work with horses. Her father, Brian, won a silver medal as a member of the British team that competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Ella McSweeney is one of the presenters of RTÉ rural series Ear to the Ground. Ella has also presented and produced a variety of agricultural, science and wildlife programmes including Farm Week and Shanks Mare. After leaving school, Ella studied science in university, specialising in zoology. Upon graduating, she spent a year freelancing in community radio and RTÉ Radio 1 before joining the BBC. After working in the BBC's science and nature department in London, she returned to RTÉ in 2004 and presented series such as Future Tense, Nature's Web, The Green Light, Farm Week, RTÉ's Big Science Debate and documentaries for RTÉ's Documentary on One slot, for which she won Young Science Journalist of the Year. In 2006, Ella explored Ireland's oceans with her series 'Into the Deep' while in 2007, her science series Mind Matters won a PPI Award. She also recently presented the lifestyle series Living Lightly on RTÉ One. Ella is a big horse fan and says she is really looking forward to understanding more about them and to working with Michael Halford.
Trainer: Michael Halford
Michael Halford has travelled a long way to become one of the country's leading trainers, based in a state-of-the-art, custom-built facility at Doneany, just off the Curragh in County Kildare. The son of a farrier of the same name, Halford was used to being around horses. He worked for John Murphy and Dermot Weld before riding as an amateur for Frank Ennis and Noel Meade. Despite not being over-complimentary about his prowess in the saddle, he rode in the region of 50 winners. Michael became an assistant to Meade before taking out a licence of his own at just 21 in 1985 and building a premises on the Curragh. Although Cockney Lass was an early winner, she was subsequently purchased by Weld , going on to be a consistent filly. At the same time, Halford was struggling to make an impact, but his work ethic and belief ensured that there were no thoughts of throwing in the towel. Gradually, the results arrived. His invaluable knack of placing horses served him well, with Rashay (11 wins), Ballymote (7), Fearsome Factor (6), Class Society (5) and Al Towd (5) all finding the winner's enclosure with regularity. Halford has been renowned as a trainer of jockeys as well as horses over the years. With such a keen eye for equine and human talent, his place at the top table of Irish racing seems assured.
Mike Denver is from Portumna Co. Galway. His mother had a one woman show, and as he got older they started to gig together. He went out on his own eight years ago, at 23 and did his first solo gig in Edgeworthstown in January 2003. He's been on the road since. The Mike Denver band gigs five nights a week all around the country, playing to an average of 3,000 people a week. He has released eight albums to date. He lives with his girlfriend in Portumna.
Mike knows very little about horses, but is 'up for a bita craic'.
Trainer: Adrian McGuinness
Born and bred in Rush, north County Dublin, Adrian McGuinness' father was a market gardener who kept a few ponies. Ado and his sister were enthralled and opened an equestrian centre which they ran for 15 years. Then an owner of one of the horses based in the centre asked him if he might be interested in training a racehorse. The challenge was accepted and since 2000, McGuinness has proven massively adept at preparing a horse for the big day. His first winner was Keltech Gray in a Kilbeggan bumper in August 2000. Jacks Estate came into the yard and won five races, including the Joe McGrath EBF Handicap and the Land Rover Handicap at the Curragh in 2003 and 2004. McGuinness earned plenty of exposure from these successes, but they weren't confined to one horse. Victram cost just £8,000 (punts) but ended up a thrilling Imperial Cup winner at Sandown. He also took the Lartigue Hurdle and Irish Lincolnshire, while running consistently well in a series of top class handicap hurdles. By the time his career came to an end, he had accumulated more than ¤250,000 in prizemoney.
On Stars Go Racing, Ado puts country singer Mike Denver through his paces.