IRC Q & A: Dylan Cunha, rookie Newmarket Trainer

Youthful Dylan Cunha has relaunched his training career among the world’s big guns at Newmarket, UK, aiming high. He interrupted his first spell as a trainer to become an airline pilot which, he says, taught him discipline, more than anything else. 

He is also now a family man with more maturity and he’s as calm as he’s ever been. He believes these fresh attributes, alongside his horsemanship and his love for Ultra Marathons, will stand him in good stead for his relaunch. 

“I’ve learnt it’s not about chasing large numbers of horses up and down the training track and getting winners from numbers. I have a small string now, building up to a cap, and I am enjoying it much more being hands-on,” he says.

Cunha is one of the few trainers in South African racing history to have won a Grade 1 while still in his twenties. He did it in 2007 in Johannesburg’s Summer Cup, with the Australian-bred four-year-old colt Strategic News, who was ridden by Glyn Schofield.

He was still one of the youngest trainers in the country when handing in his license in May 2010 citing the increasing gap between the buying power of the big yards and the small ones as the chief reason.

“I emigrated to the UK in 2020 once Covid-19 had basically wiped out Mango Airlines so had to have a good rethink and ended up training again. It’s an exciting adventure and real hard work was done setting up and doing the trainers modules required over here, it was quite intense. We are based in the centre of Newmarket at the Bottom Yard, Phantom House Stables on the famous Fordham Road.”

Dylan’s focus is to keep a boutique bespoke yard of 40 horses, proactively upgrading the quality all the time as well as keeping it hands on with good client communication, keeping everyone closely involved at all times. He wants to race at festivals and is aiming at graded races. Everyone wants a Royal Ascot or Glorious Goodwood or Cheltenham festival runner, don’t they?

Dylan will saddle his first runner, Mr Fayez, at Chelmsford on Thursday. “He’s a badly behaved horse, if it wasn’t for that I would’ve fancied him a bit. But it depends on how he behaves. If he does, he’ll have a bit of a chance, he is well in.”

Life belongs to the big thinkers, and we wish Dylan well.

Here is our Q&A with Dylan Cunha.

1. Full name? Dylan Cunha 

2. Date of Birth? 18-10-1979

3. Steak or sushi? Steak 

4. Superstitions? I always kiss my 2 boys Ayrton & Jordan goodbye in the morning when I leave early while they are asleep. If I forget I even turn my car back and do it. 

5. Fav Holiday Destination? The Dead Sea in Jordan 

6. Which: BMW or Merc?  BMW

7. Who inspires you the most? My Old man, he is a loving, forgiving, nurturing father and a great breeding expert and we have purchased some gems for really cheap and sold them on for good money and won a lot of races along the way, but he is humble and quiet in the background.

8. Big night out or quiet night inQuiet night in these days but I’m still known to have to odd big night out, however recovery is slower these days.

9. Biggest thing learnt in time away from racing?  That there is life after racing; that quality is better than quantity. I am more mature now, kids change your life, much calmer and more disciplined following my flying career. These are attributes that are good for a trainer. 

10. Stella Artois or Castle Lager? I’m a Guinness man!

11. What annoys you the most?  Hmmm, agents of all kinds.

12. Reception from fellow trainers at Newmarket?  Amazing, I’ve had such a warm welcome from most and Phil McEntee, Simone Pearce & William Jarvis have really helped me with a lot of things to get set up. 

13. Funniest person you have ever met? Andrew Fortune & Phil McEntee after a few beers. 

14. The Derby or the Durban July? The Derby & then The Arc. 

15. Strict whip rules or no whip at all? Strict whip rules 200% 

16. What is your biggest phobia? Snakes 

17. Most embarrassing moment? Any hard landing in Mango’s B737–800’s, the passengers made sure to comment on the way out… 

18. Colts or fillies? Colts, I’m a man’s man! 

19. Best horseman worked with? Justin Snaith 

20. Biggest ambition? To win the Derby, however I’ve been a Gr1 winning trainer and a airline pilot so I’ve achieved a lot, but the focus now is to keep a small but high quality string which I’m building slowly. I’m more ambitious and harder working than ever. Loving life, the joys of maturity. 

21, Biggest influence on career? My father Luiz, Barry Hills, Justin Snaith and my wife Taryn and daughter Emily who think I’m the best trainer in the world. 

22. Proudest Achievement? Becoming a Airline Pilot, winning a Gr1 and being the father figure in my family, I’ve really grown into it and loving it. 

23. Economy or business class?  Business Class everyday of the week (I was spoilt being a airline pilot) 

24. Training tracks: Summerveld or Newmarket? Great question, Summerveld & the Vaal were world class when I was there but couldn’t handle the rain. Newmarket is phenomenal as you never miss a day due weather, but the all weather tracks are a lot harder on horses and you need to do a lot more. There are 51 miles of all weather tracks in Newmarket alone and grass gallops 7 days a week so you can’t really beat that but I’d say Newmarket is great and Summerveld & The Vaal in the old days are just as good if the weather is good. 
25. Flying high over New York or leading in a winner? Nothing beats leading in a winner. I remember when Shavout won for my dad and myself while I was flying, I’ve never been so excited! 

26. Your star sign? Libra 

27. Bath or shower? Long bath with a glass of wine 

28. Read or Netflix? I read at every given opportunity 

29. Would you rather ask for permission or ask for forgiveness? Forgiveness for sure 

30. Nominate someone for our Q&A next? Matt Chapman (Sky & Itv racing) – he says it like it is! 

Nominate two horses to follow for the rest of this season. 

Native Trail & Mary Slack’s Claymore. My yard is still small but a unraced 2 yo Silver Sword seems quite ok. 

Chosen charity for readers to donate to: Racing Welfare 

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