The former farrier and amateur jockey made great strides in the training ranks during the early 20-teens but found himself getting too big, too fast, and that meant searching for a new yard.
When all options were exhausted, he was able to design his own establishment - from the layout of the gallops to the stables and office buildings - thanks to investment from a friend, and the winners have begun to flow.
Last winter saw phenomenal success with 43 winners over jumps, comfortably beating his previous best of 28 set in the 2013-14 campaign.
Far from allowing the grass to grow under his feet, Phil has been planning ahead by investing in a handful of broodmares to keep the show on the road, while also attracting the attention of bigger owners.
"The aim is to beat last year's total - we count the calendar year and we'd like to reach 50, we've made it hard work for ourselves but you'd like to think there are more that can win this time," he said in early October following a quiet few months, both on the Flat and summer jumps.
"I want things to continue to get bigger and better, we've 74 stables at present and a barn where we have all the youngsters in - that would take another 20 and that would definitely be the end. But there's no plans to do that yet.
"I'm very happy with what we've got. We put 10 boxes up this winter, another 10 last winter so we've gone from 54 to 74 in two years, which is not what we set out to do. But they're all full which is grand.
"We've got great owners who appreciate what we're doing, and if somebody wants to buy us nice horses that would be great."
|The newest stables at Green Oaks|
However, Kirby remains unflustered by the whole episode and he seems happy with the way things have panned out.
"It was fine, I was disappointed for half an hour but to be honest it was a bit of weight of my mind," he told me. "None of them were in work at the time so it's not like we felt we'd done anything wrong.
"I'd already bought Magellan and South Seas and he wanted a National horse so he bought Blaklion, who went wrong 10 days before the National which was a bit of a sickener, and then he bought Don Poli.
"He wanted a proper nice horse so bought Interconnected, we only had him for 10-12 weeks, a lovely big horse who was on his holiday and we only did a bit of flat work with him.
"We had a bit of bad luck but that's the way it is and we haven't fallen out in any way. It was more of a relief at the time but I'd definitely have them again if anyone wanted to send that type of horse here.
"I'm trying to make horses all the time so anything half or threequarters made would be great."
Phil currently does all the buying of horses himself and seems to enjoy that side of racing almost as much as training them.
"I enjoy going through the catalogues and I like buying form horses, that was what we always did. I've always been around horses and I didn't think I needed anyone to show me round.
"If they're sound and have form there'd be a race in them, we didn't have many superstars but we had a lot of winners from the amount of horses we had.
"It's time consuming and as long as I can make the time to do the catalogues I'll continue buying them, it's just a time thing and I enjoy doing it and getting stuck into the form.
"We've got six mares and when we first came here we were low on numbers so it was a part of the business that we needed to do to get going again, so we had a lot of stables and not a lot of money coming in.
"We bought foals to sell as yearlings and it kept us going for a couple of years. We got some nice mares and a couple of Lady Buttons siblings by Robin Des Pres and Presenting, plus an unraced sister of Buttons by Westerner, who is in foal to Buck's Boum.
|Hopefully some future stars in the barn|
"If I don't sell the young horses to owners in the yard they'll go to the sales at three, running them myself isn't the plan.
"They're a nice bunch of mares and it was grand when we had more time and room, whereas now they are starting to get in the way a little bit, which is a nice problem to have I suppose."
I wondered how Phil had built up so much experience and confidence in his own ability to buy the right horses and broodmares.
"I started at Ferdy Murphy's and was there for three or four years, rode as an amateur winning on my first ever ride, but things went rapidly downhill and soon realised things weren't going to happen.
"I then started working as a farrier and once qualified started to train a few Pointers and things soon took off, we were champion hunter chase trainer in the first year and I quickly got my licence to train under rules.
"The numbers soon swelled and I had about 35 between Castleton near Whitby and Keith Reveley's yard, at that point I had a chance to go to Middleham so I kept the yard going at Castleton and moved the rest to Middleham.
"We had a lot of winners that first year, we had a lot of well handicapped horses and we had a really good run. But I was driving over to Middleham every day and it was tough so I decided to downscale a bit and when I heard Keith was packing up he said I could use his yard which was perfect as I was only living five minutes away.
"But Keith decided to stay on a bit longer which left me stranded a bit, but I got an extra six months at Middleham and then this place came up and luckily I had a friend and owner who wanted to have a good go, and that's how we ended up here. I couldn't have afforded it on my own, and he's been brilliant."
As for the future, Phil reckons that he'll be focusing more on the National Hunt side of things with 90 percent of the yard now being jumpers, although he still has one or two nice ones for the Flat.
"If people want to send us a Flat horse that's grand, but I haven't been buying flat horses on spec to sell," he said. "We've got a few nice Flat horses that we've looked after but the few we've been sent haven't turned out to be much good.
"The two year olds are not really two year-olds but they've had their three runs and will be better next year. It looks like we've had a poor season but we've had loads of horses placed.
"It starts to get annoying after a while and it'll be nice when we start having winners because then you can start comparing what you've got.
"This year is turning out a lot like 2018 with a quiet few months in the summer and then things started to click, you do worry about this and that but the horses that we expected to run well did so, without winning. Hopefully things will start to get going soon."
When, as seems inevitable, Phil decides to build those extra 20 stables, he'll have a near 100-strong team of horses at his disposal and it would be a foolish man to bet against P Kirby becoming one of the biggest names in Northern jump racing in the years ahead.
|Horses come to the end of the 6f woodchip gallop|
He’s on a break and we aim to bring him back for the big all-weather races at the end of winter and then he’ll stay on the Flat. I hoped we would pick up a bumper with him, which is what we did, and he’s just got sharper and sharper. He’d make a great jumper but the prize money is just too good on the Flat.
Very similar to last year, she’ll start off in the Listed mares race at Wetherby and may take in a race or two in Ireland, she schooled this week over French style hurdles and was really sharp. For a horse that jumps fences so well she switches back no problem. She’ll definitely go to Doncaster again for those races over hurdles and fences that have great prize money. I’d love to keep going with her for as long as we can and it’s not set in stone yet that she’ll be off at the end of the season.
Top Ville Ben
He’ll probably start off in the Charlie Hall and will have an entry in the Ladbroke Trophy (Hennessy). He’ll be wrong in the weights at Wetherby but I’d love to win that race. Plus he needs more experience as he was fairly lightly raced last season. Newbury will suit him but whether the big field will, who knows. The dream is still alive at the moment.
Hasn’t come back in yet, he goes home and the owner does the pre-training and he comes in later. He’s not as slow as he makes out, and loves being in front. He’s not very big but he’s quite a nice horse and we’ll see if we can find a nice staying chase for him, he’ll have to run in some of the better ones this season.
I like him, hasn’t done a lot wrong for me. He doesn’t show a massive amount at home, and his mark is probably about right, but he’s had a proper break for the first time and he’s in fairly good order. He’s every inch a chaser and will probably stay over fences. He was beaten less than a length by Delta Work in a beginners chase this time last year, so there might be a nice race in him.
He’s had his wind done and will be ready for mid-November. We have tried to treat him like a nice horse and he doesn’t seem the same horse during the summer, so we’ll go novice chasing with him this season and he’ll stay 3m I’m sure.
Dubh Des Champs
Should be ready to run in the next few weeks after suffering a leg injury following victory at Doncaster. He’s a big horse who looks like a chaser but is very inexperienced at the moment, so might start back over hurdles. Should go on any ground bar extremes.
He was quite a big weak horse who seems to like things to fall his own way, if you put him under pressure too soon he gets into a bit of a flap. I always think he wants a bit further and I wouldn’t be afraid to try going further again. He’s got a high knee action but seems to act on any ground. There’s not a lot of leeway in his mark just now, and we may try him over fences at some stage.
I thought she’d win a bumper first time up but probably bumped into one, and was a bit disappointing the second time. She’ll start novice hurdling sooner rather than later (ran at Kelso on Sunday)but whether she’s good enough to win a novice I don’t know...she could be one for handicaps. Runs very differently to how she shapes at home, as she works like a thorough stayer. She’ll make a nice broodmare being nicely bred by Flemensfirth.
A tricky horse with plenty of ability, we used to ride him wrong so went right back to basics by dropping him out and getting him to finish his races a bit better. He’ll be ridden to run well every time and his day will come again, whether he’s a 120 horse I don’t know. He’s not one to force because we might lose him again.
A nice prospect who won two novice hurdles for us last season. He’s a rangy chase type but he’ll have another season over hurdles and will be going up in trip.
I quite like her but I don’t know what she wants yet, looks like she’s a fast ground horse but has plenty of form on soft. She went to Cheltenham as one of the favourites and ran okay but it was the end of a long season. We’ll try and build her confidence up and she should pick up a handicap or two.
He was badly handicapped when I bought him but is back down to a fair mark now, he’s not that quick and he wasn’t able to go the pace in those better races he was running in. Back in the right grade he should be capable of winning races around 2m4f.
He’s twice the size he was last year, really filled out. Not sure whether he wants 2m or 2m4f at the moment, ultimately I think he’ll be better over the longer trip on soft ground, but he goes on any. I didn’t think he’d handle the ground when he won at Carlisle so I’m hoping he’s going to better this season.
Another who is tricky to weigh up, he probably is what he is, not a superstar but there are races for him at the likes of Wetherby and Ayr and he’ll hold his own now that he settles better in his races.
She’s very well bred and will probably go the paddocks at the end of the season. She should be able to pick up a race at around 2m4f from her mark.
Dares To Dream
Nice filly who will go straight over hurdles, should be competitive in mares novices. They’re a bit more competitive than they used to be. She might be good enough to compete against geldings with the allowance, but she’ll be looked after as she’s quite nice. She got lost in the Aintree bumper in bad ground, but she’d be better than that.
She’s a bit stuffy so will run in another bumper as I don’t want her to get tired in her first start over hurdles. She’s probably a couple of weeks behind Dares To Dream at the moment but they are similar types, although I’d never work them together to see which one is better.
Had a small fracture after his last run but is back cantering and will be back a bit later on, probably in another bumper. I bred him myself from a proper staying family and he’s quite a nice horse now, much bigger and stronger than he used to be.
Quite versatile and goes on any ground, but he’s on quite a high mark at present.
She’s only young and hasn’t done a lot, but I quite like her. She’s been a bit unlucky here and there, injuring a foot when second favourite to a long odds-on shot at Ayr, but is a solid syndicate horse that will do a job and win races this winter.
A similar type that wants goodish ground,she’s been running solidly on the Flat without winning and has come break from a short break. Her marks’ about right but should remain competitive in the right conditions.
She was bought out of Nicky Henderson’s and could be alright, a nice mare with scope to jump and she schools really well. Seems to be starting out on a fair mark on what she’s achieved so far (ran at Kelso on Sunday).
She’s been back after a lovely break but I turned her away and she cut a leg and has gone back to the owner again. She’s a nice filly and the owners are in no rush with her.
Robbing The Prey
He’s just cantering away and we are finding out about him at the moment. Used to be with Ruth Jefferson and Donald McCain but seems to have lost the plot, however could be well handicapped if he comes back to form.
Won a couple of races in Ireland and looks a nice horse, has gone up again for coming over here but looks a solid type for the nice 0-140 type handicaps. He’s a bit keen and might want everything to fall right.
Sometimes A Fox
A nice horse that Gordon Elliott bought off the Flat but couldn’t do much with, he hasn’t quite clicked but was probably badly handicapped. Might win a little race or two if the handicapper isn’t too harsh.
Ran well in a bumper on his debut in May who will run in another bumper probably in the middle of November and you’d expect him to go close on the basis of his first effort. He’s a full brother to the James Ewart-trained Avidity.
En Meme Temps
Ran well for Tom Lacey, chasing home Suggestion on Boxing Day before going on to win at Ascot in March. He’s a very kind horse, he carries his head quite high but seems to run his race, I bought him to go over fences but will start off in a hurdle.
Finished first and second in bumpers when trained by Malcolm Jefferson, she has had plenty of time off but is a lovely type and will start off in a bumper in November.
A solid enough horse who won at Hexham in the summer, ran okay behind quite a nice sort at Sedgefield last time. Whether he’s a 120-type I don’t know, we had to run him in another novice and he’s going the right way, although I’m not sure where we go next with him.
Bought as a youngster, a very nice daughter of Getaway and if she’s as good as she looks will be very nice.
Two Thirty Yeat
A four-year-old, a proper nice horse who won’t be over-raced this year, she didn’t run last year but will make a lovely hurdler and eventually chaser.