We head to Dundalk with 3 runners tomorrow. It’ll be my third trip this week having galloped horses there on Tuesday. Each visit is 8 hours of driving and a lot of junk. 2021 started on a good note runners wise with Irish Acclaim winning again. It was a bit of a surprise to me. He was great the first day but I wondered if the race had fallen on his lap. He won fair and square the last day, travelled best and put the race to bed. He has a crap draw to contend with tomorrow night and a furlong less. Should they go fast and stretch them out then he might get to follow and slot across without burning petrol. From stall 14 one is depending on what others do and Scott and he will have to be lucky. We run 2 in the 7 furlong colts and geldings maiden. Eloso is starting out, he hasn’t shown enough to be competitive at this stage. He is lackadaisical and a bit spaced out. If he can finish his race then he’ll have something to build on. He has a decent pedigree and should be able to get himself somewhere when he steps up in trip and the penny drops. Tomorrow will tell a bit more.   Benavente is having his 2nd run. We have had to wait for 7 months to see if he can build on his excellent first run. The gap is my fault. Everything had come together nicely for him to start last June but just in the last few days he started to show signs that a little pause was in order. Lockdown was over, we were raring for road and I wasn’t for budging. He ran, was eye catching and was just a bit flaaad after it. He ran up light, had a little break, tied up after his break, was gelded, had a longer break and we are now here and back. I took my time bringing him back to fitness, we didn’t press any buttons until the New Year and we were sailing along readying for tomorrow when the frost hit. He will improve plenty for tomorrow’s run and will have to be a very good horse to win in the circumstances. He could be.

2020 is drawing to a close. The care of horses and small kids means you’re kind of hidden from the pandemic. Mouths to feed and tidying what that leads to. On repeat. The year could have gone better on the racing front, a lot better but there’s little point roaring about it. I’m not convinced we’ll finish out with a flourish either. We have 4 tomorrow. Uncharted runs in the 2yo mile maiden. It’s less than ideal but she was balloted out against fillies last week and the week before. Those 2 races were the plan, this wasn’t. She is a filly I like, I think she’s good enough to win a maiden. Is she ready to win a maiden yet? I don’t know. Is she capable of beating colts? Tall order. Her first run wasn’t as good as her work so that’s a slight concern. The ground was very testing and I could probably have had her fitter. Hopefully she steps forward and runs well. Break and then aim towards the spring. Shoot The Breeze runs in the 7f Nursery. I didn’t mind his first run. He grafted all the way to the line after struggling for 2 furlongs, 10th of 18 in a Curragh maiden is a respectable start. He jumped and travelled well the next day but came off it fine and early and it was little improvement. His 3rd run was just poor. He has had a break and starts back tomorrow. We’ll see. I’d love to get him to do something for this group of owners. Their enthusiasm is infectious and they’d get a great kick out of him being competitive. He has to help! Eiffel Flower is well named being by Champs-Elysées out of Floriade. She has a lovely pedigree and is a fine big imposing mare that you’d be proud to bring anywhere. She starts in the 7f maiden tomorrow and her owner has instructed “she needs to s#€t or get off the pot”. He’s right. I don’t know what to expect. We’ll have a look, she’ll be awkward and clueless but should still finish out to some effect if she’s going to do anything.   Irish Acclaim starts his new life with us tomorrow and we’ll learn plenty about him. He has been gelded, he’s sound, he’s straightforward at home, he should be a nice addition. I’ve had lads with his profile build deadly little careers for themselves but equally, ones that were gone at the game. I think he’s in the former category but tomorrow will give us a nudge as to where we’re going. He’s owned by an offshoot of previous syndicate members that we’ve had great days with and I would really love to help them build a head of steam.

I haven’t written here for a while and a quick look through our recent results gives an indication why. We haven’t run many with chances. A combination of youngsters finding their feet and a few older ones finding theirs or battling the handicapper. Such is life. There was a time when I would be beating myself up about this but they’re just not for troubling the judge at the moment. It’ll turn. We have had more 2 year olds than usual and they should have a health warning attached to them. They just take their own time and not much one can do about it. We’ll keep a few going for the all weather. Lockdown has been extraordinary for everyone and for the most part we’ve been incredibly lucky. Businesses have been decimated and lives changed massively. We have been affected of course. It has been tough for owners to justify the continued cost of a hobby that they can’t enjoy. Plenty have stuck with it and hopefully we can find a way to repay that resilience. My day to day routine is largely unaffected. Yard, kids, some combination of both and occasional racing. Now I just don’t have to feel bad about not visiting anyone. Owners can’t go racing, can’t visit their horses. WhatsApp is terrific and they have to stomach me droning on about their charges. Pandemic penance.   Interesting and somewhat depressing to read and consider Mr Bolger’s assertions in a recent The Irish Field article. I can’t say I have ever had concrete knowledge of anything untoward happening and it is dispiriting to think he could be right. He’s not one for rash outbursts however and it would be nice to see the IHRB addressing his concerns. Questions have been raised on the quality of testing in the UK and Ireland compared to France. I would like to see a zero tolerance policy. If the French have systems picking up what we’re not then up the standard to theirs. Forget thresholds, there is no need for horses to be showing up on raceday with remnants of anything, legitimate or otherwise, in their systems. Racehorses require veterinary care but there’s well documented withdrawal periods for all those legitimate therapies. There was a recent survey circulated gathering information on trainer’s mental health. I was thinking of this and laughing to myself driving the 4 hours to Dundalk last Wednesday with a very moderate 3 year old. He was bred by my Dad and I’ve stuck with him for that reason alone. He ran his little heart out finishing in rear. How he has ended up with an opening mark of 60 defies belief. He might (MIGHT) do something eventually but why other’s striking successes should impact me I can’t understand. The real deal he is not.    

Cautious Approach returns to her favourite track tomorrow after a vaguely frustrating summer. She hasn’t got rolling at any stage, primarily due to lack of opportunities and when she has ran things haven’t really gone to plan. She’s well drawn in a competitive race and hopefully she will run well. Everything seems irrelevant when one thinks of Pat Smullen and Frances and his children. My mind keeps wandering to his passing, it’s heartbreakingly sad. I didn’t know him, I only knew him as a jockey. The impact he had as a jockey was immense. To achieve all he did and put together and keep together a family and home. To receive a devastating cancer diagnosis, face that, recognise the opportunity and promptly raise millions for cancer research. How? Pat rode a couple of fancied ones for me when I started. I’d set off on the long journey north positively buoyed by that fact. It didn’t stack up, heading for a 45-65 in Dundalk and having Pat Smullen to ride them. It was like I had entered a parallel universe in which I didn’t belong. He made me feel I did. He took me seriously, this was everything to me, he had watched replays, he knew the opposition, where the pace was, he had a plan. It counted for a lot then and it does now. He was a real great, great days on great horses all over the world, yet on a miserable winter night in Dundalk he had a plan. Thinking of nobodies as somebodies doesn’t come easily to most, he could do it and it was easy.

Galway week was spent in West Cork with family. Back to reality tomorrow with The Alpha Man running in Naas. It’s his first run in handicap company. The last few months have been a steep learning curve for him and he’s stepping in to a race with plenty of depth tomorrow. We have a good rider on our side and hopefully he shows up well. It would be nice, imperative really that we get owners back as soon as possible. The vast majority of my owners, practically all, have horses for one reason, a day out. They’re working people and it’s their hobby. Their outlet to meet friends, to socialise, to give themselves a chance of a day of days. That’s gone and everyone has understood why. The reality is they’re not going to be able to justify this going on much longer. Not one has complained and they may be some way from doing so yet but they’re not there to support me or the industry without some consideration for their investment and what they’re entitled to expect. I’m not privy to what goes on in the corridors of power and the difficulties racing’s representatives face but I can’t understand why they don’t keep communicating. Keep talking, keep telling us and our owners of progress or the lack thereof. We need to feel our owners are at the forefront of everyone’s minds and their return is an absolute priority. I worry more than a little about the ongoing divisive conversation around interference rules. Raceriding is an inherently dangerous occupation and everything should be done to ensure it’s as safe as possible. Jockeys should however feel supported as they head out to get the best possible result on our behalf. That’s true if you’re a trainer, owner or bettor. It has been framed as a sort of wild west, anything goes and someone is going to get hurt and it is going to be someone’s fault. Someone is going to be hurt, that’s an immutable fact, it doesn’t have to be someone’s fault. We’re facing a situation where everyone is a steward and there’ll be hell to pay. Horses shifting left or right under pressure is tougher to predict or control than is being recognised. Knowing what’s happening behind you can be tricky with wing mirrors, imagine without and amongst 16 or 18 competitors with all the associated noises. It’s tough as all hell for jockeys. Look at the rules by all means, review them, change them but it doesn’t need to happen like this. If the driving forces and the other associated names feel the need for change then it can happen without jockeys getting thrown under the bus.

I wanted to preview Forge Road tomorrow as I posted a little video of her several weeks back. I was mad about her then and still am. I am conscious however that she is a staying filly that doesn’t yet have the power required to show herself to best effect. She has been in full, strong exercise for 4 months and deserves to start her development as a racehorse tomorrow. I hope she shows a bit but I’m quite relaxed about this lady and it could be this time next year before we get to see what she can do.

I might just give a weekly update rather than focusing on individual runners. I missed Musalsal last week. I was betwixt and between with him. I had ground reservations. Just shows you the judge I am. TS Eliot said “Humility is wisdom” but recognising what you don’t know can be a wearing characteristic in this game. Cautious Approach runs in a good fillies handicap at 7.55 in Killarney today. She’s the solid hard knocking sort of the field. There’s a few progressive potentially good fillies in it, hopefully they don’t bring their A game and she can put pressure on them. We’ll see. Her last run was good but she’ll have to be improving. I’m not ruling that out but last race evidence suggests that progress will come at 14f plus.

Roscommon bound tomorrow so quite an early start. Beauty Of Deira runs in the 4 and up fillies maiden over 10f. You generally need a borderline stakes horse to win an Irish maiden but once the 3 year olds are kept out of them the quality dips. There are 4 or 5 in this of interest and I’d like to think we’re on the fringes of those. It’s an enormous plus to have a maiden win to a fillie’s name. This lady is quite talented and her debut effort for Hugo Palmer underlines that, she was nabbed by a quality filly that day and it was only in the last 50 yards she gave way. Her work has been excellent but I haven’t been able to work her half as much as I’d like. Fitness and freshness will be her enemies therefore and a nice run would be lovely to see.

Global Pass got off the mark at the 16th or 17th time of asking last time. He tries to back that up today. Obviously he completely lost his form last year and it’s not fully clear why that was. He was striking into himself at home and at the races and the recurring wound was difficult to manage. We have him where he has stopped doing that at home but it’s simply a case of just training him much lighter. It appears to be working. That has it’s own difficulties and he now needs to run regularly to maintain his fitness. Today’s race isn’t exactly ideal. There will be give in the ground which I’m not sure he will handle. Equally I would prefer to be sticking to a mile. Hopefully he will get away with both but it wouldn’t make sense to be taking him 2 hours to the Curragh to work him when he can pop down the road an hour and compete for a few quid. He won easier, in my opinion, than the 4lb rise suggests and to that end trip and ground notwithstanding he should be knocking on the door. Would be nice…

These 2 have had their runs and there isn’t a lot to say. Chessman is below this grade but if a race set up for him and he gets running late he may pass a good few. He handles fast ground but doesn’t recover from his races as well so the juice makes my life easier. Golden Valour was eye-catching in Navan. Finishing well from a poor position. It’s important to remember he put himself in that position by blowing the start. He’s liable to make mistakes and that draw won’t help. I imagine he’ll have to be ridden cold but I’ll leave it to Ronan. His form on testing turf is very poor and may be related to that but he was out of form at the time so we have to look at him today in these conditions. Hopefully he handles them.

2017 Richard O'Brien Racing Limited