We head to Dundalk with 2 tomorrow. There’s a bit of chatter about the number of meetings being held here at the moment. I’m inclined to agree. It’d be better a lot if we were racing on turf as much as possible this time of year. Winning margins were exaggerated (in several races) at the last meeting. It’s a slight concern whether the surface is playing fair or not. Several trainers have lost confidence in the place. There are talks of replacing the track. Sooner rather than later would be my hope. Dandy Belle runs in the 5f 3 only handicap. It’s a shot in the dark. She has been tipping away fine without even coming close to troubling the judge. Her father has produced plenty of fast ones and it’s worth checking if she can be one of them. This will pass her by if she’s not careful and we have opted for blinkers to help her. Fingers crossed it’s a good idea. Cautious Approach runs in the 65 mile for apprentices and she has been well drawn in 3. She should be better than her mark and tomorrow will back that up or cause a revisit. Her last run was her first in a handicap and Colin Keane blew the race apart in the first 100 yards. Bobby Boy went on to win, this lady never found her feet and ran merely adequately. Tomorrow is a good chance for her to get back on track. Hopefully that happens  

We head to Naas tomorrow with 3 runners. That’s Mad is our first runner in the 6f maiden. He’s well drawn in 6 and having already beaten the favourite he has to have his chance. Aidan’s improve of course but maybe one of mine will too. There are about 44 others to contend with so a good run would be nice. He was in the background and I hoped he’d show enough the last day to suggest there would be days in him. He did that and more and if we were a little more aware of what was under the bonnet he may have won. He’s a poster boy for the power of training, he tips away every day, eats and rests, does his 2 canters and he was obviously coming away every day and improving. Anyway tomorrow will tell a lot. May Remain runs next. He was eye catching the last day. He was in the process of running quite well and got blocked, after a hiatus of 50 yards he was asked again and passed a few to finish 10th of 23. All very encouraging but these eyecatchers can be overstated. He has to back it up now tomorrow. It’s up to him now. Bianca runs in the last. She disgraced herself Sunday and it feels a bit risky turning her back so quick. Of course I wouldn’t contemplate it if something showed but it didn’t. She went racing in apparently terrific form, ran like a drain and came home in terrific form. Hopefully she gets back on track. Horses disappoint all the time and growing up it was always explained away immediately with the first plausible excuse. Didn’t stay, ground too sticky or not sticky enough or not the right kind of sticky, the virus etc etc. Staying and ground conditions or tactics can make the difference of lengths but falling out the back of the telly is lameness, sickness, bursting ( EIPH) or being in season. Fatigue is preventing me thinking of others. The first 2 should be obvious post race. The 3rd and 4th can be insidious and difficult to diagnose. I’m hoping she was in season. It’s the time of year for it. Tomorrow will tell a bit more.

We head to Gowran tomorrow with 3. The racing is extraordinarily competitive at the moment. I probably touched on this but everyone seems to have had an easy time of it this winter/spring and field sizes are through the roof. Weld and JSB are back killing it, Aidan’s are more forward than I ever remember them and it’s tough out there. Try we must. Dianthus starts back tomorrow after a long break. It’s unusual in that she has missed 9 months without a hint of a problem. She ran Irish Derby weekend late June and I trained her across July with half an eye on a Listed fillies race in Galway. She was only going ok and I decided to give her 3 weeks off. She was due to come back late August but there was only one run of the mill Leopardstown handicap for her to finish the season so we started her winter break early. She came back to be prepared for The Lincoln but a bruised foot scuppered that plan. I’m not sure the Lincoln would have worked anyway as she has gotten way ahead of herself mentally. She’s full of gas and stupidity and I can’t see her conserving enough tomorrow to be able to find at the business end of things. She looks well and is probably fit but she may need the run to get her to cop on a bit and settle in to a better routine at home. With tomorrow under her belt we can start to make a plan. She’s talented. She could get the better of Maths Prize all spring and early summer and even when he hit his peak he could only just about get the better of her off level weights. The track is where it matters however and tomorrow is hopefully a step back in the right direction. Dandy Belle is next. I was a little disappointed with her opening effort at Dundalk a few weeks back but we probably rode her wrong in a very competitive race against fit horses over a trip too far. If that’s the case then tomorrow she’ll get back on track. Getting a handle on these 3yo handicappers is very hard. This lady should be well able off her mark. She’s a fine, strong, straight forward filly that should be giving her owners plenty of fun. We’re getting a little bit away from worthwhile form and tomorrow is an important day in deciding her future.   Papal Count is in the maiden and it’s his first run for us and his 2nd in his life. He had one mediocre run as a 3yo and his owners decided to give him plenty of time. He has been tipping away and given he has been a model citizen for the last 3 months he’s entitled to a day at the races to see if he can build a little career for himself. Apocryphal or otherwise I heard a story of Mark Johnston opting to run a 2yo at the backend rather than sending him home. The horse appeared to be useless but his policy was/is to run them all to confirm or not. Anyway he struggled everywhere before staying on to get up late home. He was Double Eclipse. Let’s see….

I neglected to update before T For Tango won in Ayr last October and took a bit of stick for it. My form wasn’t great at the time and I honestly felt we’d have been better heading to Limerick or Navan to get our backsides kicked rather than driving all the way to Scotland. Anyway that was his chance and he took it with both hands and won easy. It taught me plenty, these horses we have, get their chances from time to time, everything stacks up and they need to capitalise. Hindsight is wonderful but foresight would have been better the last day. Apparently the dogs on the street knew that a high draw was a disadvantage and this lad was unable to defy it. I felt aggrieved until I realised Chessman would have kicked him out of the way if they were both drawn low. On to today, I swore I wouldn’t run T For Tango until we found a barely raceable straight 6 for this fella. I changed my mind when I saw this fairly nice ground 7f around a bend.  🤣 I have a major problem looking at fit healthy horses in their boxes and couldn’t resist running him. I still worry about him breaking slow and travelling sluggishly to finish eyecatchingly but it’s worth a go. Wayne will know him and be ready for him, he’ll still play late but hopefully he stays the trip and can get a win on the board. Have to stay relaxed, they’ll come. Bianca runs tomorrow and if there was value in pursuing the hurdles route we’ll find out here. It’s a huge field and I question her appetite for this jumping game. She has cheekpieces on and Rachael Blackmore to assist from on high. I follow the national hunt scene as a fan but wouldn’t be found trawling through the point to point results on a Monday evening. Those days are gone. I fall asleep now with a copy of The Smartest Giant in Town and 3 urchins sprawled everywhere. However whenever I mention Rachael she is spoke of in glowing terms. She can get horses to do extraordinary things apparently, she’ll have to convince this little lady to really exert herself tomorrow.

Our 2nd day on turf was a bit more reassuring than the first but we’re still searching for a winner. These horses appear to be taking their first runs and we’ll just keep the heads down and assume it’ll all come together. It wouldn’t surprise if it was a few weeks yet. To Leopardstown tomorrow with a runner in each of the last 3 races. Undeniable Fact runs in the fillies maiden. She’s straightforward and was her own worst enemy on debut. She jumped smart and raced far too prominently and calved after 4 furlongs. It’s important we learn a little more tomorrow. It may take a little longer than I hoped but she has a job, I’m convinced of it. Barend Boy attempted the impossible on his first run for us. He set a searing gallop in a very hot Madrid and failed to finish his race. We learned very little and we need to build a picture of this lad tomorrow. He took the race well and hopefully we see enough to suggest there’s fun to be had. When a horse comes about the place and settles in to our routine, stays happy and relaxed, stays eating and can complete their 2 canters daily they generally have a job. That’s this fella. Fingers crossed. Global Pass is in the last and with a good draw and rattling quick ground he’s one horse I thought may defy his long absence. He’s drawn 16 and there’ll be plenty of yielding in the going so that’s that. A start will do him no harm. He looks well and healthy and hopefully he can round off an evening of reasonable promise.    

Last Sunday was a bit of a quietener. Plenty to be learned however and we head to Navan tomorrow with plenty of runners.   That’s Mad has his 3rd run in the 5f maiden and his job appears to be in handicaps. Falling out the back of the TV and then expecting them to be a revelation with a mark doesn’t really work in my opinion. He’ll need to travel kindly and find a bit late on to justify persisting. Alan’s Pride and May Remain follow and they’re drawn low and high respectively. Alan gave us a huge day last May being a part of a Curragh double and I would have expected him to add to that but the wheels came off shortly after. He went to Leopardstown and from a wide draw, on lightning fast ground, he followed a crazy gallop and was in ribbons after. We tried him a couple of more times but it just wasn’t working. He’s probably in similar form to last season’s debut and he’d be deadly over a straight 6 or The Curragh 7. He’s 10lbs higher now which is a bit of a nuisance! It’s an ideal time to have a look at him over 5. He’s effective over 6 so it’ll be interesting.   May Remain is in last chance saloon. His 2 runs have been poor. He’d want to threaten tomorrow to encourage his owners to continue. His exercise has always been perfectly adequate but he has shown nothing and tomorrow is D Day.   Chessman is next. That’s one deep listed race and in reality it’s just an opportunity to learn a bit more about this guy. His run last Sunday was excellent in my opinion. I thought he looked like a 6f horse and tomorrow he can confirm that or we can go back to thinking of him as a late-play 7f specialist. The best-fresh angle is another we’re learning about. He’s entitled to improve plenty for last Sunday’s outing and we were keen to give him the chance to do that rather than spend the season assuming freshness was a requirement for him. Anyway we’ll see. I’m an optimist and every now and again someone lands on a cheap star and until tomorrow afternoon we can dream that’s us. Nor’easter goes next and I’d rather not discuss last week’s effort. I think I got caught mollycoddling this fella. I’m very fond of him and hoped he could be a chance at a different level of horse. I minded him therefore and he was a bit over fresh. He was awkward going to post and by the time Billy got him settled and loaded he had switched right off. He jumped slowly, travelled poorly, wide and in rear and never got involved. I’m willing to take the blame but he needs to prove himself tomorrow. He needs to be level pre race, jump with them, in the van and make use of that ability he has to gallop. Here’s hoping. Cautious Approach finishes up our day in a very competitive handicap. She won a maiden on her most recent run and she was left on 66 for that. She will be able to cope with that mark but the top lad looks like he could cope with his too. The priority with this lady is to keep her looking well with plenty of condition. She’s prone to getting lean and if she can stay in the shape she’s in now she’ll have a productive season.    

Our 3rd full season starts tomorrow and it’s excitement and trepidation all round. Preparation for this day started on the 7th of January and we have had a slightly smoother time of it this year. The weather has been kinder and that has made the graft easier. Some of the horses appear to be forward in their coats and fitness. Others, with the exact same prep, are still hibernating. We have 6 runners tomorrow, kicking off with a 2 year old. Up to now any baby I’ve trained has had to have a break after their first round of training. Whether appetite has waned or shins have become sore or they simply weren’t showing a lot I have had to take the foot off the pedal. Ampeson is a strong bodied colt with plenty of depth and to my surprise has come ready for a run on his first round of training. He conducts himself well and that is the focus for me. He needs to be much better jumping out of stalls than he is at home. It’s my opinion that if you let them learn that skill racing they retain their composure in the stalls for the future. Anyway it’s nice to have a runner. Something clued in with plenty of zip or even several with those qualities  will get the better of this lad tomorrow. Undeniable Fact runs in the 6 furlong maiden and is a newcomer aswell. She nearly got to the races at 2 but we just ran out of time. She was an inexpensive purchase and had looked a simple filly that would give her owners a bit of fun, up until recently. I’d like to think she’d show enough tomorrow to suggest she’s better than that. She’ll be green and the trip will be too short but she’s nice.   T For Tango and Chessman are next. The first lad won for us last year and maybe he’d had enough when he failed off an 8lb higher mark. He has a quirk and I think he’s not one to turn the screw with in training terms. We’re in the dark fitness wise and hopefully he can show enough to suggest there’s more days in him this year. Chessman is a new addition. He came from 2 top outfits in Gosden and most recently Archie Watson. For a horse of his age and rating he was cheap at £12k. I was hoping he’d stay in one piece once we started training him. He has and tomorrow will give us an idea where we are with him. I suspect he’s very very talented but may need everything to fall right. Hopefully we can help with that, we just need to learn about him. You learn by sending them racing and let’s see what tomorrow looks like.   Barend Boy runs in The Madrid.  This is a high class renewal, Dianthus wouldn’t have even got in this year. Anyway Barend Boy is new to us, as is his group of owners. Some are new to racehorse ownership and others have had interests in horses before. They’ll have a lot of fun with this lad. A more professional, straight forward horse you could not hope to come across. His weight and draw gives him a chance to capitalise but it’s a tough contest. The owners know racing and any of us aren’t completely certain what this lad is. If he’s a sprinter, miler or middle distance horse is unclear and this is a neutral starting point. Here’s hoping. Nor’easter is last and he’ll be dead from waiting around all day! He had one run last year and it was an excellent effort on ground too quick. He got very lean looking on the back of that run and it was felt a second run might leave a mark. He looked amazing after a 5 week break and hasn’t missed a beat since January 7th. He’s quite dedicated to this business of exercise and graft and would start the season with little reserves if he had as much done as some of the others. It’s a hot maiden and being realistic a good run will be more than satisfactory. These are nice horses that anyone would be proud to train and hopefully we can use tomorrow to springboard to successful seasons and careers. To all those reading this Thank you for checking in and whether it’s punting, owning or just adoring these wonderful animals, all the best for 2019. Should be fun.

We start the year back at Dundalk and that’ll be the run of things for the next few months. If we run 3 or 4 before the turf begins it will be the outside of it.   It’s laughable to be attempting to consider how your horse will run without access to video form of his r ivals. It really is a joke of a situation and regardless of who is actually responsible for the debacle, I’m astonished Brian Kavanagh can’t step in and bash some heads together and make sure this resource continues to be available to us all.   May Remain is drawn 8 of 11 and it appears to be a competitive race. I was optimistic this lad would be an addition to the team prior to running him. I was a little less convinced afterwards. Maybe he was less fit than I thought or maybe slotting in from his draw (my idea) left him poorly positioned but I’d have preferred to see him hit the line a little stronger. He’s an easy going sort that may take plenty of running and graft to tune him in but he’ll have to show a little more tomorrow to persist with the Dundalk option for him. Given his pedigree it may be that soft turf is his bag. I have been wrong plenty but I’m more than hopeful  this lad has a job.

We have had our last runner for 2018 and it seemed as good a time as any to review the year. Bianca Minola acquitted herself adequately on Tuesday. If she progressed and got slicker and fitter we could be on to something.

We had 16 winners (14 Irish flat, 1 UK, 1 NH). This time last year I think I’d have taken that. The concern from ’17 was we had 4 horses win 11 races and that wasn’t going to happen again. I would have hated to have taken a step backwards.
The entire year has been challenging but from mid September onwards especially so. The stalwarts that were winning to July end didn’t keep doing so. Sales, ground, busy campaigns and the handicapper responsible to different degrees. We had 3 different new horses beaten a combined neck in August and then we were heavy with unraced 2 year olds. No mysteries with hindsight but when you’re going through it, it’s challenging. We ran a few 2 year olds that we can be optimistic about for 2019 and thankfully had a 2 year old winner late in the day.
Over 700k worth of horses have been sold from the yard this year. That has been a bit of a surprise and an important angle to focus on going forward. Lots of money flying around but I’m still breaking stones!
We are heading into our 3rd year and this has to start making sense financially sooner rather than later. That’s not a comment on the industry or the climate or programme just the difficulty of trying to get a burgeoning business to find it’s feet. The investment that goes into developing your own private facility would make you question the wisdom of setting up outside the big training centres. Pros and cons I suppose but that move from public to private a la JSB seems eminently sensible.
The horses are the stars and the day to day focus. They need to be sound of wind and limb, resolute and well handicapped. It’s as simple as that.
The good trainer/bad trainer narrative perpetuated by the racing media and now on social media is a bit overstated. Sourcing horses with an angle is a massive part of being succesful and one not to lose sight of. I have loved getting to know owners, their families, their friends and sharing the ride with them. You meet some wonderful people that you instantly click with and of course you come in contact with those that are hardwork from the get go. Thankfully they are few and far between. Compatibility is key.

Getting, affording and keeping good staff has been the toughest side of the last 2 years. I’m failing in this regard. You get used to a system that’s entirely dependent on yourself and upscaling is a challenge as a result. I’m focused on getting this right as we speak.

Starting 2019 with the team of horses we have and the team of people we’re building makes for exciting times. Aim for next year: progress. More winners, 2 year old winners and a blacktype horse would be nice. To go racing well dressed and rested and to enjoy the day would be a minor triumph. Here’s hoping….

An unusual one for us tomorrow. Bianca Minola has her first run over hurdles and she’s only our 2nd NH runner this year. She had an underwhelming finish to the flat season. The ground never really turned for her but she wasn’t just blowing me away at any rate. She appears to have come around in recent weeks and this was the only avenue for her. It appears to make sense, she’s a solid 10f/12f filly that handles soft ground. She hit a high of 82 for me this year. Those fillies can be very effective over hurdles and it’s worth a try. She has schooled fine. Not spectacular at all, just efficient. She can be a bit green over the first couple and that could prove her undoing tomorrow. It’s not a race with a load of depth, it appears a match between 2 solid types. They’re likely to be having their own private battle. Our lady will be ridden as if she can compete with them and then see thereafter. Knowing what will transfer their ability or improve for going the hurdle route is tricky. If she takes to it and enjoys herself then we could have immense fun over the coming months.

2017 Richard O'Brien Racing Limited