Happy Christmas and all that goes with. For a lot of racing people tomorrow is the start of Christmas and it’s a first for us with a bumper runner. I grew up on a diet of bumper and point to point horses. The flat scene wasn’t really on the radar. Obviously we were glued to the rarefied world of Vincent and Lester, HRAC et al but the day to day stuff was all about trying to find the winner of the bumper. I rode out for Joe Crowley for 2 summers as a kid and he was hoovering up all the bumpers. He’d go to Gowran with 2 fillies and win both divisions, tiny little scabs of things he could make them sing. Joe was one of the first to discover real fitness and he could get moderate horses operating at a huge level. Anyone can gallop horses but to get that edge in to them is the hard part. The Hill has stood the test of time to be fair! On to tomorrow it’s a very hot race and any of us would not be bold enough to be getting ideas but Curlew Hill is a nice horse. He will need it in every way imaginable but he should show enough to suggest he’s a horse capable of going somewhere. We’ll try and get a night out over Christmas and then roll on the New Year. It’ll be rounds of vaccinations, worming, clipping, shoeing, fresh ones etc. Wrapped up in all that activity will be dreams and chatter. It’s great watching the babies develop and the new second hand ones finding their feet, going from hating life and exercise to thriving and embracing it. Fingers crossed for 2020. Find a spot where you’re happy and do the best you can.

We’re Dundalk bound with 2 tomorrow. Tipperary was announced as the chosen location for a 2nd all weather but it will have to wait for funding. It would be wonderful to have a facility so close. Working horses, racing horses an hour from home, heaven. Impossible to justify however, get the surface perfect at Dundalk, stick in a straight 6 and it will cater for the all weather population of this country indefinitely. Just an opinion, don’t @ me. ? Lazy Susan runs in the maiden for us tomorrow. This lady worked well here a couple of Fridays  ago and should be capable of doing a job. What level is the question. If she finished in the first 5 or 6 tomorrow she has oodles of improvement and would progress to run well in a new year maiden. If she’s further back than that she’ll be handicapping at her earliest convenience. She is quite highly strung and will find the occasion challenging. She could take a few runs to find her feet. She’s clear winded, has a gear and was better than her 3 work partners 2 weeks ago. We’ll see.   Golden Valour runs in an uber competitive 10f hcap 2nd last on the card. I was delighted he won 2 weeks ago and had intended to finish with him for a while. This race jumped out at me and between one thing and another he got entered and then declared and here we are. It’s hot as hell mind you and he’ll do well to cope with several especially Halford’s Simsir. There’s an ominous stakes feeling about that fella and he could be hard to turn. No harm having a look. Our lad is desperately babyish, Fran Berry spoke about cheek pieces for him. For sure they might help in the last 2 furlongs, I wouldn’t fancy being Chris for the first 8. That head up and ears back is just his brainlessness. He’s not ungenuine, he zips through his work in the mornings, ducking and diving from everything, farting and bucking and just enjoying life. When he stretches, he gets very serious and he’s a horse that’s going to get himself somewhere. I’m not sure he’s quite ready for this but he’s going and we can all see together.

We’re coming towards the end of 2019 and we won’t have many more runners, if any, after tomorrow night. Golden Valour goes in the maiden. He has been knocking around for a bit and has had quite a few runs to be still a maiden. His last few runs would suggest he’ll be competitive but he needs to improve to cope with the favourite. I underbid Narynkol at the recent Horses In Training sale in Newmarket and a maiden with his rating had added appeal as a race of this nature should be a penalty kick for him. He’s a huge unit that appears to be a bit ungenuine but I forgave him his tendency to finish weakly because of his size. Hopefully he’s just ungenuine!! I’m half joking. Our lad did well to get as close as he did the last evening after pulling very hard and getting trapped wide. He needs to step forward again.   It’s been an interesting year to say the least. If someone had sat me down in January and asked me expectations, 6 wins wouldn’t have been my answer. We haven’t had the bounce of the ball at times and to have horses placed in 2 group 3s, 3 listed races, 5th in a Guineas and a Group 2 suggest we haven’t lost our marbles entirely. I have been guilty of errors of course, running moderate horses and placing horses poorly at different times but errors are part and parcel of every endeavour. Trying to learn from them is the thing I suppose. Beating oneself up about them probably isn’t. I have never experienced weariness like I have in the last 3 years, never felt as empty or as helpless at times and I have never been less well off. There is something about training horses that takes you over, consumes you so you know that to do anything else would be humdrum. The momentum that comes with a nice horse finding it’s way, turning into something, getting somewhere is like a drug, it counters everything and sustains the whole thing. A last winner for 2019 would be nice and then all eyes on 2020. I learned a lot this year, more than at any other time, hopefully it will stand us in good stead.

These have been sporadic, no harm to update on occasion I suppose. We are post Galway and we drew a blank again this year, not having a runner didn’t help. They put on some show up there and it would be nice to have something with 10lbs in hand to go there some time. At that you still have to handle the place and get a draw and a trip and not bump into something with a stone up it’s sleeve. Anyway on to Naas tomorrow and we run a new one tomorrow in the 2yo maiden. Well, new to us. He has 2 runs in England, a debut full of promise was followed by a bomb out last time. His behaviour/hormones did for him that day and they could easily get the better of him tomorrow. His behaviour has been good since he arrived and I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he does get carried away and runs poorly he’ll have a mark and we can get him gelded and go the nursery route. Alternatively he has the chance to be impeccable and stay whole a little longer. It’s up to him. He’s very well bred, can gallop but doesn’t appear to be a 5 furlong horse. I’m putting plenty of pressure on him running him so quick but good horses thrive on pressure. He needs to be getting on, his 2 year old year is flying by and he needs to start contributing for Clive’s sake.

Elaborating on the chances of these runners is becoming a bit of a laugh in a kind of excruciating black humour kind of way. I’ll persist I suppose. When Cautious Approach was heading for the wrong side of the running rail in the closing stages at Bellewstown there was a kind of resigned acceptance as it happened. Little enough said, confirm she’s ok and trek on home. It’s uncanny but runners of ours have been turned upside down a lot this year. Cautious alone has clipped heels when coming with her chance in Dundalk and nearly got capsized in Killarney another day. Tomorrow is a chance for her to get back on track but she’s drawn 14 which can’t be good. Excellently Poised returns to the fray after an extended break and he’ll likely need it. He was functioning at a level last autumn/winter, he showed a bit of promise but he’ll have to have improved to be competitive tomorrow. I’m not sure. He’s not one to graft and have all i’s dotted and t’s crossed, I’d have no horse, so I’m taking plenty on faith, eyes closed and hope. We’re going through a transition at the moment, plenty have fallen by the wayside or have been moved on. Time to rebuild. The facilities are there, the system is there, just have to find better horses. There was a survey sent out during the week designed to assess the mental health of trainers. It’ll be interesting to see the results but I suspect there’ll be plenty of evidence of burn out, anxiety, isolation etc. It takes a special type of ignorance to be solely responsible for the training and campaigning of horses and not blame yourself when things aren’t clicking. That blame or shame as Michael Channon Jr described it, eats you and has the potential to impact you and those closest. Sticking to principles, keeping everything just so and just wait. Any horse that has done well for us has been comparatively straightforward, just ticked along, grafted themselves in to something and went away about their jobs. There are a core few still there and they will do that, we need more and to stay in business while we wait for them!

We have 3 runners tomorrow between Bellewstown and Tipperary. I drew the short straw(in distance terms) and will be heading for Bellewstown. We run African Friend in the 5f handicap. He has a reputation for bad behaviour so I want to be on hand. His conduct has been immaculate with us, we have put him through stalls without any problems and he has been very biddable in his daily routine. I never try and address the specifics of a horse’s bad behaviour, whether I’m right or wrong if they are kept in a very strong routine they don’t have the time, interest or energy to act the clown and maybe they forget about it. We’ll see tomorrow. There’s no obvious major angle with this guy, his mark appears to be approximately right. He’ll run away plenty once we’re happy with his conduct and he shows enough to suggest he’ll win occasionally. Cautious Approach runs in the fillies handicap and this is a lovely race for her.  The positives- she appears to be in great form having had a 3 week relax, she’s well drawn and Andy Slattery is claiming a handy 5 off her. The negatives- she’s a big ol unit and Bellewstown may be sharp for her, may be. The ground won’t be rattling fast. I believe they keep the ground on the kind side at this track (totally understandable) but this lady wants it with dust flying off it. Lougher runs in a winners of one in Tipperary and as a maiden she’s 1 of 4 maidens in this event. Jessie’s lady was impressive on debut and she’ll have to be a fair filly to carry her penalty, not against our lady per se but Aidan’s fella will likely improve 3 stone. Lougher had a frustrating debut, after jumping the road, pulling too hard, she was kept in rear by the winner’s stablemate. By the time he thought of having a go at his  pal the race was over. She ran on fine and was fine after and we brushed ourselves off and here we are. She’s talented, tomorrow should give us an idea what we’re dealing with. Optimism all round then. Anyone following this year’s trials and tribulations will raise an eyebrow I’m sure and they’d be right. It’ll turn around, it has to. ??‍♂️

Racing takes us to Naas tomorrow. It’s a low key card with a 10f listed race for 3yo fillies the feature. It’s being called an Oaks Trial. I’m not sure what kind of a record it has for producing Irish Oaks winners or runners, I’d be surprised if there were many. Our stable star Dean Street Doll runs here and appears to have a legitimate chance. Her Guineas run was very good. A staying on 5th is a peculiar feeling. She has ran well, justified her place in the race, honourable etc but it’s still nowhere. This filly’s pedigree and the way she has been finishing her races suggests 10f will bring about improvement and if that’s the case she’ll take whacking. My feeling is that a Naas 10 is going to be a fair test for her. We have to have a look as it frames the rest of her 3yo campaign. She is reckless hard on herself and trying to get her to conserve is going to be a big problem for Colin. It’s a very competitive race with 1st and 3rd from the Guineas trial in there, an unknown quantity from DK and then the small matter of Team Ballydoyle. Individually they are lesser fillies, by their standards, as a collective they’re a different proposition altogether. I heard Aidan describe recently their policy of racing horses, campaigning them vigorously and categorically identifying the best, most durable amongst them. It’s good for the breed, strengthens the gene pool etc. I admire everything about the outfit. Brilliant horses, brilliantly trained, campaigned, ridden etc but when 2 or 3 or 4 rock up in the same race it makes life tricky. Head down and keep kicking I suppose.

We head to Leopardstown tomorrow for a low key card. Royal Ascot is the biggest show in racing at the moment but mere mortals have to ply their trade away from the spotlight. That’s us! Some day we’ll go, hopefully.  We could have gone with Dean Street and Chessman I suppose but belting runs to finish 8th of 28 or 10th of 30 didn’t really appeal. Anyway we introduce our 2nd 2 year old tomorrow. It’s the first mile race for 2 year olds and I put her in because usually it’s a small field and I expect her to be a bit dozy for the first couple of furlongs. She will be fine back at 7 after tomorrow but the early tempo will suit her better. She is a filly we like, her work is good but my experience of my starters  is to expect nothing and get their first run out of the way. It’s a huge occasion for them and if she gets the opportunity to learn and enjoy the day out then we can think of a plan thereafter.   Papal Count runs in the last. He ran fine on Saturday. He looked caught for a gear turning in after they appeared to go slowly and a better gallop will suit. His runs have been with cut but he’s a good mover and a solid gallop on nice ground might have him competitive. I say might because it’s hope rather than expectation.

We were in Gowran this day last year and were in the middle of a pretty mental run of results. Things are completely different this year. The nice ones are performing but that means running nicely without coming close to winning and the lesser ones aren’t winning or coming close to it. Tomorrow is going to be more of the same. 2 grand horses capable of running away fine. Drawn in 1 and 2 and on Tipp’s sprint track, with juice in the ground, that is lights out. That’s not being pessimistic, it’s just a fact. Ampeson is now a gelding, he was very taken by The Curragh the first day and especially the 5 fillies in his race. That was a Monday, he was a gelding by lunchtime Tuesday.  He’s fine to start back. It’s a hot race and realistically he needs to travel and finish and I’ll be happy with that. That’s Mad has 2 good runs over 5 furlongs and a repeat of those would have him running well again. The draw scuppers things however.    

Tomorrow’s 2000 Guineas is the new Curragh’s first big day. It’s great to see the race with 2 potential superstars facing off. Newmarket’s convincing winner taking on last year’s champion 2yo. Christ it’s exciting. Our 2 will have run by then with Barend Boy going first. I got excited for a brief moment a furlong down in Naas last Sunday but he ran out of steam late on, fading to finish 4th. It was a good effort and dropping back a furlong should suit. I say should but he needs to travel better than he did over 6 two runs back. I hope he’s not a bit tripless.He’s taking on his elders aswell and that makes things tougher.   Chessman goes next and his last 2 runs have been good. This was his target since Navan but last week’s Listed 7 cut up and he had to take his chance. He bumped in to a filly on fire and she outbattled him late on. It won’t be the last time he’s outbattled but he’s a very talented horse that’s performing to a high level and I’m not going to crib him. I am conscious he tended to throw in occasional stinkers in his previous life but he seems to have taken last Sunday’s race well. This is a substandard Group 2 and this lad on song could swoop past a few of these. He needs to be spot on though, I hope he is.   I probably won’t get to expand on Dean Street Doll and her Guineas assignment Sunday but it’s one we’re looking forward to. She’s well, she has been on the go but she’s maintaining her condition and her appetite for work is terrific. She’s high energy and despite a busy schedule her post exercise pick of grass had to be cut short due to bad behaviour this morning. Whether she’s entitled to have a go at these superstars weighs a little but hopefully she acquits herself well. Her Guineas trial 2nd was admirable, I thought and things could have gone better. Colin had to take her back early on the last day and when they dropped to a crawl she started to pull very hard and stopped using herself the way she can. This is the key, if she can get down and settle in to a rhythm and use herself she will definitely step forward on what she has done thus far. Whether that’s enough or whether she has the sense yet to settle are the unknowns but myself and Clive and all attached to this beautiful filly are going to enjoy the experience of finding out.

2017 Richard O'Brien Racing Limited