We have 2 today. The Alpha Man runs in the 9 1/2f maiden in Gowran. He needs to step forward from his 1st run. He can improve a lot for that experience. This is tougher so he needs to be better. Lockdown prevented him rolling on to his 2nd run 2 to 3 weeks after his 1st. That would have been ideal. Global Pass is well drawn closer to home in Limerick. His Leopardstown 3rd is good enough to be there or thereabouts especially given his draw that evening. He’ll have to be ridden to nick it. Hopefully he can back up quickly and do just that. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Dean Street Doll at Ascot. I’ll have to have €50 quid on her. It’ll assist with counselling if she can pull it off!

Week one down and an OK week for us but a great week for Irish racing. Great to see the show back on the road. Aidan has hit the ground running and appears to have been moving through the gears during lockdown. It’s amazing how he can miss the entire period when his horses are traditionally finding their feet and come out the other end all guns blazing. Facilities and no end of talent, both human and horse, makes life easier. Siskin’s Guineas win was terrific. Obviously a feather in the cap for the team behind him but that was a real gear that he showed on Friday. He’s an exciting horse regardless of who has him. We ticked along fine and I was happy away with all our runners bar one. They’re needing it a little and things could have fallen better for a couple. They’ll be fine if they progress and they get the bounce of the ball. We run 3 tomorrow and it’s hard to get excited about the first 2. Ampeson runs in the maiden and on his best form should finish 3rd or 4th but he’s difficult to predict. He had a heavy schedule both at home and at the races at 2 and I was keen to give him an easier time this year. I wanted to allow him build through a few races and keep him a bit happier and fresher. He was showing nothing on that schedule. His behaviour was poor, his weight was poor and his work was dreadful. We had to up his daily routine as a result and he has improved. His weight has come right, he has worked OK and he has been a lot more focused. I had very little insight in to him last year, I don’t expect to have much more this year. He could pull my trousers down tomorrow but I just have to not let him vex me. Littleton Hall was poor last Wednesday and if he continues in that vein, I’m in trouble. He showed less than nothing. He wasn’t with the program from the moment he left the yard. He screeched and roared all the way to the races and at the track his eyes were on stalks. Hopefully the day just passed him by and he can show a bit more tomorrow. I’m clutching at straws I’m aware but he can’t be that bad or can he? Cautious Approach goes next and she’s one to look forward to. It’s a competitive race but she’s a competitive lady and she should run her race. I think she will improve her rating over the coming months. She can race lazily now which opens up options at anything up to 2 miles. I’m in no rush up to those trips but tomorrow will tell us if we still have options at 12 furlongs. I haven’t seen a ground update but she’s best on fast ground.

A puncture on the way home from racing, a real thrill. Making a long day longer. An older gentlemen stopped to enquire if I needed assistance. His jack was better than mine, then he followed me to a garage to make sure I got sorted and then offered to follow me an hour out of his way in case I had further trouble. This is a great country. A smoother run to and from Navan would be nice. We go with 2. A couple of years ago I received a phone call, someone enquiring about buying a 3 year old filly I had. I told him to forget about it, she was no good and we’d find something else. We did and we’ve had bits and pieces of luck together and he’s a good owner and friend. The filly was useless and I think he appreciated the attempted honesty. The other side of that coin was Beach Bar. When I got him first, I received a few enquiries for my half share. He was a lunatic, I couldn’t recommend him and put everyone off. When he won 4 races over the following 12 months I’m sure there was plenty of head scratching and profanities. The point being it’s very difficult to know. The best scenario when pulling together ownership is gather together people and figures and source your horse thereafter. This brings me to Littleton Hall. He runs in the 5f sprint handicap. I bought him to syndicate him. It didn’t happen immediately. There have been expressions of interest but I don’t know where I sit with the horse himself. I’ve been happy with him at different times and less so at others. I’ll run him and if he shows enough and people are still interested I’ll syndicate him for what he has cost me. If he shows little I’ll stomach him and have him as a lead horse or for Dundalk. He’s grand, some of his 2 year old form is poor and some of it, well one bit, is OK. If he travels and finishes in the middle of them tomorrow then I’ll be happy. He had one bit of work but it was unsatisfactory as his work partner was very green and it told us very little. He should improve plenty. A boring ramble about a modest horse, wouldn’t be a first for me. Golden Valour runs in the last, a competitive handicap. He has little or no turf form and that is the doubt. Is he better on synthetics? The handicapper says so and he’s right plenty. However if he is the same horse as 89 days ago then he’s 5lbs well in and should run well. He worked with Chessman last week and pushed him to a neck. The video is on a previous post. That’s good work by any measure, hopefully he carries it through. Finding horses to take you to a big day is hard, we have very few possibles but he’s one. Tomorrow should tell us plenty. No punctures tomorrow please, not least our ambitions for this fella.

One day down and I’m wrecked! It was great to be back. Ours ran away fine. They’re healthy and I’m happy that today’s 3 should be contributing through the coming weeks and months. The track was in unbelievable shape. Lovely fast ground with a beautiful cover of grass. Leopardstown tomorrow and we have just the one. Global Pass is drawn widest of all in a poor race. Ronan will want to ride him for a bit of luck but he’ll need plenty of it from there. He was on his way back pre lockdown and hopefully he can continue his return. If they go a good gallop and gaps come for him then he should run well. Fingers crossed it opens up for him but from that draw you have to be prepared to take your medicine.

We’re back tomorrow for the first time in what seems like an age. It’s exciting to get back racing. Not just because we have runners but for the whole thing to get moving again. 2 year olds, stakes horses, new faces and old reliables. Browsing results, pedigrees, watching the odd replay has been trickling back in to the routine since the UK resumed but we need to get going in this country to really feel like we’re rolling. I have been borderline breezy for the last few weeks. The snakes in the belly have returned with a vengeance in the last 3 days. I’m sure everyone is the same but I spend all my time looking for bogeymen. A nod at a jog, a stray snot, a spontaneous cough, an untouched lunch. So far so good. Tomorrow we start with a 2yo. It’s his first run, as is the case with the remainder bar one. This fella is by Twilight Son out of a Miswaki mare (Galileo’s Dan sire). Twilight Son is a first season sire and I think the general consensus would be positive. This fella is a nice horse that we have about 6 or 7 weeks. He was breeze up bound and slotted in to our routine quickly. He flashed himself in to shape without very much pressure and after a couple of away days I’m looking forward to starting him. I had thought about hanging on to him a bit longer but he’s got quite fit looking and I’m happier to be running him rather than working him and then looking to find a race. He goes well, will want 7f or a mile and tomorrow will tell us plenty. This is an incredibly deep maiden but that was always going to be the case. To see him travel and finish well would be nice and we can make a plan thereafter. Musalsal runs immediately after. He’s a 4yo Shamardal out of a Sadler’s Wells mare with as good a pedigree as you’d find anywhere. He’s a fine, big horse with loads of bone and plenty of power. His previous form is poor and he’s going to need to leave that behind him to do anything. He has been a dream to have around the place, never missing a beat since day one. His work is much better than his mark but I believe that was the case in his previous residence too. I’m starting him short intentionally, if one is well handicapped at 7f or a mile they’ll get away with 6f for a run or 2 and that’s the logic here. He could spend tomorrow finding his feet but as long as he finishes and hits the line then we’ll have fun with him. If he got rolling and found a rhythm then he could be competitive, a strong finish is what I’m looking for. He has a kink, I just haven’t found it. He’s not as assured mentally as I’d like but that’s being picky. Chessman runs in The Woodlands Stakes, a listed race over 5.5f. It’s a deep race and probably Group 2 in Irish sprinting terms. He’ll run and with a run under his belt we can see if we’re going high end handicapping/Listed races or if we can consider a step higher. He needs to find 8 or 9lbs and it’s not obvious that’s there to be fair. He looks terrific and if he is fit enough he’ll rattle home and we can see from there. As a throwaway remark I told a little girl here if we have 7 winners before July end we can stay in a hotel for our holidays as opposed to an apartment. I found her praying at the top of the stairs before bed, she explained she was praying for winners. Seven seems like a lot but every little helps.

The 8th of June felt like forever away but as often happens time passes and we’re nearly there. It’s funny, the first few weeks of lockdown were that bit novel, one embraces it to an extent but that wears thin after a while and it will be nice to be creeping back to a semblance of normality. Racing behind closed doors is the best we can hope for at present. I raced two days pre lockdown behind closed doors and it will be nice to have owners back as soon as possible. They are everything to this game and any bit of luck we’ve had is amplified immeasurably by sharing it with them. That day will come too. For now we’re the only show in town and we’ve got to make the most of it. Maybe we can expand our audience in the coming weeks, maybe we can capture future owners, attendees and dare I say it, bettors. It’s a question that has been rolling around racing Twitter for the last while. How to take advantage of being the only sport back? How to maximise our exposure? I don’t know the answer, I really don’t but I know we can help ourselves by focusing on openness, optimism and insight. The cloak and dagger side that hangs around horse racing could do with being binned. I love reading Ger Lyons’ blogs. There’s tidbits to learn but there’s an openness to them that’s refreshing. He calls it wrong occasionally, something needs it and doesn’t, something appears modest and isn’t but there’s an honesty about his musings that makes you think about his runners and then follow up on their runs. Racing is rife with pointless drivel, meaningless reflections that are an insult to the serious followers of the sport. Of which there are many. Driving forward, looking ahead, going somewhere with purpose is an attractive quality in a horse and it’s something we can all foster in the coming weeks. Optimism is infectious, being upbeat, hoping for and expecting the best can only help. Anything a horse is capable of doing is just an opinion. There’s an obsession in racing with being proved right, being a “judge”. If you divulge your thoughts, you’re going to be wrong, who cares, be wrong, insight is key and it draws people in. It’s a complex game, anything interesting and worth pursuing is. Let it be complicated, viewers, followers, punters will keep up. Moving on to current happenings. We have been busy preparing for next week. I would like at least 3 times as many horses to go to war with. Ones that are really operating. There’s babies finding their feet and older ones going through the motions and then there’s a small number that are pleasing. Hopefully they fly the flag in the early weeks. Regaining a bit of momentum is key, everyone has been working hard but that’s true the country over. I have had a few ex inmates running this week. It’s like watching your mother in law drive your new car off a cliff. You don’t know what to think. Everyone wants to be as successful as they can, to get the most out of every horse and have a solid, lasting relationship with all their owners. It’s an idle fancy. You don’t want to be small minded either. It can be a case of head saying one thing and heart saying another as you watch from behind the couch. Sad, I know but human I suspect. A few days left and we’ll be motoring. I’ll update with openness, optimism and insight in the coming days but don’t expect winners. Make up your own mind on that.

  • Bill O’Gorman wrote a lovely book “Racing horses-About my father’s business”. It details the training of racehorses, 2 year olds specifically and makes for great reading. It’s freely available and worth a look. I haven’t read it in years but I think of it often.
  • I always wanted to train, I don’t know why but it’s something that consumed me ever. I say ever but as soon as I realised riding wasn’t going to be my thing. I burned through my teenage years and early twenties with a desire to ride. I rode OK, looked the part (to an extent) but was like a clown out of a cannon when a fence was involved. Just couldn’t get the hang of it. My advisors (parents) wanted me to train at something hence the dentistry and inevitably that sidetracked me for a period. Lucky it did, I wouldn’t have had the temperament for this business in my early 30s but I finally positioned myself to get going in 2017.
  • I had the good fortune to cross paths with David O Meara before starting. Having observed his methods I knew what way I wanted to go about it. Keep it simple, find a routine that worked and run them. We did that, kept doing it and it worked and broadly speaking kept working. We had very simple horses starting out. Well handicapped horses without problems that won and got us well handicapped horses that tended to win. They were heady days, chaotic workloads, hand to mouth stuff and despite all the ambition in the world I daren’t believe that this could be a legitimate business. It’s not really but despite a worldwide pandemic and an impending global recession it sometimes feels as if it might be.
  • Training is massively different to how it’s perceived in my opinion. This is just my experience and someone with far greater success than I may disagree. It’s perceived as an art form. A notion perpetuated in the media. You picture Aidan figuratively conducting his orchestra of horses. These guy’s genius (if that’s the word) is their ability to keep finding a way forward. Find a routine that pulls the best out of the majority and keep going forward. Start with the best of everything, the best of animal husbandry, that means the best of care and that means people. Have the best bedding, hay(lage), feed, equipment, gallop surface, farrier, dentist and you’re a long way somewhere. That’s a must, we don’t have the horses to take on the big outfits. Anyone can match them with the basics.
  • My experience of national hunt horses is limited but with flat horses speed is king. It’s the most natural thing in the world. They’ve evolved to graze and sprint, graze and sprint and they appear to love it. If there’s one thing that has sparked life into the Alan’s Pride’s, Tom Dooley’s or Math’s Prize’s of my life it’s a couple of swinging canters. Those boys and Beach Bar(to a chaotic extent) would step along over 4 furlongs twice everyday to their heart’s content. When they were operating nothing would knock them off course. When they weren’t, nothing would get them back on track other than the passage of time.
  • You run into difficulties when it becomes forced. Higher end 2 year olds just let their work come to them, they jump off, relax and build away naturally. The lesser ones or those developing problems start looking for ways to rush through it. Speed is fine and works as part of a daily routine for young and old, sprinters and stayers. It just needs to develop naturally. This isn’t original, it’s the Yorkshire way. Facilities vary but a Yorkshire canter is not a canter.
  • It seems too simple but when it’s happening and I mean really happening that’s the way it goes. A piece of work is a truncated version of a race, a nice stretch in company over 6 or 7 furlongs and you’re good to go. Place them and they’ll do something, they may need it or need trip, ground or tactics looked at but what about it. On to the next day.
  • Problem horses abound and there are endless experts to tell you how to sort them. My experience is little works. We have injected joints, sent horses for wind surgeries, fed supplements and probiotics. A horse that is going to do something finds a way. Cater for all the standard things, find a nice natural rhythm and wait. They come or they don’t. It’s extraordinary to see.
  • We have had our troughs and I write this not from a point of expertise but merely as a point of interest. It’s easy to get mired in bad horses and then you lose track of what’s good and bad. It becomes forced and just like the horses you lose your way. Been there, bought the tee shirt. We haven’t set the world alight before or since but we tick along and as long as you have horses you have a chance.
  • I’m fascinated by a nice horse and we have had some but the emphasis is on finding a real one. Horses can do extraordinary things at their level but to find one that doesn’t make mistakes, quickens and quickens, a real jet would be the dream.

In the absence of runners and a much less onerous schedule it’s easy to find time to reflect on goings on worldwide and closer to home. Our kids will learn about these days in history classes, they’ll tell their kids about spring 2020 or “cowonaviwus” as it’s referred to in this house. We’re very fortunate here in the west of Ireland, plenty of space, plenty to keep us busy. We’re safe and healthy for now. Our problems pale into nothing alongside London, New York etc. Every day you look for signs of it abating, please God it peters out. Having the horses to train and the yard to look after is a blessing. Beautiful weather doing what you love and in the absence of targets and pressure you can really dream about what the current crew can do. I reduced numbers to about 15 from 22 or 23 once lockdown kicked in and for the first time since I started 3 seasons ago there is an air of order and calm about the place. We have good riders and good people about so we’ll enjoy it while we can. People talk about the challenges for small trainers, I’ve never been happier to be a small trainer. Keeping 60 plus horses on the go with 20 plus members of staff would be a tough station at present. Momentum is gone for now but if we were going somewhere 4 weeks ago we’ll get there 4 weeks from now or 8 weeks if that’s what it has to be. We’re very lucky with the group of owners we have. Great friends in the bunch and as of now they’re positioned to stick this out. If you’re an owner reading this not knowing what to do or whether if your involvement is tenable, speak to your trainer, keep communicating, everyone knows the score. Horses are easier to train with a target. A leads to B leads to C and 5 days later run. It’s simplistic enough and if B or C wasn’t better than A or B and if they’re not as good after C as they were after B then abort and try again. We’re in ticking along mode but they’re getting fit and well and fitter and weller all the time and we could do with working a few or running a few before someone gets savaged. 😂 Nice to see, my fridge was on better terms with itself that some of the horses last year. Getting left behind is the most excoriating feeling of them all. It’s fucking lonely. This is nirvana compared to last year. In an industry sense the breeze up consignors are going to be under the most pressure right at the moment. This is their time. Yearlings, foals, horses in training will be affected but there will be time for this to distil out, it’ll become clearer. Anyone looking to explore options for 2 year olds should give us a call. Before spitting tea and toast everywhere, look it up, we do okay with babies. We won 4 maidens in Ireland last year, well 3, Lougher was a maiden winning a winners race (ahem). The point being it’s another way to get horses moved. Bigger risk but bigger reward. The international flat market is strong and a Lougher, Dean Street Doll or Thebeastfortheeast will always sell. Equally with horses in training. This will pass, there’ll be good days, great days again. Stick with them, this will turn, it always does. On that optimistic note I better watch these kids. Afternoons are pancakes and mud kitchens, dance offs and movies. Interspersed with stone picking and yard duties. Stay safe, stay well and keep chins up. Be grand, in time.

These are extraordinary times and we’re very lucky to be still racing. This isn’t a case of “racing people” or Nero fiddling, just an industry trying to salvage something. I was racing last Friday and everyone observed protocols to a tee. Fingers crossed we get to continue. Regardless, we’re facing in to a dreadful time for the industry but that’s true across society as a whole, hopefully the vulnerable are kept to the forefront of everyone’s mind through this. Those older and close to me have battened down the hatches and we’ll see them in a few weeks, the kids are in heaven, their Mum 24/7 and we’re flat out with yard duties. I stopped with any horse that wasn’t for racing in the next 2 months and even if there’s a hiatus, I’ll be hoping to keep the rest ticking over so that we’re poised once the turn around comes. This is a small outfit, we’re supported by some terrific people, we’ll be fine. When things were going bad last year, one piece of advice rung in my ears “tell him to just get on with it”. Speaking of last year, they’ve been running well lately! Hopefully that stays going tomorrow. Cautious is Cautious and if things fall right she should be competitive. It’s similar to what she has been running in. Last night turned into a a sprint and with a decent gallop she should run another good race. Global Pass pulled too hard last Friday and ran OK. They crawled, he was dangerously fresh and probably blew up a bit. It’s easy to see him improving for that and with a stronger gallop, if he can slot across from his draw, he should run better. Cautiously optimistic I’d say. Lazy Susan goes in the last. She’s not operating like she was when 5th in her maiden. She had a 10 day break at home after her last run. She strengthened and did well and came back relaxed but she doesn’t appear to be really flicking through her exercise like she was. It’s a good race for her and given how fraught things are we were keen to give her a run. We’ll just have to see.

Tomorrow’s Dundalk goes ahead behind closed doors. That’ll be a strange experience, there’s a good buzz over in the bars and restaurants but the show goes on without. We have 2. Golden Valour goes in the 10f handicap. He’s drawn 8 and it’s quite competitive. He’s had a little break since his run before Christmas, he could need the run but he shouldn’t. He has plenty of work done and while he looks a bit burly I think that’s just him. Since we got him last year, his work has been very good but he hasn’t been doing it on the track, despite winning. Being simplistic, his work Monday last has him very well in but it’s not been as simple as that with him. I’m not sure why. He should take a big step forward at some stage this year, tomorrow will be interesting. Global Pass goes immediately after. I encouraged his owner to pull stumps after his last disappointing run and he did. I wanted him as a lead horse and he kindly left him with me. Time has passed, his problems have gradually disappeared and because of his new job he started to find a bit of fitness and wellbeing. I wanted to have another look at him on the track and tomorrow I get to see if I can get him back to his 3 year old form. He is a very well handicapped horse if I did. This lad is nearly 17 hands and all legs. When he comes under pressure he flails, when he flails, he strikes into himself and like biting your cheek it happens again and gets worse etc. He has stopped and needs to go through this race quietly and find a rhythm and if he does and beats 6 or 8 them I’ll be happy. If he does as he was doing last year and disappoints then he can go back to babysitting 2 year olds. We’ll see

2017 Richard O'Brien Racing Limited