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

We run 2 tomorrow at Dundalk. It’s low key stuff but last week’s win was lovely. Not least because she’s such a likeable filly but it gives you a bit of peace of mind. For a while at least. Cautious Approach turns back quickly, it’s a nice race that wasn’t filling on Monday, she appears to be in excellent form and I thought backing up quickly should be fine. When she faces up that final 2 furlongs, we’ll find out if we’re right. The Alpha Man runs in the maiden. It’s his first time out. The only reason for the delay was he was ignored for the first 3 years of his life and this time last year was an unbroken 3 year old colt. He’s a big unit that would be better suited to starting on a bit of nice turf but that’s a bit away yet and we felt he’d get away with a go on this surface. That’s my first reservation,my second is the stalls. We concentrate on teaching ours to behave and stand still and allow gate speed to come naturally with racing. This lad is slow away and his race could be over after a 100 yards. I had a brief look at the race and there’s a 65 rated filly that’s fancied. If she’s a bona fide 65 filly and that is good enough at the business end then this lad will run very well. His work is better than that. Work is one thing however, he has much more on his plate here but if he was sat mid div, travelling sensibly after a furlong or 2 then he should give a good account.

Dundalk is where it’s at for a few more weeks. It’s nice to have the occasional runner up there. Cautious Approach has won three times on the track and is probably at her best there. She was fine the last night, I think she ran her race but got exposed in that grade over that trip. She needs to improve for this extra half mile and an argument could be made that she’s not fully exposed at this distance. Fingers crossed that’s the case. Another week closer to the turf season proper and some are starting to shape up and complete little pieces of work. I’ve never had better access to good riders than at present and it makes life infinitely easier. Ronan Whelan will be giving us a hand when he can and it means he will ride whatever he wants to of ours. He’s a top class rider and very easy to deal with, he being familiar with the horses will help. I’ve little enough to report otherwise. We were bathed in sunshine today for a few hours but Storm Jorge is poised to wipe the smile off our faces at the weekend. I work as a dentist on Saturdays, I should have them fed and a couple of the important ones ridden before I make my excuses to the lads and regrettably depart.

We have very few runners for Dundalk this winter and Lazy Susan is one of the few and she goes tomorrow. The weather of late has been extraordinarily brutal and I’ve a new found respect for those National Hunt trainers keeping the boot to the floor in this crap. Trying to keep horses healthy and exercised is challenging for man and beast. This lady is well drawn and she has progressed from run 1 to run 2 but she needs to take a big jump forward tomorrow. It’s a reasonable race and whether she has that progression in her I just don’t know. She has only shown anything in Dundalk. She worked OK there one day and her runs are OK so we’ll see. We’re building away towards the start of the flat season as we speak. Second hand horses that are new to us, some of last year’s team and a few 2 year olds. They are all in a simple daily routine finding their own way to fitness. Hope is what sustains you in this game and the place is full of it at present. This is a crunch year for me personally. Things need to level out a bit. Like any job it can consume you, to the detriment of all else and I’d like to see this year finish with a modicum of success but mostly with a structure of staff, horses, owners and facilities that allow us to compete but be normal at the same time. A brief anecdote I was 40 summer past and my wife organised a small get together of family, parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews etc. I made my excuses early as I needed to be up at 4 to take a filly for a clandestine piece of work at a local racecourse. I’d like to change plenty about last year but I’ve a feeling I’ll struggle. Hopefully we’ve learned plenty and 2020 will be more enjoyable. So far so good.

We’re in Limerick tomorrow with a hurdle runner. Our recent bumper 3rd Curlew Hill was sold immediately after he ran so we’re relying on Bavarian Girl to launch a career as a NH trainer. It’s competitive everywhere you look and this Mares Maiden Hurdle (maiden under all rules) is bloody tough. Willie’s filly could be a jet. Our lady arrived last back end and she has been working hard to get herself into shape. She was obese, her owner doesn’t read this so I don’t mind telling you he could have done with kicking on with her a bit sooner. She would have a chance of being a very valuable mare if she was a year younger. She’s 16.2 and is a gorgeous big unit that should have a lovely career as a staying chaser, she’s also by the right sire in Getaway. Anyway we decided to go the pointing route with her. Win one of those, a mares maiden hurdle and then kick on novice chasing next year. Simples! We had all her ducks in a row in Dungarvan last Sunday and she capsized at the first. Never lifted a leg! She had been deadly all along, long, short, she just didn’t make mistakes, then that. Anyway she came home safe and sound and had an entry in this and she can start carving a career for herself tomorrow, if she’s able. I’m mad about her, the caveat being she’s different than what we normally have through the place. She gallops and finds, gallops and finds. Fingers crossed she shows a bit tomorrow, she’d want to be finishing in the first 4 or 5. We’ll see

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.

2017 Richard O'Brien Racing Limited