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.

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. ??‍♂️

2017 Richard O'Brien Racing Limited