It's Easter, the clocks have gone forward and the nights are getting longer. And, on this second day of April, the first two year old races have already been and gone. Horses don't race before they're two, but how do such young animals develop from weanlings to the track?
A lot of preparation - and a little luck - goes into getting a two year old to the racecourse. In this post, I'll explain how that happens, with some video clips of a juvenile I have (a tail and an ear of) in training with highly promising young handler, Michael O'Callaghan.
Some background on Michael O'Callaghan
First, a bit of background on both horse and trainer. Michael O'Callaghan is young - just 26 - and he's been around horses most of his life, having started his career as a breeze up consignor helping his dad. That means he's used to preparing young horses to look and behave professionally at a very young age. Much like himself in many ways, then; and perfect for taking on juveniles as a trainer and encouraging the best from them.
In his first season, 2012, O'Callaghan sent out four winners from 32 runners. 2013 was a tad disappointing with just a pair of successes from 45 starters, but last year things stepped up a couple of gears. His 15% strike rate on 73 runners was worth eleven winners, including exciting types like Rapid Applause and Aggression as well as Guineas aspirant, Letters Of Note.
The last two named have recently been acquired by Qatar Racing Ltd, which is a very exciting responsibility for O'Callaghan and his team as they move into the turf part of the 2015 season. It's a season in which they've hit the ground running with four winners from 18 runners already (22%), and plenty of promising young'uns to unleash as the spring progresses.
The horse: From Sales Ring to Stable
Our boy is a son of Approve, the dual Group 2-winning two-year-old, out of a Red Ransom mare called Miss Red Ink. Miss Red Ink has already thrown a four-time winner from two foals to make it to the track.
He was acquired in September last year at the Tattersalls Ireland Yearling Sales, having been born exactly two years before the Brocklesby gates opened last Saturday, March 28th 2013.
Before the sales, the vendor, Damastown Stud (John Prunty), had already done a lot of work to present the yearling well. He was able to walk around the ring without too much nervousness, and Michael scored him as follows in his preliminary checks:
Pre-sale notes: Well made, well balanced, W+ (Good Walker). Red Ransom (dam’s sire) quality coming through. Fast looking colt. Very fast family. Guide Value 20k.
Stallion note: As a racehorse, Approve was a high class 2yo, over distances from 5f to 7f. A dual Group 2 winning 2yo, who won both The Norfolk and The Gimcrack Stakes, he is now an exciting young sire, with 24 individual winners in his first crop, including the exciting Listed winner, Accepted.
Pedigree assessment: A sibling to three individual winners, this yearling has an exceptionally appealing pedigree, stacked full of high class stakes performers, including Champion 2yo, Winter Quarters, top sprinter Spirit Quartz and iconic performers such as Kingsclere, Passing Glance and Overbrook. The dam, Miss Red Ink is by a proven broodmare sire in Red Ransom and is herself out of a Mill Reef mare.
The hammer fell at €15,000, a relative bargain for a well balanced good moving baby. Of course, what looks a bargain in the sales ring can be made to look altogether something different on the racecourse! But, for now, a dream was framed...
From Breaking to... the track (hopefully!)
And then it began, for us at least. As a young trainer, Michael is well in tune with the latest communication methods, and makes good use of them. He's set up 'whatsapp' (a free messaging application for mobile phones) groups to keep owners in the loop. And he's used it to great effect.
The best thing about this approach - especially for someone like me, who lives far away from his Curragh training base - is that it enables him to send video snippets of our lad developing. Below is a short text and video diary from October last year to now, illustrating our boy's development.
2nd October 2013
"Hi guys, this is yer colt with breaking tack on today. This is the start of him becoming a race horse: whether he wins a seller or a Group 1, it all starts here!"
"This colt has proved very popular. I like him so much I am going to keep 2 shares myself. So if any of you have a friend ye think might want to get involved in him, act fast as there is only 1 share left up for grabs, and I don't think it will be available for much longer."
11th October 2014
"The colt is coming on well. He is almost ready for a rider now. Attached is a video of him long reigning: this is what teaches them to steer"
23rd October 2014
"This is the colt's first ever day riding. As you can see, he is great! It's a long way from the stereotypical breaking of horses we all know from the westerns."
3rd December 2014
"Ye're colt is doing well, the usual snotty nose and girth rash the babies get this time of year. Other than that, he's great!"
24th December 2014
"Happy Xmas everyone!"
19th January 2015
"Hi, I hope ye are all keeping well! I'm very happy with the colt, he has grown a good two inches since we bought him. He is a nice forward type."
"He was up the Old Vic [gallop] this morning with the other 2yo's, they haven't done anything serious yet, but are coming along nicely"
27th January 2015
Preparing to head to the gallops...
Cantering across the Curragh...
2nd February 2015
"Approve near side first group"
12th February 2015
"Just a steady canter..."
10th March 2015
"Four name suggestions gone in to HRI for colt are as follows Chasing Tomorrow, Brinkmanship, God Only Knows and Calrapid. They will decide which one he gets"
13th March 2015
"The colt got the name, Chasing Tomorrow!"
22nd March 2015
"I'm very happy with the colt. He was at Dundalk today for a racecourse gallop. Fingers crossed he might be running soon, I'll keep you all posted."
2nd April 2015
"A date for the potential début of Chasing Tomorrow is Friday 17th April. The colt is going well, and I hope to start him off at Dundalk on this date".
As you can see, the latest entry is the news this morning that Chasing Tomorrow might make his début in as little as two weeks. It's very exciting stuff, though of course who knows how he'll go?
Many horses don't stand the training to get this far, so Michael and his team have already done a great job in getting him close to ready for the track. A lot can happen in a day, let alone a fortnight, meaning there'll be no chicken counting going on this end. But hope springs eternal, and there won't be too many more tomorrow's until Chasing Tomorrow goes to post for the very first time. I can't wait! 😀