It has been a year of discovery for Adam West, who has his sights set on more international assignments in 2024 after a phenomenal season that culminated in a fairytale trip to the Breeders’ Cup with star speedster Live In The Dream.
The four-year-old more than lived up to his name when providing his trainer, regular pilot Sean Kirrane and owners Steve and Jolene De’Lemos with a first Group One success in the Nunthorpe, but their ambitious quest to conquer America ultimately ended in gallant defeat at Santa Anita.
With the dust now well and truly settled on a magical journey from Lingfield handicaps in the spring to California in November, West is keen to ensure his Breeders’ Cup adventure is not the end of an underdog story that has captured the hearts and minds of the racing public.
“I would love to tick off a few more worldwide options,” said West.
“I would be really excited to go to Hong Kong, I would love to tick that one off, and everything from the Pardubice all the way round, there are so many races across the world and I would love to spread the wings, as it were.”
Although Live In The Dream failed to deliver a Hollywood ending to his box office campaign in the shadows of the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains, his handler is confident he will have thrived for the cross-Atlantic experience when he returns to the track in 2024.
“He came out of the Breeders’ Cup really well and we’re just looking forward to next year and seeing what we can do,” said West.
“With sprinters, you hope they can improve strength on strength – and with that little bit of maturity after his eventful year, you would hope he is more amenable to different things.
“I definitely think it will make him mature a hell of a lot. He has a great head on him anyway and he has probably learnt more than I have this year!”
It is, of course, not just Live In The Dream who will have learnt from his forays Stateside, with his handler wide-eyed after experiencing the draining nature of long-haul travel for the very first time.
“I realised that both times I flew, that I don’t take the travel as well as the horse and that took it out of me,” explained West.
“I was quite sick both times towards the end of it and that’s me coming from a bit of a humble background and never having been on a flight longer than an hour and a bit, so it was a bit of a shock to the system.
“It’s all things that I can learn from for next time to make sure I’ve got the best of me out there, rather than a sick version of me.
“They are absolutely incredible people and the Americans couldn’t do enough for us and have a real passion for their racing. The individuals you meet were really enthusiastic and it makes you look forward to getting out there again, when I can.”
Live In The Dream’s Breeders’ Cup challenge only became a possibility after his devastating Nunthorpe success during the height of summer, when the four-year-old bounced out and made every yard of the running in breath-taking fashion.
Although sent off a somewhat unfancied 28-1 shot, there was no fluke about the result, with top-class speedsters Highfield Princess and Bradsell unable to deal with the blistering early pace shown from West’s stable star.
“We went there with no pressure and just happy to be there,” continued West.
“We always thought York would suit him but when he ran over the five and half before, he didn’t quite perform as we thought, so you kind of don’t expect too much.
“Everything was right that day, it’s sprinting isn’t it, you could run it 10 times and it might be different – if something had broken a little better, or there had been a headwind or something, then it wouldn’t have been our day, but luckily it was and we really enjoyed it.
“It is something that will be etched into everyone’s heads for the rest of time.”
West’s meteoric rise in the second half of 2023 serves as a reminder of the fickle nature of training racehorses, and although enjoying some of the biggest days of his career, there is also relief that it has allowed him to continue operating in a sport where the price of triumph often comes at a premium.
He said: “In one term, it (this year) has meant survival. It has secured enough support and momentum to carry on and there were questions with the way racing is going whether it is a viable thing.
“When you have success like that, you are able to stick your head above water for a little bit and take a breath, ready to go in and do it all over again. If you can do that once in 10 years, I suppose it is enough to keep you going.
“I don’t think it has changed anything initially and we haven’t had a huge influx of owners or anything like that. But it is on the CV now and it has proven that given the ammunition, we have shown we can do it.”
However, the past six months have also brought the best of racing’s fabled camaraderie to West’s door, as he went from quietly plying his trade on the daily racing treadmill to hot property due to his rags to riches tale.
It was something the handler admits caught him by surprise, as he reflects on his spell in the spotlight and also the wealth of good wishes that came his way.
“I would never have expected the amount of support from the UK and when you are at an international event like that, it was not something I had ever encountered before,” said West.
“I enjoyed all of that and I got to meet so many people who were going through all of the same things – and it was great and really warming.
“You can become quite isolated as a trainer, as you are competing against each other all the time, but when things like that happen, you do realise the industry does support each other in its own unique way.”
The generosity of the tight-knit racing community saw West grow close to fellow Breeders’ Cup rookie Mick Appleby, as they both prepared for the trip of a lifetime.
It was a friendship formed over a makeshift starting bell prior to the journey to California and the Epsom handler hopes their bond stands the test of time once Live In The Dream and Big Evs start locking horns on the sprinting scene next season.
“It brought me and Mick Appleby closer together and getting Live In The Dream and Big Evs up against each other is surely going to happen,” said West.
“I think that will be a great rivalry, as long as I can swallow the odd defeat!
“I would look forward to that, as they both race in such a tenacious way and have similar styles, I will really look forward to that.
“We might have the edge on him next year, being a five-year-old against a three-year-old, but if he stays in training the following year, it could be some battle.”
He went on: “I know you get the jumpers and how the support for them builds each year as they come back, well there is a chance that this horse could be coming back three years in a row and he could be a bit of a star name – and if the rivalry is there too, then so be it.”
If winning that scintillating sprint showdown is high up on West’s 2024 wish list, then so is making his mark in the National Hunt sphere, with the Epsom handler daring to dream of smashing another glass ceiling in the near future.
He said: “The next ambition is a Grade One and I really want to push the jumping – I’ve actually got some great jumps stats!
“We’ve done the Group One, so now I want to win a Grade One as well, so watch this space.”
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