Michael O’Callaghan is widely considered to be one of the fastest-rising training talents in Irish flat racing. He has shown a notable knack for buying relatively inexpensive yearlings and breeze-up horses that he goes on to train to win maidens.
This ability hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the likes of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and Sheikh Fahad having come on board as owners.
With O’Callaghan having high-class performers Blue De Vega and Holy Cat, as well as a new crop of exciting two-year-olds to go to war with, he looks set to continue his rise up the training ranks in the months and years ahead. The 28-year-old trainer was good enough to sit down with Kevin Blake of attheraces.com to talk us through his equine team.
BLUE DE VEGA
4 b c Lope De Vega – Burning Heights
Rated 105, he won the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown as a juvenile and finished third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last year. He made an encouraging return when third in the Gladness Stakes at Naas.
“He’s in great order. He badly, badly needed the run on his comeback. He is a big strong colt that was very gross after the winter. We did all we could with him at home, but he was still very heavy going there. The plan for this season has been to drop him back to six furlongs, as he has a lot of natural speed, and I think we are going the right way with him. I’ve tweaked his training to focus on teaching him how to sprint and Pat Smullen was impressed with the pace he showed him last time and agrees that sprinting is the right job for him. The Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh has been his long-term target and he will be spot on for that.”
5 b g Royal Applause – Madam Ninette
Rated 86, he was placed in Group 3 company as a juvenile prior to falling down the ratings, but he returned to winning ways in a handicap at Naas in April.
“Things just didn’t go to plan with him at Navan. He got very lit up on the way to the start and just raced too freely in the race. I’d expect him to do better than that and we’ll look at the premier handicaps at the Curragh for him.”
ACT OF VALOUR
3 b c Harbour Watch – B Berry Brandy
Made it third-time lucky when winning a maiden at Roscommon by five lengths in May.
“He’s a lovely big horse that was showing plenty of ability last year, but had a setback that ruled him out for most of the season. It wasn’t the end of the world, as he was never a two-year-old type. He did very well over the winter and is laid back at home, so he just needed his first run back to get him started. He improved a lot from that and won well at Roscommon. We put the blinkers on him as he is a bit of a playboy at home and thinks the whole thing is a game, so we just wanted to make him concentrate. We used blinkers with full-size cups on him at Navan and reduced them to half that size for Roscommon and I’d say we’ll end up taking them off him altogether after he learns more, as he is very genuine. He looks like he’ll be a decent horse over a mile-and-a-quarter and I’d expect him to improve with racing. The intention is to run him in a mile-and-a-quarter premier handicap for three-year-olds only at Navan next month. If he does the job there, he might book his place in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot.”
3 b c Nathaniel – Sweet Lemon
Out of an unraced half-sister to Kingsbarns, he shaped with promise in both his starts in maidens.
“He’s going to be a lovely staying horse, but he’s very coltish at the minute and we’re going to get him gelded. He’s a fine big horse with a lot of scope and anything he does this year will be a bonus.”
3 ch f Kitten’s Joy – Holy Freud
Rated 93, she made a winning debut in a maiden at Leopardstown in August prior to finishing second in Group 3 company at the Curragh. She ran below form when stepped up to a mile at Leopardstown on her seasonal reappearance.
“I was a little bit disappointed with her at Leopardstown, but Pat Smullen was doing his best to convince me not to be. He felt that while she was fit enough, she wasn’t mentally switched on and the way the race panned out didn’t help her, as they went a stop-start pace. He couldn’t say that she didn’t stay the mile trip, so we’re going to give her another try at it. The plan is run in a premier handicap for three-year-olds only over a mile at the Curragh on Guineas weekend.”
MA FEE HEELA
3 b c Siyouni – Olympic Skater
Made it third-time lucky when winning a maiden at Dundalk in May.
“He’s just starting to go the right way now. He got very fresh in the spring and just had his own ideas about things. I decided to run him twice in quick succession just to stretch him and try to make a man of him and it seems to have worked as he’s much better at home since. Based on that, we were happy to take the hood off him and he won well at Dundalk last time. He could end up going either way in terms of trip, but there’s a conditions race over seven furlongs at Leopardstown in about a fortnight and we’ll be guided by what he does there. Hopefully he’ll improve with racing and end up being a stakes horse.”
NIGHT OF GLORY
3 b g Sea The Stars – Kesara
Built on his promising debut when winning a maiden at the Curragh in good style in May.
“He didn’t run last year as he was a growing horse and we were in no rush with him. He was a very heavy horse with a big cresty neck, so we gelded him and that has helped him no end. He’s about 16-1hh and 505kg now, so he’s a still a big boy. He has improved from work and worked all spring and he should keep improving. He was quite green when winning at the Curragh and was only getting the message late on. The plan is to run him in the Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh next time and I might just put a pair of cheekpieces on him, as a mile-and-a-quarter is the minimum for him and he might just need sharpening up against that better grade of horse. I think he’s capable of bigger and better things.”
3 b c Kodiac – Irina Princess
Rated 95, he won a maiden at Leopardstown and was placed in Group 3 company last season. He has been below that form in three starts this season.
“He was a grand, speedy, hardy two-year-old and it was probably his precocity that saw him perform so well last season. He had just been a bit all at sea in his first couple of runs this season and probably needs to come down the ratings before he gets competitive again. I’d say I’ll drop him to five furlongs and hopefully he’ll find his feet again. He wants a little ease in the ground.”
3 b f Helmet – Miss Brief
Rated 95, she won a maiden and finished second in a Listed race at the Curragh last season.
“She’s a lovely fast filly with a really good pedigree. She grew a lot over the winter and we’ll just be searching for black type for her this season. She had a little setback earlier this season that held us up, but hopefully she’ll be out in the middle of the summer. There’s a Listed race at Naas that Letters Of Note won a few years ago that we have in mind for her.”
2 b f Swiss Spirit – Starbotton
Made a promising debut when a close second in a maiden at Navan in April.
“She’s a lovely big filly. She was a bit fresh at home, so I decided to give her a run at Navan to help her settle down. She ran very well, but the ground was a little bit quicker than expected and she came home with a touch of sore shins, so we’ve had to slow down with her. It’s no harm, as she’s a scopey filly that will improve with time. I’d say she will always appreciate a little ease underfoot. She has a lot of natural speed and will hopefully make up into a black-type filly.”
2 b f Oasis Dream – Endless
An unraced filly that is closely related to Powerscourt and Kind (dam of Frankel).
“She’s very well-bred and is a lovely, scopey, good-looking filly. She won’t be out until the backend at the earliest and is more next year’s filly, but she’s one to look forward to.”
2 b c Dandy Man – Maria Milena
An unraced son of Dandy Man that realised €62,000 as a yearling, he is entered in the Two-Year-Old Trophy at Redcar.
“He’s a lovely big horse that isn’t an early type. He moves extremely well and is probably a six-furlong horse, but he won’t be running for a while yet.”
2 ch f Dream Ahead – Indian Express
A half-sister to the smart Ashdown Express, she shaped with promise on her debut when seventh to Alpha Centauri at Naas in May.
“She a lovely filly that does everything right at home, but she just got a bit of stage fright at Naas. I expect her to come on a lot from that and she should have no problem winning her maiden and will hopefully improve from there. There’s a six-furlong maiden at the Curragh in a few weeks that we have in mind for her.”
2 b c Dandy Man – Alchimie
Realised £100,000 as a yearling and shaped with promise on his debut in a maiden at Navan in April.
“He’s a big strong two-year-old that will improve plenty from his debut. He raced a bit greenly coming down the hill and was a bit on and off the bridle. Shane looked after him once he started doing that and he came home well late on. I’ve just given him a bit of time since that run, but he’ll be out again soon and hopefully won’t be long in winning his maiden.”
2 ch f Dandy Man – Angel Bright
Placed in all four of her starts in maidens thus far.
“She’s a lovely, sharp, little filly that is very genuine. She should be capable of winning a sprint maiden when things fall her way. She tries hard and is very sound, so I’m sure she’ll give her owners plenty of sport over the summer. Six furlongs shouldn’t be a problem for her.”
BLUE DE VEGA – Group 3 winner that will be switched to sprinting this season.
HOLY CAT – Exciting juvenile that should have more to give this season.
MUR HIBA – Talented two-year-old that should compete at stakes level.
NIGHT OF GLORY – Impressive maiden winner that looks stakes class.
CROWN LEAH – Made a highly-encouraging debut and looks a sure-fire winner.
POINT ZERO – Promising two-year-old that shaped with promise on debut.
ENDLESS DREAM – An unraced two-year-old that is closely related to Frankel.