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 Fahad having come on board as an owner with him in the last year.
With O’Callaghan having a live 2,000 Guineas contender Blue De Vega, potential Group winners such as Letters Of Note, Now Or Never and Military Angel, 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 27-year-old trainer was good enough to sit down with with Kevin Blake for attheraces.com to talk us through his equine team.
ACT OF VALOUR
2 b c Harbour Watch – B Berry Brandy
An unraced two-year-old that is out of a half-sister to Strong Suit and realised 75,000gns as a yearling.
“This is a lovely horse, but he’s had a setback so he won’t be seen on the track until the second half of the season. He’ll be well worth waiting for.”
4 br g Marju – Radha
Rated 79, he made a promising winning debut at Dundalk in December and was subsequently bought by Qatar Racing. He made an encouraging seasonal reappearance in a handicap at Cork in April last year, but didn’t reappear after that.
“Qatar Racing bought him off me after he won his maiden at Dundalk and got an official rating of 90. Things didn’t happen for him in his only start as a three-year-old last year, as he was a little bit sick when he came home from it and then picked up a fracture. That put him out for the year and Qatar Racing decided to sell him, so I took a chance and bought him back. He’s down to a mark of 79 and is still unexposed, so if he retains most of his ability, he should be competitive in sprint handicaps. He has been gelded and got very heavy over the winter, so it’ll be the middle of the summer at the earliest before he makes his return.”
3 b c Acclamation – Sheer Bliss
Has shown promise in his two starts to date in maidens.
“He’s a lovely, slow-maturing horse that didn’t run as a two-year-old. I thought he ran a lovely race at the Curragh, as I had probably left him a gallop short going into it. He shaped well for a long way before taking a blow and Kieren looked after him thereafter. The ground was totally against him at Leopardstown last time. He’s a good-moving horse, but I thought when he acted on it the first day at the Curragh that he’d get away with it at Leopardstown, but he didn’t. Good ground and at least a mile is what he wants and he should be up to winning a maiden.”
6 b f Strategic Prince – Laemeen
Rated 72, she joined O’Callaghan last season and went on to win a handicap at the Curragh and finish in the frame on a couple of occasions after that.
“She disappointed us a bit on her return at Cork, but many of ours have just been taking a run to sharpen them up this season and she duly improved a lot when we stepped her up to seven furlongs at Leopardstown last time. I thought Kieren gave her a great ride to bring her in between horses, as she seems to quicken much better going through horses than around them. Running so well over seven furlongs gives us more options with the races we can run her in and while she handles soft ground very well, she should be fine on good ground.”
BLUE DE VEGA
3 b c Lope De Vega – Burning Heights
Rated 110, he impressed when winning a maiden at Naas in September and followed up in the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown a month later.
“He did really well over the winter and I’m very happy with how he has progressed physically. He has been training and working well, but he is taking a little bit of time to come to hand, so it’s a possibility that the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas might come a couple of weeks too soon for him. We’ve always said that if he was 100%, he would run at Newmarket, but if not we would have no problem waiting with him. The French and Irish 2,000 Guineas are obvious alternatives. In terms of his trip, he has a lot of natural speed, but you can’t get away from the fact that he’s out of a Montjeu mare and from a stout German family. Physically, he looks more of a middle-distance horse too. We’ll take it race-by-race, but I’d imagine he’ll step up in trip at some stage. He’s a genuine good ground horse and won’t want extremes.”
3 b f Bushranger – Creekhaven
A half-sister to the smart sprinter Lechevalier Choisi, she lost all chance when badly missing the break on her debut at Roscommon in September.
“She missed the break very badly on her debut at Roscommon last year and left herself an impossible task. She went a bit weak on us after that and she went back to her owner’s farm for a good break. She’s been back with us a month or so and I’m happy with how she’s done in physical terms over the winter. Last season she was working well enough at home to suggest she could compete in a maiden, so hopefully she can carry that through this season.”
LETTERS OF NOTE
4 b f Azamour – Boo Boo Bear
Rated 102, she progressed nicely last season culminating in a victory in a Listed win at Naas in July and a solid run in Group 3 company at the Curragh.
“We decided to leave her off for a good break after her last run back in August as she had been on the go for quite a long time at that stage. She went down to her owner’s farm in Limerick and has come back in really good condition. She’s done so well, it will take her a bit of time to come to hand, but that’s no harm as she wants good or firmer ground. She’s a pure sprinter, she has a lot of speed, and given how well she showed up against the older sprinters last season as a three-year-old, you’d have to hope she’ll make up into a real good sprinter this season. I’d have no problem running her over five furlongs, either. It wouldn’t surprise me if she improves this season and she’ll be entered in the Group 1 sprints at Royal Ascot. She might start off in the Ballyogan Stakes at the Curragh.”
4 b f Makfi – Sally Wood
Rated 70, she progressed to win a handicap at Killarney in August and ran well off her revised mark.
“She took a bit of time to work the game out last season. We fancied her at Galway, but she just showed her inexperience in tight quarters in amongst horses and that cost her on the day. I was very happy with her comeback run at Leopardstown, as a lot of mine have been improving for the run, so hopefully she’ll step up and win again. She wants good or softer ground and a mile-and-a-quarter seems to suit her.”
4 b f Big Brown – Hannabarbera
Rated 102, she progressed into a smart performer last season, finishing in the frame in Listed and Group 3 company. She was unplaced on her return to action on the opening day of the season at the Curragh.
“She ran a satisfactory race on her comeback at the Curragh in the context of most of ours seeming to need their first run of the season. She came out of that well and the big aim is to win a stakes race with her. She is ground versatile and trips around a mile suit her. There is a Listed race Goodwood for her in a few weeks that is under consideration.”
NOW OR NEVER
3 b f Bushranger – Queenofthefairies
Rated 104, she ran out the impressive winner of a maiden at the Galway Festival prior to finishing second in the Group 2 Futurity Stakes at the Curragh. She mad a promising return to action when second in the Leopardstown 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes.
“I was delighted with her comeback run at Leopardstown. We had a nice bit of work done with her, but she hadn’t quite come in her coat and with most of ours seeming to come on from their first run this year, I’d be hopeful there is more to come from her. I think we will let her take her chance in the French 1,000 Guineas at Deauville. The straight mile will suit her and the prospect of a softer surface would be a help to her, as she’ll always appreciate an ease in the ground. Her pedigree would suggest that there would be a slight doubt about her getting a mile, but I don’t think it will be a problem for her at all.”
2 ch f Dragon Pulse – Diamond Duchess
An unraced two-year-old that is out of a three-time winner at up to a mile-and-a-quarter, she realised €50,000 as a yearling.
“She’s a big, strong, well-made filly that does everything very well. She’ll be out in the middle of the summer.”
2 b c Kodiac – Irina Princess
An unraced two-year-old that is from the family of Halo’s Princess, he realised 95,000gns at the Craven Breeze-Up Sale at Newmarket in April.
“I really liked his breeze and I bought him for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum. I don’t expect we’ll have to wait too long for him to run and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what he can do on the track.”
BLUE DE VEGA - Impressive last season and could be a Classic contender.
LETTERS OF NOTE - High-class sprinter that is open to more improvement.
NOW OR NEVER - Group-placed already and set to run in the French 1,000 Guineas.
MILITARY ANGEL - Smart performer that will compete at stakes level.
BAINNE - Handicapped to win again soon.
ATLAS - Twice-raced maiden that is open to improvement.
AGGRESSION - Well handicapped and unexposed sort.