The return of my weekly specials comes this Saturday, 29 June, at Caulfield.
One step back for two steps forward. This will be the experience for John O’Shea as he takes over the monolithic Darley stable next month.
Current head trainer Peter Snowden will step away from the global breeding and racing operation at the end of the autumn carnival.
But being the head trainer of Darley is no standard training gig, with the ominous presence of Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, one of the world’s most powerful men, looking over your shoulder.
While it may be the opportunity of a lifetime for John O’Shea, the transition from training to win, to training to breed will be the most difficult.
In 13 years of training, O’Shea has built up an impressive resume of 18 Group 1 wins for various owners. Upon taking the reins of Darley, he must come to grips with the loss of an opportunity – training champions. For within Darley, any sign of a potential champion sees a horse quickly retired or transferred to the Godolphin banner for greater prestige.
Over the past three years, Snowden has farewelled Sepoy, Helmet and Long John, all of whom he trained to be the best of their age group. But when reporting to Sheikh Mohammad, or “The Boss” as O’Shea describes, it would take a brave (read: suicidal) man to object to the ruler of Dubai’s directions.
A fortnight ago, O’Shea got a glimpse of the future when Steps In Time won the Group 1 Coolmore Classic.
O’Shea had trained Steps In Time since the start of her career but in preparation for his Darley move, the mare was transferred in February to Joe Pride, who is credited with Steps In Time’s breakthrough Group 1.
At Darley, winning colts get shipped overseas, winning mares get ushered to the breeding barn and winning geldings get sold for a premium because they have no role in the business.
O’Shea can farewell any opportunity of recapturing the magic of his two greatest training achievements, Private Steer and Racing To Win.
Private Steer raced from 2002 to 2004 under O’Shea to win three Group 1s and pick up $3.4million in prize money. But when Private Steer was retired, O’Shea jumped right back on the gravy train when Racing To Win entered his stable.
From 2004 to 2009, Racing To Win went even further, in a career that included 10 Group wins, five at Group 1 level, for career earnings of $3.7million.
When he takes over Darley’s Sydney and Melbourne stables, O’Shea will quickly find his hands full. Stepping up from the 105 horses currently listed under his name in training, he will triple his accountability in taking over Darley’s 309 in training.
But the increase in quantity isn’t necessarily an increase in quality. Going through each trainer’s listed horses, we can identify horses as A-Graders if they are proven at Group 1 level. There are also B-Graders who are Group capable, and the rest.
Snowden has four A-Graders in Complacent, Earthquake, Knoydart and Sessions.
He has a further 10 B-Graders in Albrecht, Barbed, Chiaramonte, Ghibellines, Kuroshio, Limes, Metastasio, Pinwheel, Safeguard and Sidestep.
O’Shea, however, may only have one A-Grader in Savvy Nature but he has six B-Graders in Bound For Earth, Diamond Oasis, Disclaimer, Gypsy Diamond, Lightinthenite and Lucky Lago.
These lists do not include Bernabeu and Kencella – who are no longer listed under O’Shea – or Guelph – who is assumedly retired – under Snowden.
Despite having a stable three times the size of O’Shea’s, Snowden only trains twice the amount of A and B-Graders. It illustrates how much talent is drained from Snowden each year and what O’Shea can expect. It is presumably why leading Sydney trainer Chris Waller showed no interest in discussing the role when approached.
An average tenure of five years is short for a coveted position like Darley head trainer and begs the question, what motivates a trainer?
At some stage in everyone’s life they will be offered the chance to build their own legacy or one for The Boss, and everyone has a price.