From Kilkenny to Sydney: O’Connor is All Go

Anyone who was even loosely following the build-up to last weekend’s Golden Slipper in Australia couldn’t have failed to see the Aushorse promotional videos trumpeting the importance of that Group 1 contest as a stallion-making race. Indeed, since Todman (Aus) won the first running in 1957, such notable sires as Vain (Aus), Marscay (Aus), Rory’s Jester (Aus), Canny Lad (Aus), Flying Spur (Aus) and Pierro (Aus) have all joined the Golden Slipper roll of honour. On Saturday, however, Lady Of Camelot (Aus) failed to read the script.

One of four fillies in the race, the daughter of Written Tycoon (Aus) charged home late to deny Coleman (Aus) (Pierata {Aus}) the spoils by a short-head. The short-priced favourite was her stable-mate, the hitherto unbeaten Storm Boy (Aus) (Justify), who had to settle for third.

A homebred, Lady Of Camelot has ticked a major ambition off the list of her breeder Sir Owen Glenn of Go Bloodstock. She is far from the New Zealander’s first major winner, with his colours having been carried with distinction by such as the G1 Australian Derby and G1 Rosehill Guineas winner Criterion (NZ) (Sebring {Aus}) and the G1 Victoria Derby winner Monaco Consul (NZ) (High Chaparral (Ire). Indeed, he is also a significant owner, with Coolmore and others, in Storm Boy. But for a breeder in the throes of establishing an elite broodmare band, racing a homebred filly of this calibre is special indeed.

You’ll hear no argument in that regard from Steve O’Connor, the director of Go Bloodstock. The Irishman is now a fully assimilated resident of Sydney’s Northern Beaches and during an early evening dog walk, which he combined with a telephone call to the TDN, it is easy to discern that he is still basking in the glow of a truly super Saturday.

“It was really fantastic,” says O’Connor, who has spent the last decade in Australia since graduating from the Godolphin Flying Start programme. “We felt going into the race that she was a better and stronger filly than she was going into the Blue Diamond, and she had run second in the Blue Diamond. She came back bigger and better, and [jockey] Blake Shinn said that she should have won the Blue Diamond. He thought that she could win the Golden Slipper if he took a sit just off the lead like he did with Capitalist.”

He adds, “It was one of Sir Owen’s dreams to win the Golden Slipper and to do it with a homebred, it means an awful lot to him and to the whole operation. It’s been a fantastic week.”

O’Connor’s own background has been as peripatetic as that of his boss. Having lived in Kentucky prior to applying to the Flying Start course, he worked with the late Gerry Dilger at Dromoland Farm and Ian Brennan in Florida at Vinery Stables (now known as Stonestreet Stables).

“I was pretty close to Tom Ryan in Kentucky and he suggested to meet Henry Field because SF Bloodstock were increasing their investment in Australia. I was very keen to work with Henry in the infancy of Newgate Stud, so I came here to do that and that was ten years ago now,” he says.

O’Connor’s current role means he still has close ties to Field as Go Bloodstock is a significant investor in the colts’ syndicates set up by Newgate Stud and China Horse Club in a bid to get in almost at the ground level with future stallion prospects.

Sir Owen Glenn’s involvement in racing was sparked during a party on his yacht in New Zealand when one of his guests managed to encourage him to buy a share in a horse.

“That was Second Coming who went on to be third in the Melbourne Cup,” O’Connor notes.

Second Coming (NZ) (Oak Ridge {Fr}) was third in 2000 to his stable-mate Brew (NZ) (Sir Tristram {NZ}), the pair having been trained by Glenn’s compatriot Mike Moroney. The trainer’s brother, well known international bloodstock agent Paul Moroney, just so happened to have been at the boat party and he has been involved with helping Glenn throughout the ensuing years.

“Sir Owen was always interested in racing but that prompted him to get more involved, especially when he was spending more time down here, rather than in the US, after he sold his company,” says O’Connor of that initial close call with Second Coming.

“He focuses on this as his main interest and business now that he’s retired and doesn’t have his company any more. He’s always wanted to associate himself with the best partners and we are part of Henry’s colts’ syndicate and we continue to try to create an elite broodmare band. Out of that we want to produce top-class fillies and perhaps a stallion at some stage. That’s the dream. One of the dreams was to breed a Golden Slipper winner and we managed to do that last week. Hopefully what we create is a bit of a legacy.”

He continues, “Sir Owen is very much a sportsman. He’s involved in the New Zealand Olympic Committee, New Zealand hockey, he used to own a rugby league team in New Zealand called the Warriors. He loves the competition and the challenge of it all.”

In the case of Lady Of Camelot, the sporting challenge appears only to be just getting going, despite her early success in the G3 Widden S. prior to the Blue Diamond and Golden Slipper. According to O’Connor, she came out of the race “bouncing” and a run in the G1 Inglis Sires Produce on April 1 is now on the cards.

“She’s won the Golden Slipper, she’s the champion two-year-old and we feel there’s nothing to lose by going there. Sir Owen wants to see his best horses run,” he says.

The filly has heaped even greater acclaim on her young dam, Miss Debutante (Aus) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}), who was bred by Kia Ora Stud and raced for Glenn. Like her most celebrated offspring to date, she was trained by Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, and she won the Listed Coolmore Denise’s Joy S. at three.

“They always thought she was better than that so we always gave her the best of matings,” says O’Connor of Miss Debutante, who is now three from three for stakes-winning offspring at the age of only ten. Her first foal Queen Of The Ball (Aus) (I Am Invincible {Ire}) won four Group 3 races for Michael Freedman and was eighth in the Golden Slipper. Next up was the G3 Gimcrack S. winner Platinum Jubilee (Aus) (Zoustar {Aus}), who also made the Slipper line-up and was second in the G2 Silver Slipper.

“She’s a neat, strong, balanced Fastnet mare so we bred her to stallions with a bit of size and scope,” explains O’Connor. “Lady Of Camelot was her third foal and she has trumped them all.

“Miss Debutante is a very special mare: all the Australians are telling me that they can’t remember a mare to have produced three group winners with her first three foals. She has a Flying Artie yearling colt, who we’ve retained, and she also has an I Am Invincible weanling filly. I think what the mare puts into them is precocity, they’re all very forward in their thinking.”

With three celebrated daughters of Miss Debutante alone already queuing for entry to the Go Bloodstock broodmare band, the hardest task may be keeping the numbers to a manageable level.

O’Connor says, “We have 40 mares. Every year we plan to try to make it 30 and then it stays at 40. We’re getting to the stage now, which is what Sir Owen wanted, where the broodmare band is self-replenishing. We wanted to be able to breed fillies that could then retire to the broodmare band and we’ve been able to achieve that this year. We have four or five stakes-winning mares that will retire. We will try to keep that number under 40 but we do need a critical mass because we are part of those colts’ syndicate and they’ve had a lot of success in the last five years with horses like Stay Inside, Russian Revolution, Wild Ruler, and Artorius, who ran at Ascot. So we try to keep a critical mass to support those horses.”

He adds, “Of the 40, five mares are in New Zealand and Sir Owen has a remarkable strike-rate there as two of those mares are Group 1 producers. With him being from New Zealand we like to keep a presence there, and with the changes there and the optimism, we are just starting to increase our investment in New Zealand again.”

A globetrotting businessman, Glenn has already had his colours aired in Britain recently aboard Hoo Ya Mal (GB) (Territories {Ire}), whom be bought for £1.2 million at the Goffs London Sale after the horse had finished second in the Derby to Desert Crown (GB). He subsequently won the G3 March S. at Goodwood and, now with Waterhouse and Bott, was second in the G2 Petaluma Hill S. last October.

“There’s a good race in him, and that is likely to be during the Brisbane Winter Carnival this time,” says O’Connor.

“Sir Owen owns an apartment in London and he spends the European summers there and any opportunity we were given to race a horse at Ascot we would take. It might be a year too soon for Lady Of Camelot but she is a big, scopey filly and she is quite lightly raced. We like to think that she still isn’t the finished article and if that is the case then she might be one for next year. If we have one good enough we wouldn’t hesitate to be there.”

By Emma Berry – Thoroughbred Daily News