Trainer Carl O’Callaghan patted Kinsale King on the shoulder before galloping the 4-year-old gelding on the main track Thursday at Hollywood Park and said, “You’re my birthday present, right?”
The Irish-born O’Callaghan seeks his first stakes victory with Kinsale King in the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes Sunday, one day before his 34th birthday.
Kinsale King, coming off a sharp allowance score at Santa Anita on Oct. 30, will face more experienced stakes horses in his added-money debut in the Grade III test at six furlongs, but O’Callaghan relishes his role as “Underwood Underdog.”
Kinsale King drew the rail in a field of seven.
“I know we’re stepping into deep water, but I think he deserves a shot,” said O’Callaghan after a front-running three-length victory in a crisp 1:08.52 for six furlongs in his last start under Martin Garcia at 61.60-to-1 odds.
Kinsale King’s last start was his first for O’Callaghan after the gelding was transferred to him following a layoff since January.
“I got him at Del Mar,” explained O’Callaghan. “He had a lot of issues with his feet, a lot of quarter-crack problems. My blacksmith, Robert Guest from England, is a real talent. I worked him on the turf at Del Mar to save his feet and got him straightened out.
“I brought him here to Hollywood Park after Del Mar,” said O’Callaghan. “The Underwood was my goal since I got him.”
First, however, he needed the comeback race at Santa Anita. “I talked to a half dozen different agents who didn’t want to ride him,” said O’Callaghan. “Alonso Quinonez was listed to ride him but he got sick the morning of the race, and I got Martin as a replacement. I thought he would run big, and he ran real big.”
Kinsale King returned to Hollywood Park to work a half mile in a bullet 46.80 seconds Nov. 10, encouraging O’Callaghan that the race had not taken too much out of him.
“He’s extremely fast but doesn’t have to be on the lead,” said O’Callaghan. “Santa Anita was speed-favoring the day he won, and I took advantage of the way the track was playing.”
Kinsale King, a Kentucky-bred son of Yankee Victor, is owned by Super Horse Inc., nom de course for Dr. Patrick Sheehy. “He is from the town of Kinsale in County Cork, not far from where I grew up in County Clare,” said O’Callaghan.
O’Callaghan, who took out his training license last year, has seen a stable of five at this time last year grow to 35. “A lot of the credit has to go to Dr. Sheehy,” said O’Callaghan. “He showed a lot of confidence in me and put me on the map. He bought some 2-year-olds this year.”
O’Callaghan listed Super Horse, Highlander Racing and Andreas Loizu as his three main clients and credited David Greaves and Norman Rodriguez as his two primary assistants.
O’Callaghan earned valuable experience before going on his own. Although his family was not in racing — his father is a musician — O’Callaghan was interested in horses from his early youth.
“I played around with ponies all my life, left school when I was 12 and bought a one-way ticket to New York in 1990,” said O’Callaghan. “I hooked on with John Kimmel when I was 16, worked for him for seven years, then worked for Todd Pletcher for seven years. I came to California three years ago and never went back. I freelanced for Matt Chew and Lisa Lewis before I took out my license.
“When I was with Pletcher, I went to Dubai with Host and galloped horses like Scat Daddy and Magna Graduate,” continued O’Callaghan. “I got on a fast sprinter in New York for him every morning named Forest Danger. Kinsale King reminds me a lot of him.”
Just as Zenyatta — the $5-million superstar mare of racing — fades into the limelight with her retirement, Lava Man — the $5-million superstar gelding — returns to center stage at Hollywood Park.
“I think he’s ready,” said trainer Doug O’Neill Thursday after the 8-year-old gelding six furlongs in a bullet 1:13.60 Wednesday under regular exercise rider Tony Romero in his final drill for the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap on Dec. 12. “He looks great.”
The three-time Hollywood Gold Cup winner, who returned to training in September following a one-year retirement, will make his first start since July, 2008, in the Grade III test at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track.
“His return has been a big boost to the barn,” said O’Neill. “He’s a champion. To have a champion around on a daily basis is really great.”
O’Neill said Lava Man’s return following stem-cell therapy to his front ankles at Alamo Pintado in Los Olivos has been healthy for the horse. “Tom Hudson, who manages Magali Farms where he was at, said he was depressed when he wasn’t doing much,” said O’Neill. “He seems like a happy camper here. With the exercise and all, he enjoys the action.”
Meet-leading jockey Joel Rosario will ride Lava Man for the first time in the Native Diver. Rosario will become the 13th jockey to ride the venerable gelding, who has won 17 of 46 starts and earned $5,268,706. O’Neill and Rosario teamed to win the race last year with Slew’s Tizzy.
O’Neill nominated High Court Drama and Square Eddie to the Native Diver along with Lava Man. Also nominated are Cigar Man, Deal Breaker, Mast Track, Neko Bay, One Track Mind, Richard’s Kid, Times Gone By, Tres Borrachos, Viscount and Whatsthescript.
Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale said Thursday he was still considering whether or not to start Cat by the Tale in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap Saturday. The 4-year-old filly drew post four in a field of 11 in the Grade II test for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track.
“I’m weighing the options,” said Drysdale of the Irish import who has made all five of her United States starts on turf. “She has trained well on it (Cushion Track.)”
Cat by the Tale has been a model of consistency in California with two firsts, one second and two thirds in five starts, including a third in the Grade II Las Palmas Handicap on the Santa Anita turf in her last start on Nov. 6.
Drysdale sent out Model to a second-place finish in the Bayakoa last year behind Briecat, who is back to defend honors in a wide-open race. Briecat seeks to join Star Parade, Starrer and Manistique as two-time winners of the race.
FINISH LINES: Joseph Talamo will be out of the country next week. “He leaves Sunday night for Japan, arrives there Tuesday and rides in a Jockey Challenge at Happy Valley Wednesday,” said agent Scotty McClellan. “From there he goes to Hong Kong, where he rides California Flag in the $1.8-million Hong Kong Sprint next Sunday.” California Flag, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, is trained by Brian Koriner. Other horses with California connections scheduled to compete in rich races at Hong Kong are Black Mamba for trainer John Sadler and Ferneley for trainer Ben Cecil*…Trainer *Kathy Walsh said that Who’s Up, winner of the Generous Stakes Saturday, would pass on the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19. “He’s a nice horse; we’ll get him ready for a winter campaign,” she said…Jockey Jorge Herrera suffered two fractured ribs in a spill aboard Continental Dancer in the eighth race on Wednesday…Thoroughbred owner and award-winning film writer and director David Milch is beginning work on a new series about the racetrack for HBO called “Luck”…*Jerry Antonucci* will be the guest of Kurt Hoover on Inside Scoop Saturday at 11:30 a.m. by the paddock tote board.
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