THE instructions from David O’Meara to his jockey Daniel Tudhope could not have been more simple ahead of the Prix de l’Abbaye, Europe’s premier Group One sprint.
“Get as good a start as you can, and try to get a little left if possible,” suggested the North Yorkshire trainer as he legged Tudhope up on the unheralded Move In Time at Longchamp last Sunday.
Job done, he then tried to find a vantage point on European racing’s showcase day to watch an 18-runner cavalry charge that would come to represent the pinnacle of O’Meara’s career 56 seconds later.
It did not matter that O’Meara’s view was obscured – Tudhope followed the instructions to the letter, even keeping sufficient “fuel in the tank” for a late and decisive thrust to the winning post that saw Move In Time edge out Rangali by a head with another Yorkshire horse, Moviesta, a fast finishing third.
“It was a great win, even if a little bit unexpected,” O’Meara told The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s season-ending meeting at York where he hopes to be crowned leading trainer for the second successive season.
Keeping it simple goes to the heart of the O’Meara modus operandi. Horse racing, he says, is challenging enough without making it even more complicated.
In just his fifth year training horses at Arthington Barn Stables at Nawton on the cusp of the North York Moors, the ever thoughtful trainer has become the latest standard-bearer for Yorkshire racing thanks to a phenomenal run of success in 2014.
It may not be over yet. Move In Time, a horse previously trained at Hambleton by Bryan Smart, could face another international assignment in Hong Kong while G Force – O’Meara’s first Group One winner when landing the prestigious Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock last month – is set to line up in the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot in a week’s time.
The remarkable performances of these sprinters, plus last month’s Ayr Gold Cup hero Louis The Pious, is testament to O’Meara’s ability to spot a horse’s untapped potential.
“Move In Time was good at three, lost his way as a four-year-old and had dropped down to 85 when he joined us in March last year. He seems to save his best for Longchamp, on two previous runs there he was beaten a head and a half-length,” said the trainer.
“G Force was a once raced maiden when he was picked up by Nick Bradley of Middleham Park Racing from the Richard Hannon yard. To win a Group One at three is fantastic – he should get better. Next year’s programme should take care of itself, the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, the July Cup at Newmarket and back to Haydock.”
Even O’Meara admits to being uncertain of G Force’s true potential when he travelled to Newmarket to see the horse.
He says it is important to examine a prospective horse’s joints and knees – frailties, he says, are very difficult to spot watching TV replays. These, stresses O’Meara, are not impulse buys that threaten the bank balance.
It was only when G Force started bolting up the Nawton gallops that O’Meara realised that he had a very special horse. “What he did was exceptional,” said the trainer, who is very deliberate with his words and very rarely resorts to hyperbole. “Haydock was vindication of the form he showed at home.”
In conversation, it is clear that O’Meara’s forensic knowledge of racing is setting new standards of excellence as he fields phone calls from prospective owners. His prize money (£1.58m) is up on last year, but the number of winners (102) is slightly down.
Asked whether accrued prize money, winners or Group One success is more important, he pauses and then points to Move In Time and G Force’s wins at the highest level.
These, he says, are critical to attracting better horses so he can have a chance of fulfilling his ultimate ambition – winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s blue riband middle distance race.
Few would bet against this fiercely ambition son of County Cork, who grew up in Fermoy – the town where the legendary 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman was bred.
Though not from a racing background, pony racing and the point-to-point circuit fired his imagination and his inevitable career as a jockey got off to the best possible start when he partnered Bells Life to victory over Aintree’s Grand National fences for Philip Hobbs.
Intriguingly, Richard Johnson, the second most successful jump jockey in history and long-term stalwart of the Hobbs yard, recalls how O’Meara would “soak up information like a sponge” and “just got on with the job”. He added: “He keeps it simple and very straightforward.”
Despite moving to Yorkshire to ride for Tim Easterby and the likes of Sue and Harvey Smith, and enjoying success on horses like Turgeonev, he realised a career as journeyman jump jockey was unsustainable – his great friend Keith Mercer, the Scottish National-winning rider was also struggling for opportunities – and the chance to go into training with businessman Roger Fell proved irresistible in 2010. He did not even know of the Prix de l’Abbaye for example.
O’Meara is the first to admit that he spent his time as a jockey observing trainers – he says he simply cannot list all that he learned from the Smiths and their “university of life” at Craiglands Farm on Bingley Moor.
Even he concedes that he is surprised at the rate of progress as a trainer. From just a handful of horses, he now has 100 in care and O’Meara is not afraid to muck in each morning – he’ll either be riding out or in his wellington boots clearing out drains.
Two inspired decisions have also helped him. First, he chose to recruit a young team of staff who would buy into his methods. Second, he had an extraordinary stroke of luck when the aforementioned Tudhope started riding out for O’Meara in a bid to resurrect his career.
They have become racing’s new dream team. O’Meara says his jockey, The Yorkshire Post’s guest racing columnist, is among the “top five, six or seven in Britain”. Tudhope, he says, would be even more respected if he rode in the South – “but he wouldn’t have as many winners.”
As for the future, David O’Meara thought 2013 would be a very tough act to follow. Now he has even higher standards to maintain in 2015. He is relishing the challenge.
“It’s tough,” he says. “If you don’t do it, someone else will. Just keep it simple and we’ll see where we go.”
The David O’Meara story...
Name: David O’Meara.
Date and place of birth: February 3, 1977, Fermoy, County Cork.
Biggest win as jockey: Bells Life, 2000 Foxhunters Chase, Aintree.
Stables: Arthington Barn Stables, Nawton, North Yorkshire.
First major win as trainer: Blue Bajan, 2011 Henry II Stakes, Sandown.
2014 Big race winners:
Group One: G Force, Betfred Sprint Cup, Haydock (September 6); Move In Time, Prix de l’Abbaye, Longchamp (October 5).
Group Two: Custom Cut, Joel Stakes, Newmarket (September 26).
Group Three: Custom Cut, Desmond Stakes, Leopardstown (August 14); Custom Cut, Strensall Stakes, York (August 23); Penitent, The John Of Gaunt Stakes, Haydock (May 31).
Listed: Custom Cut, Midsummer Stakes, Windsor (June 28); Custom Cut, Pomfret Stakes, Pontefract (June 27); That Is The Spirit, Surrey Stakes, Epsom
Handicaps: Louis The Pious, Buckingham Palace Stakes, Royal Ascot (June 20); Louis The Pious, Ayr Gold Cup, Ayr (September 20); Out Do, Great St Wilfrid Stakes, Ripon (August 16); Watchable, Bold Lad Sprint, The Curragh (September 14).