IF 2015 is anything like the last 12 months for Toast Of New York’s trainer Jamie Osborne, the popular Yorkshireman is in for some ride.
A former National Hunt jockey who only narrowly failed to ride 1,000 winners and struck gold 12 times at the Cheltenham Festival – more than anyone else in the 1990s – Hull-born Osborne has made his name in the training game on the Flat.
A clutch of Royal Ascot winners, the 2003 champion two-year-old Milk It Mick and admirable stayer Geordieland have been the main bright sparks among the trainer’s 500-plus winners, but in Toast Of New York he has a horse shooting for the stars – not that you would have known it a year ago.
As Osborne sat down and looked forward to 2014, his attractively-named American-bred colt had been beaten in maidens at Leicester and Kempton before making it third time lucky in a nothing race at Wolverhampton.
Osborne, however, knew he had something.
“I think we always knew he was pretty smart, but he was still big and weak when he went to Leicester and if I remember rightly, I had a fairly chunky bet on him at Kempton,” reflected Osborne, who grew up near Wetherby.
“He was pretty unlucky on the day to finish second as he was hanging left and ran green and we then sent him to Wolverhampton. Unfortunately, as he was a 1-3 favourite, there was little chance of me getting my money back!”
While that triumph under the floodlights on a sparsely-attended Friday night may have seemed close to meaningless in the great scheme of things, it was a victory that sparked dreams of Dubai for Osborne and owner Michael Buckley.
Sent off an 11-1 shot at Meydan in March, Toast Of New York could be called the winner of the UAE Derby from a long way out.
Osborne said: “I was pitching my judgement against people who have far more experience at that level. When you’re coming up against the likes of Godolphin, Aidan O’Brien and Doug Watson, I don’t think it would be natural if you didn’t start to question your own judgement and have doubts. After the relief came the excitement that we now knew what we hoped – that we had a very talented horse capable of competing at that level.”
As Osborne and Buckley flew home from the desert, races like the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby were discussed, but it did not take the trainer long to realise his pride and joy would need more time to recover from his Dubai exertions and the Belmont Derby in early July was identified as the next port of call.
What followed was Toast Of New York’s most disappointing effort of the campaign as his usual finishing kick failed to materialise in the grass, and Osborne soon identified a lung infection as a viable excuse.
The recovery mission took place at Del Mar, with Toast Of New York switching to Polytrack in the Pacific Classic.
Osborne admits he was feeling the nerves in the California sunshine, but his charge did him proud, getting his career back on track by chasing home the unbeaten Shared Belief, at the time rated the best three-year-old in America.
Having this time returned from another foreign adventure with confidence repaired, Osborne began preparing Toast Of New York for his biggest fight yet – a tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Few gave the British challenger much chance of winning. Why would they? European raiders have scarcely run up to their best in the race, even less so when dirt has been the terrain. How could a man nicknamed ‘Austin Powers’ by the locals succeed when so many had failed?
Osborne said: “We knew that between Del Mar and the Breeders’ Cup, the horse had physically thrived. He was going through a period of development that meant he was just a much bigger and stronger horse.”
The impossible dream almost came within a whisker of becoming reality.
Toast Of New York showed class and courage in equal measure to take part in one of the most pulsating climaxes in Breeders’ Cup history, heartbreakingly missing out by a nose to Bayern, finishing ahead of a horse who won two legs of the American Triple Crown in California Chrome and reversing form with Shared Belief.
As if the agony of such a narrow reverse was not enough, connections were then given a glimmer of hope ‘Toast’ could be handed victory by the stewards, who investigated apparent interference afflicted by Bayern shortly after the stalls opened.
After a wait which must have seemed like an eternity for Osborne, the stewards eventually decided the placings should remain unaltered.
Osborne said: “It was an extraordinary mixture of relief, pride and disappointment. Would we have settled for that result getting off the plane? Of course we would. But when you get nutted like that, you’re bound to look back and think would things have been different if we’d had a different draw, or this or that had gone differently. What it proved beyond doubt is that we’re not inferior to any of them.”
As Osborne looks forward, he can quite rightly claim to have one of the very best middle-distance horses on the planet.
In little over three months’ time, Toast Of New York will hopefully be lining up as one of the main protagonists for the world’s richest race – the Dubai World Cup – a world away from Wolverhampton.
“Now he’s proven himself on dirt, everyone is saying the Meydan dirt will be nothing like the dirt at Santa Anita, but I just think Toast is one of those exceptionally rare horses who is incredibly flexible,” said Osborne, who was among those to persuade jockey Jamie Spencer to abort his retirement.
“So far, I think we can be reasonably satisfied that he has achieved as much as he could have and if things continue to go the way they are, he has to be odds-on to win a Grade One as a four-year-old as I do think he could be an even better horse next year. That could come in a Dubai World Cup or a Breeders’ Cup Classic.”
One element of the Toast game-plan going forward Osborne seemingly will not have to worry about now is the jockey situation, with Spencer reversing his decision to quit the saddle at the end of this year.
“Jamie is a friend of mine and a friend of Michael’s and he knows the ride is his for as long as he wants it,” said the trainer. “I don’t think you can make a decision like he has, changing your mind on retirement, because of just one horse, but I think it’s fair to assume a fair chunk of the decision did include Toast Of New York. How do you walk away from a horse like him?”
“I think you and I know there are a lot of trainers out there capable of getting the results given the ammunition, but there does seem to be a perception in some quarters that only a handful of trainers can do it at the very top level.”
As such, Jamie Osborne – always a ‘glass half full’ jockey and trainer – hopes that it is his Lambourn yard which breaks the mould in 2015 and is the toast of racing.