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Thomond O’Mara

Thomond O’Mara watched the feature race from Galway on Sunday, the Guinness Handicap Chase, on a television screen at The Curragh with a saddle in his hand. He watched as Paul Townend gave his horse Eagle’s Pass a squeeze over the third last fence, he watched as the rider sat motionless down into the dip over the last two, as he stole a peak over his right shoulder on the run to the home turn, and as he got low in the saddle and asked Eagle’s Pass to go on up the hill.

Eagle’s Pass complied. Eagle’s Pass loves that Galway hill. Remarkable, then – fourth in a GPT, third in one Galway Hurdle, second in another – that it was his first time coming up it in front.

Job done at Galway, O’Mara put the saddle that he was holding on Castle Bar Sling’s back, legged Wayne Lordan up into it, and watched as the pair of them stayed on best of all up the stands side to land the Irish Cambridgeshire. As half-hours in racing go, they don’t get much better than this.

There was no surreptitious reasoning behind the trainer’s decision to go to The Curragh and not to Galway. It’s a shorter spin from Fethard to The Curragh than it is from Fethard to Galway. Simples.

Not that he didn’t fancy Castle Bar Sling. On the contrary, he thought that his horse had a decent chance, as decent a chance as you can think that any horse in a 21-runner handicap can have, and way better than odds of 20/1 suggested.

That said, if you had told the trainer at the start of the season that Castle Bar Sling was going to win one big handicap and asked him to name it, he would have said no problem: the nine-furlong Premier Handicap at Leopardstown in mid-July. Winner of the race last year and primed for it again this year off just a 6lb higher mark, O’Mara couldn’t fully understand how he got beaten into second place. Now he knows. The filly who beat him was Bible Belt, who won a listed race on her next run, and who won the Group 3 Dance Design Stakes on Sunday an hour and a half before O’Mara put Castle Bar Sling’s saddle on his back.

The yard is flying. Four winners from seven runners between last Wednesday and Sunday tells you as much. That said, O’Mara will tell you that training racehorses is only his secondary occupation. His yard is primarily a trading yard, he was one of the early European movers into the world of breeze-up sales, and he has perfected the art of buying young horses to sell. The horses that he trains – no more than 15 at a time – he trains only because he couldn’t sell them. Every racehorse that is registered with the Turf Club under O’Mara’s name, all those good horses – Tornedo Shay, Eagle’s Pass, Banna Man – they were all there for somebody to buy at a breeze-up sale.

Of course, most of the good ones have been sold. Peddlers Cross was one, the best National Hunt horse that has ever passed through O’Mara’s hands. (The fact that, as an amateur rider, he won a bumper on a half-brother of the gelding’s dam is purely coincidental.) Actually, O’Mara had to work hard to sell Peddlers Cross. A €16,000 purchase at the Tattersalls Derby Sale as a three-year-old in 2008, the son of Oscar didn’t make his reserve of £30,000 at Doncaster later that year.

His confidence in the horse un-shaken, O’Mara brought him home, trained him as a point-to-pointer, sent him out to win on his debut at Liscarroll in March 2009, then brought him to Brightwells the following month and sold him for £100,000.

Plenty of high class performers on the flat as well are products of the O’Mara academy, like Zafisio, winner of the Group 1 Criterium International, Oiseau De Feu, fourth in the French 2000 Guineas and beaten just a head in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, and Grand Couturier, a triple Grade 1 winner Sateside.

It can’t be easy, mixing trading with training. The danger was that common perception when he began selling horses at the breeze-up sales determined that he was keeping the good ones to train himself, and only selling on the ones he didn’t want. Actually, the converse is true. His intention is to sell everything, and he ends up training only the ones that he hasn’t managed to sell.

That doesn’t mean that he isn’t left with some good ones, mind you. Tornedo Shay has his sights set on the Cheltenham Festival next year. Eagle’s Pass is eyeing up the Galway Plate. And you can be sure that he will be putting a saddle on Castle Bar Sling again some time soon.

© The Racing Post, 30th August 2011