Donn's Articles » Ken Condon

Ken Condon

“The thing with the really good horses,” Ken Condon is saying, “is that you have to anticipate them, you have to be ready for them.  You don’t win the big races on the day.  You win them weeks out, months out.”

Moss Tucker wasn’t always a really good horse, he wasn’t always the top class sprinter that he is today.  Considered initially to be a middle-distance performer, he made his racecourse debut in April 2021 in a 10-furlong maiden at Cork.  It has been some journey so far, from there to here, the 1500-metre runner who won the 100-metre gold.

“He didn’t look like a sprinter as a young horse,” says his trainer.  “He didn’t act like a sprinter.  He didn’t show that speed that sprinters have.  He didn’t race as a two-year-old, he was a slow learner.  He was big, light-framed, tall.  He looked like a 10-furlong horse.” 

Slow learner that he was, it took Moss Tucker a while to win.  He hopped around the distances as his trainer learned about him.  Ten furlongs, nine and a half furlongs, a mile.  He dropped down to seven and a half furlongs and won his maiden at Tipperary.  And on his final run as a three-year-old, he dropped down to five furlongs, the minimum trip, and put up the best performance of his career up to that point in winning a Tipperary handicap by over three lengths.

“He doesn’t really leave here,” says Condon.  “We plan their programme.  Even during the winter.  The good horses don’t.  Even over Christmas, they’re doing light training.”

Last season, Moss Tucker settled into life as a sprinter.  He won at Fairyhouse and he won at Tipperary.  He stepped up in grade into listed company in the Abergwaun Stakes back at Tipperary, and he proved that he belonged in that company in finishing third behind Tees Spirit and Erosandpsyche, beaten a nose and the same.  If the bobs of the three heads had been a little more favourable, he would have won.  After that, the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp was a legitimate aim.

“We had been quietly thinking about the Abbaye for a while.  It was a bit ambitions, and these big races close early, you have to make decisions early.  But Donal and Geraldine were great, they went with it all the way.”

Donal and Geraldine are Donal and Geraldine Spring, owners of Moss Tucker, breeders of Moss Tucker out of their first mare Rare Symphony.

Donal Spring was well-known in sporting circles, of course, long before Moss Tucker came along.  Capped seven times for Ireland, he captained Leinster and he captained Munster and, famously, he was one of the 15 Munster men who beat the All Blacks 12-0 at Thomond Park in 1978, 45 years ago this month.  Indeed, Moss Tucker gets his name from that team as, in the team photograph in Donal Spring’s office, he is flanked on one side by Moss Keane, and on the other by Colm Tucker.

Not much went right for Moss Tucker in last year’s Prix de l’Abbaye.  Drawn in stall 11, away from the favoured stands-side rail, he missed the break and was playing catch-up from early.  His rider Shane Foley didn’t panic though, and he finished off his race well to take fifth place behind The Platinum Queen.  He was the only horse drawn in double figures to finish in the first five.  Then he came back to The Curragh three weeks later and, on his final run last season, ran out an impressive winner of a listed race.

“We were delighted with his run in the Abbaye last year,” says his trainer.  “We were delighted with how he ran, given how things panned out.  He proved that he belonged in that grade, in Group 1 company.”

Moss Tucker goes back to Longchamp today, 12 months later, back to the Prix de l’Abbaye, in a bid to improve on last year’s performance.  He went over on the boat during the week with his regular work rider Maxine O’Sullivan, who reports that he settled in well.  His season has been geared up to today, and all the evidence suggests that he is a better horse now as a five-year-old than the horse who finished fifth last year.

“He just seems to be still improving,” says Condon.  “When he won the Phoenix Sprint Stakes at The Curragh in August, a Group 3 race, that was the best performance of his career.  Then, when he went back to The Curragh and won the Flying Five, a Group 1, that was obviously a step up on that.”

The trainer is matter-of-fact about it, but that was some day, on such a big day, at the Irish Champions Festival, a first Group 1 win for Moss Tucker, a fourth for Ken Condon.  The Excelebration gelding dug deep that day for Billy Lee, he went to the line strongly, and he got there a half a length in front of Get Ahead, with Highfield Princess and Art Power and Bradsell in his wake.

“I’m very fond of this horse,” says Condon thoughtfully.  “Where he has come from, how he has got there.  You wouldn’t have said that he was brilliant, you wouldn’t have said that he was classy.  They are words that you usually associate with Group 1 winners.  But he has rolled up his sleeves, he has honed his skills.  He has worked at it, to get to where he is today.”

The ball could have hopped a little better this week, his draw would ideally have been a little lower and the ground would ideally have been a little softer, but you know that Billy Lee will have a plan, and you know that Moss Tucker will give his all.  Because that’s what the really good horses do.

© The Sunday Times, 1st October 2023